Petting Aggression in Felines: How To Nip It In The Bud

Cat people simply adore their kitties. They love spending time playing with them, feeding them, enriching their environment, and finding creative ways to stimulate their kitties highly intelligent brains. But the thing that cat people love the most during their interactions with their cats is petting them; showering them with affection.
Leo (FloridaWild patient) with his Mommy

There are times when you may be petting a normally well-behaved and affectionate kitty, out of the blue, she will raise a paw in protest, scratching the guardian or even sinking those sharp pearly whites into their skin. Apparently the kitty is upset and the startled guardian doesn't have a clue as to why "Fluffy" acted so strangely. While the guardian may consider the cat's behavior a mystery, conversely there is a logical explanation for a fairly common feline reaction.

The terms most frequently used to explain this behavior are petting induced aggression, petting intolerance and over-stimulation. Some cats truly have a "short fuse." While they enjoy lap sitting and their guardian's company, at the same time they are not overly fond of constantly be touched and petted. However, cats who are unable to tolerate full body petting generally enjoy getting scratched on the chin or the cheeks.

A cat's face is loaded with scent glands with which they use to mark anyone: human or non-human companions touching them in that area. Additionally, since this is an area on their body which they aren't able to groom so easily, they truly enjoy and appreciate a loving scratch on the chin.

Building the guardian-cat bonding process is crucial. For those cats who aren't so keen on getting groomed or being petted, instead come up with creative ways that are not sensory oriented: interactive play sessions with feathers on a wand, and agility training with tunnel toys may be "The Cat's Pajamas" for many of these felines. Many interactive games are a huge hit and are delightful for kitties.

How to nip petting aggression in the bud:
So what is the best way to handle a cat who has issues with petting induced stimulation without getting injured? The key to dealing with this problem is learning the feline language and how to recognize when kitty has reached the end of her tether. If your cat is sitting next to you and you are petting her, and you notice that her tail is beginning to twitch back and forth nervously, or her ears flatten and her skin begins to ripple, this is the equivalent in English for "I have had it! Please stop." If you continue to keep petting her when she is sending these strong signals, watch out! Just before your cat jumps off the couch you may be in danger of a swat with her nails out on your hand, or even worse - being bitten. At the very first indication that your cat's body is getting tense; stop petting her immediately.

Obese cats may be prone to petting induced aggression because it is extra hard for them to reach that area and very difficult for them to groom their backs. As a result their backs can be overly sensitive to being touched in that area. Since the sensation is much too strong for them, when they are petted down the back these cats may be prone to striking out.

Every cat is different and every cat reacts to situations in divergent ways. Getting to know the things your kitty definitely enjoys or what she finds extremely unpleasant (including over stimulation) will greatly build the trust and love you share with your cat.

What other signs have you noticed when your kitty is being overstimulated? How do you handle this? Please share your experiences with a comment.

By Jo Singer, MSW, CSW, LCSW (Ret.)

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