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Why is my kitten or cat attacking me and what can I do about it?

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

Kittens and young cats use chasing and pouncing (predatory play) as an integral part of their play behavior and early learning.

They will act out the behavioral sequences associated with hunting, by chasing and stalking moving objects as well as those that can be swiped, batted and propelled with a paw. They will also bite and claw at objects and toys.

Sessions of simulating prey, with us, can help kittens and young cats release some of their energy. Wands, wiggling ropes, and toys that can be pulled along or dangled in front of your cat are generally very effective. Items that are thrown or rolled for the cat to chase, swat, or pounce upon are also very good to use. Even a balled up piece of aluminum foil can work very well as a toy. Try using a few different toys with each session and a daily rotation of different toys. You can increase novelty and interest by stuffing or coating the items with food or dried catnip (not a spray).

What should I do if my cat begins to exhibit play-related aggression?

Under-stimulation, an excess of unused energy, and lack of appropriate opportunities for play can lead to play-related aggression.

Play sessions (see above) can help to alleviate this.

If your kitten or young cat starts to attack you, quickly re-direct their attention to a toy. Wiggling a piece of rubber exercise tubing can work well. You can pick up a piece of this from most physical therapists.

For cats with a significant problem, it is best to ignore them whenever they initiate the aggressive play and even leaving the room. Start the play session when your cat has calmed down.

Physical punishment must be avoided! Pain can cause aggression, so if you hit a cat, you may increase the aggressive behavior. Also, painful punishment may cause fear and owner avoidance. Lastly, attempts to correct the playful aggression with physical contact may actually serve to reward the behavior.

Noise deterrents are often effective in cats. For very young kittens, a “hissing” noise may deter excessive play behavior. The noise can be made by you, but if not immediately successful, a can of compressed air, used for cleaning keyboards, may be more effective and is less likely to cause fear or retaliation.

Some cats need an even more intense deterrent. A water gun or sprayer, or shaking a soda can filled with some small stones should be sufficiently startling to most cats to interrupt the behavior. What is most important in using these techniques is the timing. You must have the noise-maker with you so that you can immediately administer the correction.

Another component of aggressive play behavior is hiding and dashing out and attacking people as they walk by. Often the kitten or cat waits around corners or under furniture until someone approaches. This can be a difficult problem to solve.

First keep a journal of occurrences, including time of day and location. This can help identify a pattern that can be avoided. Second, you need to be able to know where your cat is. An approved cat collar (one that has a quick release catch) with a large bell on it is helpful. If the cat always attacks from the same location, you can be ready, anticipate the attack and become preemptive. As you prepare to walk by the area, toss a small toy to divert the cat’s attention to an appropriate play object. Another tactic is to use your noise deterrent to get the cat out of the area, or block access to the location (such as under the bed) so that the cat is unable to hide there and pounce out at your feet. Again, these techniques are most successful when combined with plenty of opportunities for appropriate play.

If all attempts, and time, fails to help the problem, medications from your vet can be tried.

We hope this information has been helpful!

P.S Below is an image of the rubber tubing I mentioned!

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