Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Aggression related to being petted is very common in cats. Cats with this type of aggression suddenly scratch, growl, or bite while they’re being petted.
The most likely explanations for petting-related aggression are that the cat is overstimulated, has a low tolerance for being touched, or is trying to exert some control over the interaction. It’s also possible that the cat has a medical problem (for example, pain caused by arthritis or dental disease). Any type of aggression, especially if it’s a new behavior, warrants an examination by a veterinarian.
The people most at risk of injury are children and others who don’t know the signs that a cat is uncomfortable with an interaction. Tolerance to petting varies from cat to cat, and the same cat’s tolerance can change according to the circumstances.
To help people understand the best way to interact with cats, a team of researchers in the United Kingdom developed a set of guidelines that they describe with the acronym CAT (for choice, attention, and touch). The team found that cats showed less aggression when people followed the CAT guidelines during interactions.
The gist of the CAT guidelines is that we should handle cats the way they want to be handled and leave them alone when they want to be left alone. Makes sense, right? However, in another study, the same team found that some people who had lots of cat-owning experience and rated their own cat knowledge as high interacted in ways the cats did not want.
The following is a summary of the CAT guidelines, or how to pet a cat.
C: Give the cat choice and control.
A: Pay attention to the cat’s body language.
These are signs that a cat might not want to be petted any longer:
T: Touch the cat only where the cat wants to be touched.
To read more about cat-friendly petting and how humans interact with cats, check out these 2 articles:
1. Haywood C, Ripari L, Puzzo J, Foreman-Worsley R, Finka LR. Providing humans with practical, best practice handling guidelines during human-cat interactions increases cats' affiliative behaviour and reduces aggression and signs of conflict. Front Vet Sci. 2021;8:714143. doi:10.3389/fvets.2021.714143
2. Finka LR, Ripari L, Quinlan L, et al. Investigation of humans individual differences as predictors of their animal interaction styles, focused on the domestic cat. Sci Rep. 2022;12(1):12128. doi:10.1038/s41598-022-15194-7
Photo by Ilze on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.