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blog – Missing a cat’s signals can lead to punishment

cat petting aggression

Question:

I have a four year old female cat that, on occasion, viciously bites me without warning when I pet her. When my previous cat would bite, I chalked it up to over-stimulation because I detected warning signs (tail flicking and ears flattened). This cat, however, craves the affection – until she suddenly bites like a snake! Could it be because she didn’t learn boundaries by playing with kitty siblings? Should I tone down my affection? Signed, Cut-up owner of Cobra Cat

 

Dear Cut-up:

Is that your real name? Maybe it’s just what Cobra Cat calls you. It’s true that kittens who were weaned too young can treat their people like sparing partners but your cat isn’t playing. She’s aggressively punishing you for your massage technique. So ungrateful.

Cats come with all sorts of personalities. Some are mellow and welcome any interaction. But many others have boundaries-like most of us. Personally, I’m fine with physical contact but there are limits. Cobra Cat has hers too. Some parts of her anatomy are not for touching.

Observational research of cats in free-living social groups reveals a generous amount of mutual grooming, nearly all of it confined to their front ends. Our kitties (wild animals, masquerading as pets) are programmed to have just their heads and necks stimulated. The rear end chores are a personal responsibility. Repeatedly petting a sweet cat’s rump could get you slapped into next week, or maybe snake bitten.

It would be great if our pets could speak a human language but they’re not wired for that either. They communicate with feline-specific body signals that we are expected to accurately interpret-early. Your previous kitty was kind enough to dumb it down for you. Cobra Cat warns you with subtle nuances that you have missed. She believes you’re dense.

Don’t feel bad. I, of course, know better than to pet Tony, the Nichol family cat, on the bum. But like the perpetual teenager he is, I am called every foul name he can muster when I miss his initial body postures intended to convey that it’s meal time-again. We cat owners do our best but we are seriously underappreciated.

 

Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video or podcast to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.