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Reasons why cats attack
"Many cats have an excess of energy. While cats spend up to 80% of their day asleep, when they are awake, they expect to be entertained. "

Reasons why cats attack

Most owners have been on the receiving end of a cat attack. Your cat may lie in wait for you to walk by and then pounce. Or when you pat them, one stroke too many means a full-scale, teeth and claws attack.

A cat’s weapons are painful and most owners want to avoid being bitten or scratched. Here are some of the reasons why cats attack, and a few tips on how to reduce your cat’s overly ‘playful’ behaviour.

Why cats attack?


Many cats have an excess of energy. While cats spend up to 80% of their day asleep, when they are awake, they expect to be entertained. Kittens are generally willing to play at any time. Tip: Play with your cat often, when it suits you. When alone, leave them cat toys to play with. Introduce a new toy regularly and rotate toys on a daily basis to keep them interested.

Make them hunt for their food, as this will occupy their minds.


If your cat attacks when you’re occupied elsewhere, they could be attention-seeking. This is common feline behaviour with cats pouncing on us while we’re making phone calls, working on our computers or walking sleepily to bed.

Tip: Give your cat plenty of playtime and attention, when it suits you. If your cat attacks, do not give them attention.


Play is practice for real life and when your cat attacks you they may simply be hunting. This is instinctive behaviour for a cat.

Tip: Encourage you cat to ‘hunt’ appropriate prey items like toys. Tie a string on your waistband with a toy attached and drag it around after yourself as you walk around your home. Your cat will enjoy the chase.


Redirected aggression

If your cat is feeling angry or fearful of a situation and you interrupt them, they may lash out at you. The intention was not to hurt you but to release a build-up of energy. This is common when cats are watching other cats out of a window or when they’re being disturbed by dogs or children.

Tip: Be aware of the likelihood of this happening before you approach or pick up your cat. If needs be, wrap your cat in a towel so they can’t attack. Place your cat in a safe, quiet spot until they calm down.


Scaredy-cats will often attack as a defence mechanism, when they can’t get away or they have nowhere to hide.

Tip: Nervous cats need to be introduced to the situations that make them scared. This process needs to be done very gradually. Extremely nervous cats may benefit from veterinary medication too. Consult your vet.

Mating behaviour

Responsible pet owners desex their cats – but even so, remnants of instinctive sexual behaviour remain. Males will naturally grab a female cat using mouth and paws to keep her still and to prevent himself being injured. Females retaliate to the mating with their jaws and claws. Our cats often react the same way when we hold and/or stroke them.

Tip: Halve the number of strokes you give your cat, then gradually increase the pats by one every day. If your cat tolerates very little, you may like to offer them a food treat to help them enjoy the experience.

Medical reasons

If your cat is not normally overly playful or aggressive, then an attack may be a sign they’re in pain or have a medical condition that needs to be investigated by a vet. Older cats may suffer from arthritis. Long-haired cats may develop knots in their coats, making it painful to be touched.

Tip: Aggression that’s out of character should always be investigated by a vet.


About Dr Joanne Righetti

Dr Joanne RighettiDr Joanne Righetti is an animal behaviourist, educating the public and professionals in all aspects of the human–animal relationship. Her background is in zoology, with a PhD in animal behaviour and a counselling diploma – qualifications which enable her to work with all sorts of animals – including the human variety! Joanne likes to help pet owners understand their pet's behaviour and solve any pet behaviour problems. She also consults to a variety of organisations including non-profit organisations, commercial companies and councils and is involved in a variety of media including regular spots on radio. Joanne is an honorary associate of the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Sydney. Find out more about Joanne at

Last updated: 14 July 2016 at 07:49 AM
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