Dealing with a cat that bites or lashes out

Dealing with a cat that bites or lashes out

The domestic cat is usually a calm and pleasant creature to be around, and cats are rarely aggressive towards people and do not generally bite or attack them. In a cat that is feral or semi-wild, or a cat that is not used to being handled by people or living within a confined space, fear or defensive aggression is understandable. But what if your cat has always lived around people and been adequately handled, and yet is still prone to biting or lashing out? Understandably, this can be rather problematic!If you are confused or worried about you cat’s behaviour to the point that you are scared or nervous of them or it is beginning to affect your interactions, knowing where to turn to for help can be difficult. Read on to learn more about the causes of biting and lashing out in cats, plus some suggestions on how to tackle it.

Defensive aggression

If your cat had a bad start in life or is simply of a nervous disposition, then it is entirely understandable that their integration into a caring, loving home environment might not be totally straightforward. Even after several years, cats that are prone to being nervous or frightened may well have a tendency to lash out if they feel trapped or threatened. To avoid this happening, never surprise your cat or approach them unexpectedly, or trap them and block their exit route, ergo removing the ‘flight’ option and triggering defensive aggression.

Pain or illness

Cats are highly adept at masking pain, and it is not always obvious to the owner if their cat is sick or suffering from a bump or injury. If you find that your cat bites or lashes out when you touch a certain part of their body, this may just be a particularly sensitive spot, or there may be an underlying reason such as a pain or injury that you cannot see. It is always a good idea to take your cat along to the vet for a check-up if you are in any doubt.


If you are playing with your cat, particularly a vigorous game of ‘chase the feather’ or anything else that involves them getting worked up and excited, you may find that they begin to lose their normal inhibitions for biting and lashing out. This is not aggression per se, but rather a case of over-stimulation where the cat begins to forget that this is just a game and starts to take things too seriously! Try to judge when your cat is approaching this threshold and calm things down again before a misplaced bite or scratch causes damage!

Just playing!

Many cats like to pounce and chase real or imagined prey, but a problem can arise if your cat is unable to tell the difference between toys and body parts! If your cat enjoys pouncing on your feet when you are sitting down, or attacking your toes under the duvet, you are by no means alone, although this is often of little consolation! If you inadvertently trained your cat into pouncing on your fingers or toes when they were a kitten, you may have a problem on your hands with your adult cat! Tell your cat ‘no!’ firmly whenever they pounce, but never shout at or smack your cat. Training a cat out of play aggression can be a challenge, and it is better to nip things in the bud when the problem first starts if possible.


If your cat doesn’t like something that you are doing to them; perhaps brushing them, or stroking them in a certain way, or anything else, they may lash out in warning and then swiftly retreat. Often this behaviour can come as something of a shock, although in your cat’s opinion, their body language and reactions gave you plenty of opportunity to back down! Try to learn more about reading the signs and signals that your cat gives off, so that you can better assess if you are doing something that might place you in range of their disapproval!

Transferred aggression

Have you ever observed your cat becoming stressed out or aggressive in the presence of another cat, or a dog outside of the house or anything else, and begin to bush up their fur and act defensively despite being some way removed from the perceived threat? If you try to intervene in circumstances such as these, you might find that your cat bites or lashes out at you, despite the fact that you were trying to soothe your cat and diffuse the situation. This is known as transferred aggression or referred aggression, and is basically to your cat, a case of mistaken identity. When a cat prepares for fight or flight from any real or perceived threat, they focus the whole of their attention on the threat at hand, and tune out everything else around them. This is a necessary part of how they protect themselves from harm and deal with their opponent. Your cat will almost certainly be almost completely unaware of your presence at this stage, even if you are trying to get their attention and talk to them. Touching your cat or moving into their personal space at this stage would be a mistake, as any additional stimulus is likely to be viewed as part of the initial threat, and dealt with accordingly. Try to deal with the issue by removing the source of the perceived threat itself, such as shooing off a dog that has wandered into your garden or closing the curtains temporarily.

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