Why Do Cats Attack? The Reasons Behind Biting and Bunny Kicking

Introduction

Cats often exhibit biting and bunny kicking behaviors that can seem aggressive or confusing to their owners. While startling, these behaviors stem from the natural instincts and communication methods of cats. Biting and bunny kicking are typically not signs of true aggression in cats, but rather of overstimulation, playfulness, or even affection. Understanding the motivations behind these behaviors can help cat owners better relate to their pets.

This article provides an overview of common biting and bunny kicking actions in domestic cats. It explores the various reasons cats may bite or kick, from moods to health issues. With insight into these behaviors, cat owners can address the underlying causes and maintain a happy, healthy relationship with their feline companions.

Natural Instincts

A cat’s instinct to bite and bunny kick comes from behaviors that are essential to their survival in the wild. When cats hunt prey like mice or birds, they use their sharp teeth to grab and kill their target. The bunny kick motion with their hind legs allows them to disembowel and disable their prey (Source).

Even domesticated house cats retain these instinctive behaviors passed down from their ancestors. Biting and bunny kicking are ingrained ways cats interact with their environment. When cats playfully bite or kick their owners, they are simply expressing these natural hunting behaviors, though not intending to cause harm (Source).

Understanding the origin of these behaviors provides insight into why cats bite and kick. It stems from innate instincts and their development through play as kittens.

Communication

Cats use body language and behavior like biting and bunny kicking to communicate with their owners. Often these behaviors are a cat’s way of saying “don’t touch me like that” or can be an invitation to play (Source 1, Source 2).

When a cat bites or kicks while being petted, it may be a signal that the petting is annoying or overstimulating for the cat. The cat is essentially saying “that’s enough petting” or “I don’t like being touched that way.” Light nibbles or kicks are the cat’s way of communicating their boundaries.

Biting and kicking can also be an invitation from the cat to play. The cat is trying to engage their owner in active play by giving a little nip or kick. However, owners should discourage cats from biting and kicking during play, as it can reinforce aggressive behavior.

By being attentive to a cat’s body language, owners can better understand if biting and kicking is communicative or a sign of potential aggression or health issues.

Playfulness

Biting and kicking can be indicators that a cat is feeling playful. Cats communicate this playful intent through gentle nibbling or soft kicks without claws extended. This mimics their behavior with other cats, especially for young kittens still learning how to properly interact.

According to one expert, “Bite plus bunny kick can mean one of two things. Your cat is either saying ‘Don’t touch me this way’ or ‘Let’s play.'” (Source)

When a cat bunny kicks and gently mouths hands or feet, it is often an invitation to play and interact through toys or playful hunting behaviors. However, cats can miscalculate the appropriate force to use especially when overstimulated. If the bites or kicks cause pain, it’s important to immediately stop play and walk away.

Overstimulation

Overstimulation is a common cause of biting and bunny kicking in cats. This occurs when a cat is petted, stroked or handled too much, beyond the point that they find pleasurable. Though it may seem like a positive interaction to the human, too much petting can overstimulate a cat’s senses, making them feel frustrated and irritated.

When a cat becomes overstimulated, they may suddenly bite or kick with their back legs in a rabbit-like fashion, even if they were previously enjoying the attention. This is called petting induced or overstimulation aggression. According to the Humane Society of Huron Valley, this is because cats have an instinctual need to feel in control of their environment and their interactions [1].

When a human continues stroking against the cat’s wishes, it violates their sense of control. The cat resorts to biting or bunny kicking as a way to communicate “that’s enough!” and regain control over the situation. While startling, this behavior is simply their instinctual response to feeling overwhelmed by too much handling. The key is to learn a cat’s individual limits for petting and touch to avoid overstimulating them.

Fear/Anxiety

Cats often bite or kick when they are feeling frightened or anxious as a protective mechanism. This is referred to as redirected aggression and is their way of defending themselves when they feel scared. While it’s instinctual, it can be problematic behavior. According to Why does my cate bite me? | Meow Blog, when faced with a perceived threat, cats may react by biting or kicking as a means of self-defense. They want to get away from the situation causing their fear or anxiety. The biting and scratching is their way of creating distance and protecting themselves when escape isn’t possible. It’s important to identify what triggers this reaction so steps can be taken to minimize situations that create fear and anxiety for the cat.

Redirected Aggression

Redirected aggression occurs when a cat becomes agitated or aroused by another animal, person, or event, but is unable to direct aggression toward the source of irritation. Instead, the cat redirects that aggression onto another target, often a person or animal that is nearby but not the cause of their irritation. For example, a cat may see another outdoor cat through a window and become agitated. If a person happens to walk by at that moment, the indoor cat may attack or bite that person due to the redirected aggression from seeing the outdoor cat (Source).

Common triggers for redirected aggression in cats include loud noises, seeing outdoor cats through a window, confrontations with other household cats, or even overly energetic play. The aggression is not random, but stems from the cat feeling threatened, frustrated, or irritated by the initial trigger. Cats often communicate this agitation through body language like swishing tail, folded back ears, dilated pupils, and low growls or yowls (Source).

Redirected aggression can manifest as biting, scratching, bunny kicking with the hind legs, or other forms of attack. It’s important not to punish the cat, since the aggression is the result of built up stress, anxiety, or frustration and not deliberate misbehavior. Treatment involves identifying and removing triggers, providing alternative outlets like toys, and using calming pheromones or medication if necessary (Source). With patience and by addressing the root cause, redirected aggression can often be resolved.

Health Issues

Sometimes biting and bunny kicking behaviors in cats can be caused by underlying medical conditions. According to the VCA Animal Hospitals, illnesses affecting the mouth, teeth, or gums can cause a cat to bite or kick out of pain or irritation. Dental problems like tooth decay, gum disease, or mouth ulcers are common culprits. Cats may also bite or kick more if they have arthritis, joint pain, or neurological issues that make petting painful or overstimulating.

Infections, fever, and illness can also make cats feel irritable and more likely to bite or kick. Any condition causing pain, discomfort, or agitation needs to be addressed by a veterinarian to curb biting and kicking behaviors stemming from health problems.

Aggression

Cats can bite or bunny kick their owners as a form of true aggression or redirected aggression (Cats Protection, 2023). This often occurs when the cat feels threatened or fears being injured. Aggressive biting and bunny kicking is not playful behavior but a serious sign of distress in the cat. It can result from fear, pain, stress, lack of socialization, or underlying medical issues. Aggressive cats will often hiss, swat, scratch, or bite with enough force to break skin. The biting and kicking is meant to harm. This type of behavior should not be ignored or encouraged, as it can escalate over time. If a cat is aggressively biting or kicking regularly, it’s important to identify and address the root cause through training, medication, or environmental changes. Consulting a vet or animal behaviorist can help curb aggressive tendencies and keep both the cat and owner safe.

Conclusion

In summary, cats commonly engage in playful biting and bunny kicking due to their natural hunting instincts and desire to play. However, these behaviors can become problematic if the cat is overstimulated, fearful, anxious, stressed, or frustrated. While biting and kicking are normal for cats, pet owners can minimize these behaviors through proper training techniques, scheduling dedicated playtime, providing adequate enrichment, and addressing any underlying health or behavioral issues. With time and positive reinforcement, cats can learn to curb their urge to bite and kick.

To reduce biting and kicking, it’s important to avoid scolding or physically punishing the cat, as this will only increase stress and aggravate the behavior. Instead, redirect the cat’s energy into appropriate toys whenever they start to bite or kick. Provide daily interactive playtime with wand toys or balls to satisfy their prey drive. Make sure the cat has access to scratching posts, cat trees, and other enrichments. Use treats and clicker training to reinforce calm, gentle behavior. Contact your vet to rule out pain, illness, or anxiety as a factor. Seek help from a cat behaviorist if biting and kicking persist despite these efforts. With patience and consistency, biting and kicking can be minimized so owners and cats can happily coexist.

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