Petting Induced Aggression in Cats

What is petting-induced aggression?

Petting-induced aggression common problem many cat owners experiences. One minute you are enjoying some time petting your cat and all of a sudden he turns around takes a bite or swipe and then runs off and hides.

The cause of this behaviour is unknown, although it is thought that some cats can only accept a certain amount of petting before becoming uncomfortable.

Kittens who are removed from their mother and siblings can develop several behavioural problems, including aggressive behaviour. Kittens play fight with their mother and siblings, and if the kitten is too rough, the mother or siblings will let the kitten know with a hiss or a swipe. This teaches the kitten inhibited or soft biting.

Learn more about petting-induced biting from Janet Cutler, Ph.D., a Certified Cat Behaviorist, in our related articles:

How to avoid petting-induced aggression

Even if the cat has not caused physical injury, this kind of aggression can escalate. Cat bites and scratches carry a high risk of infection and/or an abscess.

Schedule a medical check-up: Several disorders can result in aggressive behaviour in cats. This includes liver disease, neurological disturbances, hyperthyroidism and any condition which causes pain.

Pay attention to body language: Being aware of your cat’s body language will help prevent these attacks. Common signs that a cat may be about to lash out include:

  • Tail twitching
  • Dilated pupils
  • Looking around (for an escape route)

If you notice these behaviours, stop, immediately.

Do not punish a cat who has acted aggressively: All this will achieve is to make your cat more fearful of you.

Know what the cat likes and doesn’t like: Not all cats are the same. Be aware of your cat’s physical comfort zone; cats like belly rubs, others don’t. 

Signs that a cat is at ease and enjoying being petted include:

  • Sticking the tail up and their bum in the air
  • Purring
  • Rubbing your hand with their head
  • Kneading
  • Some cats will drool

Never play rough with your hands: Teach your cat from an early age that hands are for stroking and not playing. Rough play may be fun when the cat is a baby, but it’s not the same when an adult cat takes a bite.

Let the cat seek you out: Some cats have a lower need for attention than others. We have to respect that and let your cat decide if and when he wants attention.

Provide an enriching environment: This includes interactive toys and feeders as well as daily play therapy to stave off boredom and provide an outlet to burn off energy.

Key points

  • Petting-induced aggression is a type of aggression where a kitten or cat suddenly attacks a person after a short period of attention.
  • The cause is not known, but being separated from the mother and littermates at an early age may be a factor.
  • Pet owners who have a cat who is displaying this behaviour must rule out a medical cause, and if that is ruled out, find ways to curb it.


  • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

    Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio

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