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Why Does My Cat Attack Me? 8 Reasons You Should Know

Anyone who’s owned a cat carries scars on their hands and fingers. Literally. But that’s normal for feline owners. Almost everyone will talk about how they got those scars with adoration, rather than scorn.

In many cases, cats simply offer claws in return for fingers. Who doesn’t know the sudden claw-first grab after a tummy rub that’s gone on too long? Why does my cat attack me?

Sometimes, however, cats exhibit behavior that is problematic in its aggression. These kinds of attacks are not defensive and can inflict unexpected and occasionally severe damage.

Behaviorists have determined a few possible causes for why cats attack their owners. If you’re finding living with your cat increasingly stressful because of aggressive behavior towards you, keep reading. You may be able to identify one of these as a cause.

black and white cat with mouth open

Why Does my Cat Attack Me?

1. Kitty is Over-Enthusiastic When Playing

A common perception is that cats sleep a lot. They do. But they are also dynamic balls of energy, especially when they are younger. When cats are in a playful mood, they enjoy bounding about, playing, and demanding activity.

Part of play is learning to hunt and deal with prey. So it’s natural that claws and teeth come into the equation. When cats are not conditioned into appropriate play, they can learn problematic behavior, even when they don’t intend to inflict damage.

Cute kitten playing red clew of thread on artificial green grass

The best advice is to play with your cat as often as possible and provide toys that stimulate enough activity to burn off that excess energy. You may also want to make a game of acquiring food. Several ingenious toys and devices on the market make food a part of cat play.

Young kittens and juvenile cats should also be conditioned into acceptable play. Change up the toys from time to time to keep the kitty interested, too. At least when it comes to playing, your cat should be able to play safely – for it and you. 

cute kitten playing with colourful toy

2. Your Cat Attacks You in Fear Mode

Like many animals, when a cat is experiencing extreme anxiety or fear, it can turn to aggression. This is purely defensive, and usually occurs when it feels trapped or under threat.

Several things can cause fear in a cat. It might be another animal, a noise, or a visitor… anything, really. What’s important here is that your cat doesn’t feel it can escape or avoid the threat. So how do you avoid these situations?

tabby cat with green eyes growling

If you know that a new situation may cause stress, it’s important to prepare both the cat and space. Go through the process of introducing new pets properly.

Create a “safe space” to which your cat can retreat if you feel that the reaction is inevitable. This might be as simple as creating a high perch or an isolated room. Provide escape routes and let your cat know they’re there.

tabby cat growling why do cats growl

In extreme cases, a cat may need veterinary help. Sometimes, medication may be necessary to help a cat with hyper-anxiousness.

3. Your Cat May Have a Medical Issue

Speaking of your vet, there is a possibility that your kitty has an underlying medical problem. While we never like thinking about it, we must realize that cats can’t communicate that they’re in pain or have a hidden injury.

If your cat suddenly becomes aggressive when touched, this may be a red flag. And there could be several different ailments that provoke an attack.

Veterinarian listening to cat's heart

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For example, long-haired or fluffy cats may develop knots or catches in their fur that cause discomfort when touched. An old cat may have developed arthritis, putting it on edge and making it sensitive to touch.

In most cases, pain or anticipation of pain may be causing your cat to strike out. The best advice is to seek help from a vet, especially if this behavior is new or out of character. 

4. There May Be Latent Sexual Aggression Behaviors

This may be an issue in male cats, even neutered ones. Males have an instinct to grab and bite during mating. Sometimes this behavior persists instinctively, causing unwanted damage to owners.

ginger tabby cat with mouth open and paw grabbing finger why does my cat attack me

When petting your cat, you may experience a sudden grabbing and biting that may have its origin in this sexual instinct or even incorrect sexual imprinting. Often, when a cat grabs your arm or leg in this way, you can cause more damage if you try to remove the cat forcefully.

Likewise, female cats react to this behavior with claws of their own. It may mistake your affectionate petting as unwanted sexual behavior.

black kitten biting a person's finger

Experts advise that you learn to recognize this behavior initially and then avoid it by leaving the room or area. You may also distract the cat with a toy. Either way, the idea is to nullify the aggression target, which in this case is you.

5. Your Cat is Being His Natural Predator Self

Cats are predators. They hunt things. And when they’re young, a lot of play is focused on learning to hunt. Unfortunately, sometimes the only prey available is you.

Playing tabby cat in white basket with toy. Studio shot against grey.

This is where toys are invaluable, especially stringed toys that you can manipulate. Even that laser pointer is handy here. It encourages kitty to stalk things other than your arms and legs.

Ultimately, it’s great practice for when the cat eventually gets to go out and hunt insects and birds. And it’s excellent playtime for you too.

6. Your Cat is Looking for Attention

Sometimes a simple answer is the right one. “Pay attention to me!” Cats tend to need your focus at inconvenient times. And when you least expect it, you might get pounced on with claws and teeth.

Young woman with allergy holding cat on grey background

Two things to remember here: Firstly, make time to play and interact with your cats, especially young cats.

Second, if and when a cat does randomly attack for attention, ignore them. More accurately, do not reward them. This will reinforce the behavior.

7. You Are an Innocent Victim of Redirected Aggression

You know what happens if you walk in on a  tense situation and try to calm it down, only to have the conflict turn on you? Cats can do that, too.

Cat rolls around in the sun why do cats roll in the dirt

⇒ Getting a new kitty? Check out my guide to How to Look after a Kitten, 6 Best Kitten Wet Food Options and 8 Best Kitten Dry Food Options

A situation may arise where your cat is fearful or aggressive, and you inadvertently interfere or get in the way. It is quite conceivable that your cat turns that aggression onto you. It’s not malicious, necessarily. It’s just that you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Your cat may be agitated because it’s seen another cat or animal that triggered anxiety. Maybe it was a bird outside that he couldn’t reach.

bengal cat on back

8. Your Cat is Alarmed by Noise

Cats like to be aware of their environment. They want to be assured of what’s going on. Unexpected noises are not on their favorite lists, given their heightened senses.

And if a loud, random noise alarms them, they may act out aggressively and fearfully.

fluffy tabby siberian arches its back

Some also believe that high-frequency sounds trigger a hunting instinct, as it sounds similar to rodents or birds. Even a crying baby might cause a cat to react.

Some experts recommend trying to counter-condition your cat with rewarded behavior for staying calm as you play the noise. Start with a low volume and reward. Over time, increase the volume and continue to reward as long as the cat remains calm.

cat purring while being stroked

You could also try to minimize these loud sounds in your home. Be aware of the TV or radio for this approach.

Final Thoughts on Why Your Cat Attacks You

There’s no need to resign yourself to living in fear of a cat attack. In most cases, one or more of the above situations is to blame.

Take some time to analyze the behavior, and try some of the suggestions provided. With a bit of luck, you’ll have it sorted out quickly.

tabby cat with mouth open side view

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