The behaviour of cats is sometimes a wonder. Why would a peaceful, purring puss suddenly turn on its owner, biting, clawing and raking the very hand that pats it?
Take a close look at your cat the next time this happens. While patting him or her, watch the eyes and ears and the tail. Usually a dilation of the pupils or a ‘black eyed’ look heralds the change in mood when aggression is on the way.
The ears will sometimes flatten onto the back of its head, although not always, and the telltale tail will usually start swishing. You may not see all of these signs. Chances are they will happen so quickly that you’re more intent on removing the embedded claws and teeth from your flesh than worrying about a detailed analysis of the cat’s stereotypic communication cues!
When a cat attacks when you are cuddling it, it will often wrap its front feet around your forearm, and then embed its claws and its teeth into your flesh. It may then rake your skin with its back claws, thus causing quite an injury.
While this attack may appear vicious and may be damaging, I am not convinced that this behaviour is always an aggressive behaviour. I believe that it is often an aberrant form of play behaviour as it closely resembles the way in which kittens play with each other. You will often see this ‘wrap and rake’ technique when kittens play, but it is not so common when adult cats attack each other.
For these Jekyll and Hyde behaviours, I usually advise my clients to use a program of ‘progressive patting’. Your aim when using this therapy is to reinforce the cat’s friendly behaviour and to not allow the aggressive behaviour to develop.
Before we go any further, consider that aggression is damaging and dangerous. If you are unsure of your cat’s behaviour, then take no risks and seek professional advice first.