Aggression or play?

TeragramK

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I adopted a former stray last August. For a while he was just outrageously sweet and chill, let me rub his tummy on day one and purred almost constantly. In the past few months, while he’s lovely 99% of the time, he gets occasionally aggressive out of nowhere.

Most of the time it’s while I’m petting him. He’ll just try to bite my hand or arm and if I pull it back he lunges at me. This is accompanied by literally no observable body language. No ear flattening, no tail lashing, no pupil dilation (at least that I’ve been able to observe… it’s very dim in my house most of the time). It’s not consistent when or where it occurs (this morning he came at me while I was petting him in bed). The only 100% consistent thing is he’s always done it when I was “on level” with him (either laying on the floor, in bed, or while he was on the back of the couch I was sitting on). He isn’t attacking my legs or anything when I walk by. I try not to maintain prolonged eye contact with him, in case that’s what’s setting him off. It has never been in an area where something he saw outside could have set him off. He also doesn’t use his paws or claws, no swatting at me, just teeth. Multiple times he’s lunged directly at my face/head.

If I push him away he sometimes will scamper off, but he will often keep coming back at me after a few moments unless I get up and leave. I can’t tell if he’s trying to engage in play and is just bad at it (he was three when I got him, and had only been at the shelter a couple of months, so they didn’t have long to observe him and how he interacted with other cats/humans. He did bite a volunteer at least once while being brushed, apparently). Am I missing cues here? It’s very scary when he lunges at my face.

I should note he is neutered also!

I’ve got videos of both times he did it this morning:


In the first video I had lightly tapped him on the side maybe 2-3 mins before to distract him from trying to climb a shelf that’s out of frame (and then was scratching his chin). He bit my wrist before I shoved him off the bed. The second video was about twenty minutes after the first, after he’d left and then jumped back onto the bed, and I was just petting him. For further context, I’d been awake for about fifteen minutes but hadn’t gotten out of bed yet and he’d just been either jumping up on the furniture or hopping onto the bed to rub against me up to that point (our normal Saturday morning routine).

He’s only my second cat, and my first was geriatric when I got him and never very active. I would welcome any insight from people who have more experience with cats! I’ve been doing my best to play with him as much as I can during the day, as well as providing him other stimulation like interactive toys, scratchers, and food puzzles because he is so much more active than my previous cat.

I am currently keeping a log of when he’s done this and what he and I were both doing previously to see if there’s any other pattern to it. He’s only been doing it since late February but it seems to be happening more often lately. If it keeps up I will likely talk to his vet about it but I’m afraid of getting him labeled as an aggressive cat when he really isn’t.

Thank you so much!
 

Kris107

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Some cats get very stimulated when they are pet. Sometimes this overwhelms them and they might bite. My neighbors' cat did this when I was petting him. He is a very friendly cat, but I just have to know that about him. When he goes for your face and such, how do you let him know you don't like it? Have you tried the ultra loud EEP! sound? Do you push him away or play dead?
 

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It doesn't look malicious to me. It looks like a bad attempt to initiate play.
 
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TeragramK

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Some cats get very stimulated when they are pet. Sometimes this overwhelms them and they might bite. My neighbors' cat did this when I was petting him. He is a very friendly cat, but I just have to know that about him. When he goes for your face and such, how do you let him know you don't like it? Have you tried the ultra loud EEP! sound? Do you push him away or play dead?
I chalked it up to overstimulation the first couple of times it happened but he’s done it before I’ve even touched him to pet him a couple of times now! I will try that “eep” (gotta watch some kitten videos to study). Normally I push him away and if he comes back I leave the area and that puts a stop to it.
 
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TeragramK

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Looks like he just wants to play.
This is what I am hoping for! The videos from yesterday morning are the first time I’ve ever caught it on camera where you could really see his body language both before and after and see that he is acting quite chill about the whole thing. Just wish he’d stop going for my face!
 
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TeragramK

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It doesn't look malicious to me. It looks like a bad attempt to initiate play.
I guess I have to teach him how to play right! I wish I had a little more info about his history prior to the shelter I got him from. He was picked up as a TNR and was so friendly the rescue decided to send him to the shelter to see if he could be adopted out. I have no idea how much he was around people or other cats before that.
 

VAMama

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I guess I have to teach him how to play right! I wish I had a little more info about his history prior to the shelter I got him from. He was picked up as a TNR and was so friendly the rescue decided to send him to the shelter to see if he could be adopted out. I have no idea how much he was around people or other cats before that.
Correcting cat behavior is best done in cat language. You can hiss at him, make a hurt yelping sound, etc. Make sure to initiate play in safe/calm ways so he learns that he can play with you just not attack you.
 
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TeragramK

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Correcting cat behavior is best done in cat language. You can hiss at him, make a hurt yelping sound, etc. Make sure to initiate play in safe/calm ways so he learns that he can play with you just not attack you.
I will try this for sure, thanks! I’m also going to keep some toys around in the places this is usually happening to redirect.
 

Caspers Human

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I agree with the others. He is playing, albeit rather clumsily.

I also agree with the way you handled it. If the cat doesn't want to behave himself when he's in bed with you, kick him out.
If the cat wants to come up and snuggle in bed, there are rules to follow. If he obeys the rules, all is well. If he doesn't, he gets evicted.

All of the other suggestions to minimize play aggression are good, too. However, I think your tactic is the best for the situation. Play to the cat's desires. If he doesn't behave in bed, he doesn't get to have snuggle time with his human.
 

IslandGirl242

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I adopted a former stray last August. For a while he was just outrageously sweet and chill, let me rub his tummy on day one and purred almost constantly. In the past few months, while he’s lovely 99% of the time, he gets occasionally aggressive out of nowhere.

Most of the time it’s while I’m petting him. He’ll just try to bite my hand or arm and if I pull it back he lunges at me. This is accompanied by literally no observable body language. No ear flattening, no tail lashing, no pupil dilation (at least that I’ve been able to observe… it’s very dim in my house most of the time). It’s not consistent when or where it occurs (this morning he came at me while I was petting him in bed). The only 100% consistent thing is he’s always done it when I was “on level” with him (either laying on the floor, in bed, or while he was on the back of the couch I was sitting on). He isn’t attacking my legs or anything when I walk by. I try not to maintain prolonged eye contact with him, in case that’s what’s setting him off. It has never been in an area where something he saw outside could have set him off. He also doesn’t use his paws or claws, no swatting at me, just teeth. Multiple times he’s lunged directly at my face/head.

If I push him away he sometimes will scamper off, but he will often keep coming back at me after a few moments unless I get up and leave. I can’t tell if he’s trying to engage in play and is just bad at it (he was three when I got him, and had only been at the shelter a couple of months, so they didn’t have long to observe him and how he interacted with other cats/humans. He did bite a volunteer at least once while being brushed, apparently). Am I missing cues here? It’s very scary when he lunges at my face.

I should note he is neutered also!

I’ve got videos of both times he did it this morning:


In the first video I had lightly tapped him on the side maybe 2-3 mins before to distract him from trying to climb a shelf that’s out of frame (and then was scratching his chin). He bit my wrist before I shoved him off the bed. The second video was about twenty minutes after the first, after he’d left and then jumped back onto the bed, and I was just petting him. For further context, I’d been awake for about fifteen minutes but hadn’t gotten out of bed yet and he’d just been either jumping up on the furniture or hopping onto the bed to rub against me up to that point (our normal Saturday morning routine).

He’s only my second cat, and my first was geriatric when I got him and never very active. I would welcome any insight from people who have more experience with cats! I’ve been doing my best to play with him as much as I can during the day, as well as providing him other stimulation like interactive toys, scratchers, and food puzzles because he is so much more active than my previous cat.

I am currently keeping a log of when he’s done this and what he and I were both doing previously to see if there’s any other pattern to it. He’s only been doing it since late February but it seems to be happening more often lately. If it keeps up I will likely talk to his vet about it but I’m afraid of getting him labeled as an aggressive cat when he really isn’t.

Thank you so much!
Hi. We have a 12 y.o. male that is exactly like this... sweet as anything but suddenly bites out of nowhere, especially my husband. Draws blood every time.
When he's done it to me I've smacked him so after a few times, he either stops himself or bites me more gently.
Anyway, I believe he does this when he wants something, usually food. Sometimes there is food in the bowl but he wants a different flavor 🙄.
We used to give them treats but I had to stop because that's when he used to be very aggressive... he wanted treats all the time. Once he got used to the fact that there were no treats anymore, it got better.
Also, so that they don't wake me early or in the middle of the night, I try to make sure there is food in their bowls before I fall asleep.
Hope this helps, at least know you are not alone 🤗. Feel free to contact me.
 

IzzysfureverMom

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As K Kris107 said above it could be overstimulation. One of our cats especially when she was younger got very over stimulated by petting. You could do limited under chin scratches with her but the whole body pet was a bad idea.
It is important to set your boundaries of appropriate play as well. Ours would grab you claws out all four paws. She she definitely overstimulated. Wand toys are very good for cats that want to 'play' with your hands.
You can learned their tolerance for for when , how, and how much petting they can deal with. They can learn hands and toes are not toys.
 
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TeragramK

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I agree with the others. He is playing, albeit rather clumsily.

I also agree with the way you handled it. If the cat doesn't want to behave himself when he's in bed with you, kick him out.
If the cat wants to come up and snuggle in bed, there are rules to follow. If he obeys the rules, all is well. If he doesn't, he gets evicted.

All of the other suggestions to minimize play aggression are good, too. However, I think your tactic is the best for the situation. Play to the cat's desires. If he doesn't behave in bed, he doesn't get to have snuggle time with his human.
My previous cat used to wake me up by digging his claws into my scalp or headbutting me in the face so pushing him off the bed became a reflex! It’s not far enough for him to fall where I’m worried he’d get hurt, and I have carpet.
 

Caspers Human

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Cats are resilient. A normal, healthy cat can fall off the bed and probably won't be hurt unless he hits something on the way down. The biggest injury is to their pride! ;)
 

Sundance2024

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My adopted stray does the same thing. Have had him for almost 2 years now and in the last few months he has started doing this as well. He will be on the couch next to me, I am petting him, he is purring like crazy and suddenly try to grab my arm with his claws and bite me. I know he knows it bad, I shake my finger at him (not hitting him) and say NO NO NO and he will pull his ears back so I know he knows it's wrong. Hopefully trimming his claws will save my are a little bit. He seldom bits hard but his claws are so sharp he usually draws blood.
 

HUDSONPAT

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I agree with the others. He is playing, albeit rather clumsily.

I also agree with the way you handled it. If the cat doesn't want to behave himself when he's in bed with you, kick him out.
If the cat wants to come up and snuggle in bed, there are rules to follow. If he obeys the rules, all is well. If he doesn't, he gets evicted.

All of the other suggestions to minimize play aggression are good, too. However, I think your tactic is the best for the situation. Play to the cat's desires. If he doesn't behave in bed, he doesn't get to have snuggle time with his human.
Fully agree....my 6 mo. kitten continues to attack my legs in bed...day or nite. I yell NO, he ignores it. I have to close bedrm door. Friends say, give him time...I surely will.
 
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