Does this happen to you? You are petting your cat, it’s purring away, your blood pressure is dropping, you feel great, your cat is happy, all is bliss –  and then whoosh, faster than you can curse, with a sudden snarl, swipe or bite you’ve just been scratched or bitten. What the heck just happened, right?  Why does a cat do this – go from ecstasy at your touch to attack mode in what seems like a second?  Talk about mixed messages huh?

As long as your cat does not have a medical problem, the sudden behavior change can happen when you go over their tolerance for being petted. It’s known as petting-induced aggression. It occurs when a cat gets too stimulated from continual petting. Most often the cat will start giving warning signs with his body that the stroking that felt so good a minute ago, now feels unpleasant. Since we often don’t recognize the cat’s subtle body language signals that they are no longer feeling good, we miss what the cat is communicating and your feline is left with the only other way to get you to stop petting them – to use their teeth or claws.

Watch for these signals that your cat is reaching his limit for being pet.

  1. Purring stops.
  2. Its tail starts thumping or lashing.
  3. Its skin twitches.
  4. Your cat looks back at your hand.
  5. Its ears flatten against its head or are held in airplane position.
  6. Your cat shifts positions.
  7. The cat meows or growls.


This cat is enjoying being pet.


This cat is not enjoying it any longer. This cat may bite very soon.


Now that you know what to watch for, the best way to avoid triggering petting-induced aggression is to stop petting your cat before you see the warning signals. For example, if you normally pet your cat for about 5 minutes before he gets annoyed, stop after 3 minutes. It makes it a positive experience – leaving your cat wanting more – which you can provide in another short affection session later.

And if the aggression still happens on occasion as you learn your cats tolerance for petting, I  know you may feel angry, and want to punish the cat, but remember your cat did not bite to be mean, it felt it had no other option because its attempt to communicate had not worked, so please don’t hit or yell at your cat.  Punishing your cat here works against the trust and affection that was your intent from the start.

Hear the story behind three other cat behaviors that may leave you puzzled, but makes total sense from a cats point of view. All in episode 25 of Raising Your Paws.
Show notes for Raising Your Paws Episode 25.

Title:  Why And How to Make An Estate Plan For Your Pets & When the Pavement Can Hurt Your Dog’s Paws.

Source for story about cats: Cat Wise, by Pam Johnson-Bennett.

For information about the new Pure Vita dog and cat foods,

To order the book, “Who Will Care When You’re Not There? Estate Planning for Pet Owners,” by Robert E. Kass, JD, LLM and Elizabeth A. Carrie, JD, LLM.



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Robert E. Kass, Attorney.