Porky & Buddy Pet Health: Do Cats Have Mood Swings?

Dear Porky & Buddy,

Do cats have mood swings?   My cat Clarabelle will be totally friendly one minute, sitting in my lap letting me pet her and purring as though she is totally happy and suddenly she will leap up, hiss and bite at me and then jump off my lap as though she hates me.

This doesn’t happen every time I pet her, but if I pet her long enough it usually does.

I can’t understand it.  Am I doing something wrong?


Dear John,

Do cats have mood swings?   What kind of question is that?  Is the earth round?  Does water run down hill?  Of course cats have mood swings, and your job as Clarabelle’s servant is to figure out how to anticipate them so her days will be better.

Seriously, what you are talking about is called “petting induced aggression,” and while it is not well understood, it is fairly common.

Some cats enjoy being petted, held, carried and even hugged. Some merely tolerate these activities with their owners, or they like being petted but not carried.

And, a few don’t like being petted at all.

Petting-induced aggression occurs when a cat suddenly feels irritated by being petted, nips or lightly bites the person petting him, and then jumps up and runs off.

Behaviorists think that physical contact, like stroking, can quickly become unpleasant if it’s repeated over and over.

Repetitive contact can cause arousal, excitement, pain and even static electricity in a cat’s fur. What started out feeling good is now irritating, and Clarabelle wants you to stop.

While this reaction might seem to come out of the blue, most cats give advance warning when they start to feel crabby.

When she signals you to stop petting, the best response is simply to obey and stop.

You’ll usually see warning signs, such as: quickly turning her head toward your hand; twitching or flipping her tail; flattening her ears or rotating them forward and back; Restlessness and fidgeting; dilating pupils.

Here is what not to do.

Never physically punish Clarabelle for lashing out at you aggressively by hitting her on the nose, spanking her or swatting her. Even yelling at her is likely to make the problem worse rather than better.

Never forcefully throw her off of you. At best, she’ll become afraid to sit near you. At worst, she could be injured by the fall.

Instead, respect Clarabelle’s wishes not to be petted much.

Cats are like people – some enjoy a lot of physical contact with others and some enjoy only a little and are creeped out by people who are constantly touching them.

Appreciate the other ways she demonstrates her fondness for you. Maybe she follows you around the house, gets up on the counter when you are cooking, helps you work at the computer, and sleeps with you at night.

Enjoy the time you spend together, and don’t worry about the fact that she doesn’t care all that much for physical affection. She is, after all, your ruler.

And speaking of Cranky Cats, you can find another one at the Humane Society’s Cranky Cat Adoption Day on April 14 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Oswego Public Library, 120 E. Second St., Oswego.

While you are there you can also see an exhibit of the funny and endearing Cranky Cats series by Cynthia Schmidt, a local artist whose work will be on exhibit at the library for the month of April.

The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter assistance, information and referral, adoption assistance to pet owners, humane education programs, foster care and adoption  for pets in urgent need, assistance with lost and found pets.

Our administrative offices and spay/neuter clinic are located at 265 W. First St., Oswego.

Check our web site at www.oswegohumane.org or call (315) 207-1070 for more information or to be placed on our mailing list for our newsletter.