Does it ever feel like you’re being specifically targeted by your feline “friend”?
Maybe you’re the favorite human most of the time and your cat clearly loves you (congrats) but it still seems like you’re the only one that your cat decides to randomly attack!
So what’s going on here and why does your cat attack you but no one else? Unfortunately, there’s not an easy answer that applies to every situation but in most cases, your cat is simply reacting to the type of attention you’re giving them or they’ve decided that you’re the most fun to attack and play with!
But that’s really just scratching the surface (see what I did there) of why your cat might do this.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the possible reasons starting with the most common. We’ll also talk about ways that you can prevent your cat from attacking you in the first place.
But first, let’s answer an important question.
Is Your Cat Actually Attacking You?
Okay, you might be rolling your eyes and shouting “Yes! Of course, my cat is attacking me!”
But there’s a BIG difference between play behavior and real aggression- even if they both end up with you feeling attacked. Understanding the difference between play and aggression is the first step to figuring out why our cat has decided to attack! While the difference is obvious to another cat, sometimes we humans have a hard time telling the difference between play and real aggression. So we need to look at the overall context of our cats to figure if they’re trying to play with us or if they really want to steal our lunch money.
Context Clue #1: Where Is It Happening?
Our first context clue is the location of the attack. Cats are typically ambush predators which means they like to hide and wait for their prey. So if you’re being attacked as you turn a corner or pass your cat’s favorite hiding spot there’s a good chance they’re playing and just couldn’t resist the opportunity to give you a swipe. If instead, your cat sees you as a prey animal then we’ve got bigger problems but this pretty unlikely.
The other thing to consider is whether or not the attack is happening around a resource like food, furniture, or around another animal. These scenarios all point to aggression rather than play since your cat may feel the need to protect their space from you or another animal.
Context Clue #2: What Was Your Cat Doing?
While it’s closely related to our first context clue, we need to consider what your cat was doing before they decided to attack. Did they run up to you or were you petting them?
It’s also important to consider what YOU were doing before the attack. For example, if your cat only attacks you when being pet then you may need to change the way you pet your cat- especially if you’re the only one being attacked mid-pet.
Context Clue #3: Check the Ears
While feline body language is complex and complicated, I usually find that the ears make a great indicator of how your cat is feeling. Flat ears that are as close to your cat’s body as possible indicate a defensive posture and suggest that your cat feels threatened. On the other hand, a cat that is hunting or playing will “keep his ears forward to collect as much auditory information as possible to execute a successful pounce.” If your cat is showing flat ears with a tense body then it’s likely they think they’re in a fight.
What To Do With This Information?
If your cat is attacking you out of play then the solution is usually pretty straightforward- you need to give your cat more appropriate play outlets than they already have. But if your cat is attacking you because they feel threatened or uncomfortable then we’ll need to do a little more digging to figure out how to fix it.
But Why Me and No One Else?
If your cat is attacking you and no one else there’s a good chance that there’s something different about you and your relationship. For a super simple example, let’s say that you’re the only one in the household that ties your shoelaces in the living room where your cat can see you. There are plenty of cats that just can’t resist a chance to attack a few shoelaces! Once your cat starts attacking you and your shoelaces they might decide that it’s a whole lot of fun. Maybe you react in a way that your cat finds way more entertaining than other people in your home.
Now, what started as a simple shoelace assault has turned into a preference for attacking you and you alone.
So we really need to do some feline detective work. Now that we’ve worked out some of our context clues to figure out if we’re being played with or bullied we can break down a few of the common reasons for attacks to figure why our cat has chosen us for their feline fight club.
Let’s start with the most likely reason.
Reason 1: Your Cat Is Overstimulated
Overstimulation is an extremely common but often very misunderstood feline phenomenon. Simply put, it occurs when good petting goes bad either because it’s gone on too long or because your cat is being pet in a spot they don’t’ like. The tricky thing is that overstimulation looks different in different cats and each individual feline will have a different threshold for petting.
So if your cat is attacking only you while you pet them then there’s a good chance you need to adjust your petting. The easiest fix is to simply shorten your petting sessions but focusing on the head is usually a safe bet too. Cats are much more likely to become overstimulated when they’re pet on their stomach so it’s best to avoid that area altogether.
The first signs of overstimulation can be subtle and sometimes it feels like our cats go from happy with the petting to full attack mode in an instant. But the fact is, most cats are giving subtle signals.
Check out this video from Jackson Galaxy for great examples of subtle overstimulation cues:
Reason 2: It’s Fun To Attack You! (Sorry)
Let’s say you were going to play a prank on someone at work.
Who are you going to pick?
Even if you aren’t exactly a prolific prankster, you probably have someone in mind that you know would make a good candidate. They’re probably someone who won’t get too upset but they’ll still give you a fun reaction.
Well, there’s a chance you’re the ideal office pranking target. Except instead of an office prank you’re the target of your cat’s boredom and you just so happen to be the most fun target to attack between naps. So ask yourself, what makes you different from other people in your house?
Do you have a funny reaction or maybe you start a vigorous play session as soon as you’re attacked?
Reason 3: Redirected Aggression
VCA Hospitals defines redirected aggression as occurring when your cat is agitated by “another animal, person, or event but is unable to direct aggression towards the stimulus.” One of the most common examples happens when an indoor cat sees an outdoor cat through a window. Your cat might be frustrated and threatened by this cat but they can’t direct any of that towards the outdoor cat since there’s a barrier between them.
Like a person who’s having a really bad day, your cat will take out that frustration on the next critter they come in contact with, and sometimes that might be you.
So how could this explain why your cat attacks only you with redirected aggression?
We’ve got to go back to our context clues to figure out what’s going. One of the most common scenarios involves another pet. It’s pretty common for a cat or dog to select their favorite human and dogs especially will often decide to follow this person around the house. While cats and dogs can certainly get along the relationship is often a little tense and your cat may be redirecting some of their aggression and frustration onto you.
If your dog is always hanging out with you then that would explain why you’re the only person getting attacked by your cat.
But it doesn’t have to be a dog, redirected aggression can also occur between cats and is most often an issue of resources. A high number of feline fights happen over furniture like cat trees or the perfect place in the sun. So if you always sit in the same spot on the couch (you know, right next to the cat tree) and find yourself the victim of feline attacks you might need to pick up another cat tree. In my opinion, the folks at Go Pet Club have the best selection and quality of trees and you can check out their store on Amazon. You don’t necessarily need to go all out with a massive cat tree for every cat but every kitty should have a space that’s uniquely theirs.
However, redirected aggression isn’t limited to other pets and animals alone. Pain and stress can cause cats to lash out but typically it won’t be targeted to one person (unless you’re a very aggressive petter).
Reason 4: You Smell A Little Funny
There’s a chance that a particular scent encourages your cat to attack you. Similar to redirected aggression, your cat gets overly excited about some sort of stimulation (in this case scent) but doesn’t know how to express it other than attacking you.
The most obvious possibility is the smell of another animal, especially another cat. If the cat that’s doing the attacking hasn’t been spayed or neutered the smell of another cat will likely make an even greater impact. Decreased aggression is just another benefit to spaying or neutering your cat as the majority of cats are much calmer after spay or neuter.
But it isn’t always obvious what might set your cat off. While citrus smells like oranges are offensive to cats, they aren’t likely to attack you because of it. Instead, less obvious smells like bleach or ammonia might trigger a weird response in your cat. That’s because bleach can smell a lot like cat urine to many cats and lead to them becoming overly excited.
So if you’re regularly cleaning with bleach (maybe at work) and the other people in your house aren’t that could explain why your cat has chosen you as the main attack target. Even you can’t smell it doesn’t mean it’s not there since cats have a sense of smell that’s 6 times greater than humans.
Reason 5: Because It Works (Unintended Positive Reinforcement)
Positive reinforcement is the foundation of modern animal training and the concept is pretty simple: if a critter does what you want them to do then you give them a treat immediately after that behavior and over time this will encourage that behavior.
So what the heck is unintended positive reinforcement?
That’s when you end up encouraging behavior that you have no intention of promoting. The classic example is a cat that’s meowing for food in the middle of the night. Let’s say you get up and feed your cat in order to stop the meowing.
But what has your cat learned? That meowing is a great way to get food. So the next time she’s hungry in the middle of the night all it takes is a barrage of meows to get a snack! Now you’ve unintentionally created a midnight meowing monster!
The same process can explain why your cat would attack you and no one else. The question then becomes, what do you do after the attack that others aren’t doing? If you’re engaging your cat in playtime or giving them a snack to appease them after an attack then you’re actually encouraging them to attack more!
You can see how this can further be enforced if other humans in the household don’t give your cat what they want after an attack. Over time, you become the only one they still attack since it still works on you!
That’s why it’s important to not offer your cat positive reinforcement after they attack you- even if you don’t mean too!
Reason 6: Okay, Your Cat Might Not Like You
I hate to say it…but if your cat is only attacking you then there’s a chance that they just don’t like you very much. As rough as that sounds, it’s not something you should take personally since it’s more likely to be a combination of things rather than just you as a person. Maybe you’re regularly around other pets so you have some interesting smells, are a bit of a louder talker and your petting skills could be improved. While that sounds harsh, all this combined could lead to your cat politely asking you to keep your distance with a well-placed paw.
If it does seem like your cat just doesn’t like you in particular it’s usually best to start by improving your petting. Reach out with a finger and let your cat approach you then focus on short pets on the head. Unless there’s something else going on, some quiet, gentle petting over a few days will win over most cats.
Reason 7: Are You Simply the Resident Cat Person?
Even though it sounds like a place that I’d like to live in, most households aren’t filled with cat people. That means there’s a clear distinction between people that hang out with the cat and people who don’t! So while it may seem obvious, it’s important to ask yourself if you’re being attacked simply because you’re the one spending time with your cat!
Other members of the household might not get attacked by your cat because they don’t spend any time with your cat in the first place! I know, it’s obvious but it’s an often-overlooked explanation especially when it comes to younger cats that are ready to play fight anybody (and not just you).
Reason 8: It’s All About Territory
We’ve already touched on this in some of our context clues but it could be because you’re interacting with your cat at the wrong time and more importantly in the wrong place.
Cat are naturally territorial creatures so it should be no surprise that this is sometimes problematic inside our homes. The ASPA explains that “Cats’ territorial aggression is usually directed toward other cats, but it can be directed toward dogs and people, too. A cat can show territorial aggression toward some family members and not others and toward some cats but not others.”
In other words, your cat could be attacking you and not others because you’re the only one encroaching on what they perceive as their territory or because you’re the only one they see as a threat. The tricky part is figuring out exactly what your cat considers to be their territory. Your cat’s wild ancestors and feral friends control large areas of land and scientists found that “one male kitty’s range covered 1,351 acres (2.1 square miles).”
The ASPCA also goes on to explain that a “cat’s perceived territory could be the entire house or part of it, the yard, the block, or the neighborhood.” So while it will be hard to figure out exactly what territorial line you’ve crossed, by paying attention to the context clues you can figure out where you went wrong.
As is the case with many issues of aggression, cats that haven’t been spayed or neutered are not only more likely to be aggressive but also more likely to be territorial.
How To React To Feline Aggression
While the specific solution to feline aggression will depend on the underlying cause, there are a few things that apply across the board. Again the distinction between playing and actual aggressions is critical here.
Should I Tell My Cat “No”?
Many people try to discourage their cat from attacking by using the same techniques they’d use with a child or a dog. But unlike a dog who will clearly respond to your social cues, most cats will just look at you like you’re insane. Or as cat expert Tony Buffington puts it “your cat thinks you’re a huge, unpredictable ape.”
In order to understand why we need to look into our cat’s past. Buffington goes on to say that cats aren’t able to connect negative reinforcement like saying “no” with any of their behavior because “cats evolved as solitary hunters with little need for reading social cues, especially those for behavior modification.”
In other words, saying “no” or yelling at your cat isn’t going to do much.
What Should I Do Instead?
The first thing you want to do is make sure you’re not encouraging the behavior. The best thing to do is usually walk away. Your cat does care about you and in the case of trying to play wants your attention. By walking away you show your cat that their aggressive playstyle isn’t going to get them what they want.
On the other hand, if the aggression is clearly not playing then your first goal is to figure out what’s causing it and resolve the underlying playing. That’s why I’ve stressed the importance of understanding the difference between play and aggression using our context clues so many times.
Playing is an important part of being a cat and being a cat parent. Playtime is how your cat satisfies their natural instinct to hunt, chase, and capture. While the reasons why you’re specifically being attacked can be varied, minor aggression can sometimes be managed with some play therapy!
Try playing with your cat 15 minutes a day for a week and track the incidents of aggression. There’s a good chance they’ll decrease. Interactive toys are always best and my favorite is Da Bird which you can see here on Amazon. Cats absolutely lose their mind over this toy and I honestly haven’t seen a cat that isn’t interested in chasing down Da Bird!
When To Find Help
Okay, we’ve made a few jokes about feline aggression but at a certain point, it isn’t anything to laugh about.
But when is this point and when should you seek out professional help?
The first thing to consider is the degree of aggression. Cat bites are a serious issue and over a decade in the veterinary field, I’ve seen dozens of cat bites that turned into very serious wounds with a handful even requiring surgery. If your cat is showing aggression that results in deep bites then there’s a major problem and it’s clearly not play behavior. Your cat is having a serious problem that needs immediate attention and you should consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Even if it’s not quite that severe, your veterinarian can help rule out any medical issues that may be leading to aggression. But if your cat is focused on attacking only one person (you) it’s much more likely that your cat has a behavior issue. Your veterinarian can help refer you to a qualified feline behavior expert who can help you breakdown the problem and figure out what’s going.
But the context clues and reasons we’ve already discussed should give you a good head start.
While it might feel pretty personal to have your cat only attack you, there’s often an underlying issue that’s not exactly specific to you. It’s important to put on your feline detective hat and figure out exactly why our cats have decided to target us personally. Even though it often feels random, with enough effort we can usually figure out why our cats are acting out.