05.15.12 Cats show their feelings in a number of ways, including through body language, vocalizations and their proximity to people.
There are many flavors of aggression, caused by a variety of triggers. One common aggression that seems to come out of left field is petting induced aggression. It usually occurs when devoted cat people are having special moments with their cats, petting, stroking and cuddling. Suddenly “out of nowhere” their beloved cats turns, bites and sometimes scratches. The physical and emotional damage can be painful. Along with bites and scratches, the victims often take the aggression personally. It just doesn’t make sense to cat-parents why their cats, who they are so bonded to, suddenly hurt them.
The cat isn’t being bad, nor does the cat have a sudden vendetta against her person. Petting induced aggression usually occurs when being stroked and touched becomes unpleasant for the cat. The cat may have a sensitive spot or the stroking may become too intense for her. Or, she may be falling asleep and suddenly is startled awake. In the majority of cases, the cat does try to communicate through her body language that she’s had enough. Unfortunately, most people don’t catch on to her subtle hints. When all other endeavors at communication fail, the cat uses a direct approach that is immediately understood—she bites or scratches.
Avoid being a victim of petting induced aggression by first learning to recognize the warnings. Cats communicate through body language and sometimes through vocalizations when they’ve had enough handling and petting. When cats have had their fill they often communicate their wishes by thrashing their tails, positioning their ears back, flattening whiskers against their face, tenseness and fur rippling. If these subtle messages are ignored, cats will look quickly at the hand that is petting them and then will bite it.
The next step to avoid being a victim of petting induced aggression is simple. As soon as the cat communicates her discomfort at being handled, stop interacting with her. After a time out you may be able to carefully pet her again, avoiding the sensitive areas and varying how she is petted.