Porky & Buddy’s Pet Health: Petting and Biting

Dear Porky and Buddy,

I just adopted a new cat, Victoria.  She was so friendly and sweet at the adoption day where I found her that I could hardly wait to bring her home. And she is great, very playful and affectionate toward my dog.  She has sort of taken over the house.  But something strange is happening.  She will jump in my lap when I am sitting on the couch as though she really wants me to pet her and I do for a while and then suddenly with no warning she will turn and bite me—hard enough that it hurts.   Why would she do that?


Dear Arlene,

You are confused about your role.  Victoria is not your pet.  You are her servant.  She lets you pet her because that is what she expects of you but only for as long as she wants and then you are supposed to stop.  And if you don’t do as expected she punishes you.  Get it?

Seriously, cats vary in how much they like to be petted. Some enjoy it immensely, some tolerate it, and some put up with only small amounts before they let you know in no uncertain terms that it’s enough.  It’s called petting-induced aggression, and a cat who exhibits it is often a friendly, social cat who seeks out the affections of her pet parents. She meows, rubs against people’s legs, jumps in their laps and purrs. She might even enjoy a bit of petting. But she likes it for only so long before she becomes irritable and lashes out at the person petting her. What you need to figure out is how Victoria is letting you know.   Since she can’t talk, and you are not paying attention, she is commanding you to stop by biting.

Most cats give advance warning when they start to feel crabby about being petted.  If you watch closely, you’ll see her tense up. Her ears may flatten against her head and her tail may twitch. She might fidget or change position or stare at you in utter disbelief that you could be so unobservant. If you continue to pet her, she’ll likely hiss or growl and then, in short order, she’ll scratch or bite you.

This type of aggression is not well understood, but behaviorists think that physical contact, such as stroking, can quickly become unpleasant to a cat if it’s repeated.  What started out feeling good becomes irritating—and then she wants you to stop.   If you want to build trust with Victoria, then you need to start being a better servant and pay attention to her behavior when she is on your lap.  As soon as you notice any change in her apparent enjoyment of being petted, STOP!  Leave her alone.   If she wants you to pet her again, she will let you know

Never physically punish her for lashing out at you 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. Remember, you are the one making the mistake, not Victoria.

In the end, you should try to respect Victoria’s desire not to be petted much. Cats are like people—some enjoy a lot of physical contact with others and some enjoy only a little, before it begins to feel creepy to them. Appreciate the other ways Victoria shows her fondness for you. Does she follow you around the house, sleep with you at night, and invite you to play with her by throwing her little catnip toys?   Enjoy the time you spend together, and don’t worry about the fact that she doesn’t care for physical affection.  She’s a cat.

Summer isn’t over yet and you can still enjoy it and help animals by signing up for the Little Golf Tournament for Large Animals to benefit the Oswego County Humane Society’s Large Animal Assistance Project.  It’s Sunday, August 21st at Evergreen Golf Course, Co Rt. 20, Oswego, with tee off at 10 am.  You get 9 holes of golf with a cart, lunch, raffles, prizes, bottled water and a lot of fun for only $50 per player.  Sign up online or download at mail in form atwww.oswegohumane.org.

The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter services and assistance, fostering and adoption of animals in urgent need, humane education programs, and information and referrals to animal lovers throughout Oswego County. Our office is located at 265 West First Street, Oswego, New York. Phone (315) 207-1070. Email:[email protected]. Website:www.oswegohumane.org.