You’re stretched out on the sofa, knee deep into a Heartland marathon (the best kind) when Fluffy McFluffster sprawls out in front of you, cute as can be.
‘Meow,’ he says, adorably.
‘Aw, hey, little guy.’
‘Meow,’ he says again.
‘You want to cuddle?’
He gives you his signature ‘big eyes’ and taps you with a soft paw.
‘Okaaaaay, if you insist.’ You give him a scratch behind the ear.
He purrs and closes his eyes. You scratch a little lower and treat him to a mini back rub. He loves it. You love it. And all is well in your world.
Then whack – out of nowhere, your kitty is armed and dangerous and you’re sporting the war wounds to prove it. Cat bite bonanza, my friend.
So, what the heck happened? And how can you make sure it doesn’t happen again?
Well, to be perfectly honest, I have no idea.
It’s possible that your cat is just a jerk. There are a few of them out there. (Don’t believe me? Check out this clip*).
Or, he doesn’t like you very much. (Psst: Want to know what your cat really thinks of you? I wrote a post about it.)
Or, they’re holding a grudge from that time you forgot to feed them and then ate a tuna sandwich right. In. Front. Of. Them.
But more likely, there’s something else going on behind the scenes that you don’t know about.
Here are a few possibilities:
There’s an underlying medical or behavioural condition.
Cats are awesome at hiding their injuries and illnesses. And as a predator that is also an animal of prey, they’ve evolved to experts at the whole I’m-fine-nothing-is-wrong thing.
It’s this behaviour that keeps them safe in the wild but it’s also why many cat owners tell their vets, ‘I had no idea anything was wrong!’ when they find out Fluffy has been unwell.
Which is why I recommend booking in to see your vet if your cat has suddenly become sensitive to being touched or lashes out when you pet a specific area. They may just be nursing an injury that you don’t know about.
The next theory is popular with many animal behaviourists and it’s called petting-induced aggression. In a nutshell, it’s when you’re cuddling your kitty and then outta nowhere you get slam dunked with some teeth and claw action.
Some say that this behaviour stems from your cat’s need to control the situation. Others believe it’s due to a neurologically significant negative stimulus that’s connected with being petted.
Basically though, they have no idea why it happens.
I’d also like to put my two cents in, and that is that we’re pretty crappy at noticing and deciphering cat body language. A slightly different tone of meow or a sudden twitch in their back may not seem like much to us, but for our cat they’re sending us a clear: “Stop it! I changed my mind.” signal.
And if we miss this subtle signal? Well, they show us how they feel in other, more physical, ways.
So, how can you avoid getting beaten up by your cat?
First and foremost, practice mindfulness when you’re around your cat. They can’t tell you when enough is enough, so you need to be present and aware of their body language signals.
Don’t force yourself on them (I’m guilty of this one too) and be respectful of their space. If they seem uncertain, anxious or unhappy, stop petting them. Simple.
And if you think it might be a behavioural or medical issue, see your vet. Dr. Google is great, but he doesn’t know your cat’s medical history and isn’t there to physically check kitty’s body for issues. When in doubt, see the professionals.
*P.S. I’m actually pro cats in most of these videos. And if I was a cat and a giant, scary toddler chased after me, I’d probably crash tackle him too.
Disclaimer: Please consult your trusted vet or holistic animal health expert before making any changes to your pet’s diet or lifestyle. While I aim to offer well-researched and balanced articles, I am by no means as well-informed as your veterinarian. Please use your own inner guidance and the wisdom of the pro’s when making decisions regarding your pet’s wellbeing.