Petting AggressionPublished October 28, 2008
Have you ever had this happen? Kitty’s pestering you for attention, winding figure-8’s around your feet or pawing your leg. Maybe she leaps into your lap and twirls around, meowing for petting. So, like any well-trained kitty owner, you oblige and begin petting her. Then she bites, leaps off your lap, and stalks away. What’s the deal? Termed “petting aggression,” this behavior can be typical of a couple cat personality types. Kitties that tend to be pushy and want to control the interaction quickly learn that they can tell you when to pet, and when to stop, simply with a bite. They use this “leave me alone bite” to get their way in many situations. For instance, they may bite (or at least offer to bite) to maintain their position on a favorite piece of furniture, or in a doorway. These cats typically act up only with one or two people in the house--the ones they’ve learned will back down and that they can buffalo. Beware the Claws! The other situation occurs with cats that simply have a very low “petting threshold.” These kitties may be hypersensitive to touch. They want contact and love attention, but can only take it in very small doses. If you pay attention to cats that groom each other, you’ll notice they usually only target each other’s heads and back of the neck. But people often want to use their entire palm to repeatedly stroke the cat from head-to-tail. Think of it this way: A loved one gently scratches your back but the pleasant sensation becomes aggravating and eventually unbearable if it goes on and on and on…and on. Cats strike out in reflex to make it stop, but after the first success, they’ve learned that bites work and repeat it in the future. What to do? Ideally, avoid situations that prompt a bite. This keeps the cat from practicing the behavior, and also protects you from dangerous injury. A cat bite gets infected very easily and requires medical attention immediately. So when the cat wants attention, give it--but watch his ears and tail and only stroke once or maybe twice and stop before he’s ready to bite. Target only the back of the neck to help reduce aggravation levels. Count how many strokes he can tolerate and over time, you may be able to increase from two strokes to three, and later to four and so on. If the cat won’t get off your lap without biting, simply stand up to dump him off. And find a special treat that he loves to lure him out of doorways or off other furniture.
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