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What is petting-induced aggression?

 by lucy on 25 Mar 2017 |
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We’ve all had the jarring experience of a cat jumping onto our laps, purring away, only to watch Kitty flip and suddenly give us an angry bite or swat just minutes later. This Jekyll-and-Hyde behavior may seem strange to humans, but to our feline friends, petting-induced aggression makes perfect sense.
 
Cats are not, by nature, close-contact animals. Accepting human affection is a learned behavior and some cats have a very low tolerance for touch. Once this threshold is passed, cats actually feel discomfort, rather than pleasure, from petting. It’s no wonder our pets want us to stop lavishing them with love, but humans are often obvious to the overstimulation taking place. Fortunately, cats use a series of body language to let us know when they’ve had enough affection and it’s time to back off.
 
Telltale signs that Kitty is fast approaching his affection quota include tail lashing, skin twitching, a shift in body posture, meowing or growling, flattened ears, and meeting you or your hand with a direct gaze. If your cat exhibits any of these signs, stop petting him immediately and leave him alone. If you continue petting him, chances are your pet will lash out by biting or clawing you as, in his mind, he’s already told you to back off.
 
All cats are different and you may be surprised by your pet’s boundaries when it comes to physical affection. Most cats don’t like belly rubs, for example, but some feel just as uncomfortable being stroked down their backs. Learning your cat’s favorite spots to be pet—and which to avoid— will help build trust between you and your pet. With time, you’ll be able to gauge your cat’s individual preferences and know when to stop petting even before he exhibits any warning signs.
 
Because petting-induced aggression is your cat’s last resort at communication, never punish your pet for lashing out. In his mind, your cat has already given you ample warnings to stop, all of which you ignored. Yelling, chasing or hitting your cat will only make him afraid of you and damage your bond. Instead, watch your cat’s body language to learn when he is enjoying affection and when he’s had enough. Ending a snuggle session on a positive note not only leaves your cat wanting more, but ensures that physical touch stays a positive part of you and your cat’s relationship.
 
If your cat is exhibiting sudden petting-induced aggression, you may want to visit a veterinarian to rule out pain as the source of his moody behavior. Cats with a tender spot could lash out when you touch the sore area, for example, so it is helpful to find out if Kitty has an abscess, arthritis or other physical ailment. Be sure to supervise children around your cat, too, since they are unlikely to recognize the warning signs that come before petting-induced aggression.

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