It’s the end of a long day and you’re looking forward to relaxing with a movie. You head to the kitchen to grab a snack, when all of a sudden, a ball of fur with sharp teeth and claws darts out from under the dining table and attacks your feet. Ouch!
For many cat parents, this scenario is all too painfully familiar. How often have your feet been the target of your feline companion when you least expected it? Not fun, right? “Furtunately”, you don’t need to endure this kind of behavior from your kitty—read on to find out how to correct it.
The Root of the Behavior
So what is the reason behind your cat’s attacks? And why feet? Have you ever wondered to yourself, “Does my cat hate me? Could they be hatching some kind of evil plan against me?”
Don’t worry, your cat isn’t plotting against you, and they’re not doing this because they don’t like you. It’s actually the opposite—they want to play with you! While getting bitten, swatted, and scratched isn’t our idea of a good time, don’t “furget” that as cute as your feline friend may be, they still possess some wild instincts.
That means your cat will play in a predatory way—a behavior that experts refer to as play aggression. Yes, cute, fluffy Snowball is still a hunter. And to your little tiger who has a prey drive, human feet in motion look a lot like mice or other small animals scurrying around. And if there are no other opportunities for play or stimulation, guess what Snowball will zoom in on? Yep, you guessed it.
Play aggression can start at any age, but it is most common in kittens and young adult cats. Cats who are bored or never learned to play nice when they were young will exhibit play aggression. In addition, if you’ve ever encouraged your kitten to play with your hands and feet, they will carry that habit into adulthood.
Encouraging the Behavior
While your cat may have no intention to harm you, rough play can cause injury. Bites and scratches are not only painful, but they can also lead to serious problems for people with compromised immune systems. Obviously, we want to discourage this kind of behavior from our feline companions.
As mentioned earlier, your cat is just playing with you when they’re attacking your feet. This means they’re not getting enough stimulation and playtime opportunities from you. Thus, the solution is to play with them, and play with them every day!
You can buy or make toys to satisfy your cat’s prey drive and eventually wear them out. Again, using your hands and feet to play with your kitty is a no-no, so utilize fishing pole toys that you can wave around or something that you can throw for them to chase. These types of toys mimic the movements of prey, as well as keep your cat’s teeth and claws away from your feet (and other body parts).
Schedule at least two play sessions each day and keep a bunch of different toys in your arsenal (be sure to rotate them!), as your cat would have plenty of opportunities to hunt and a variety of prey to chase if they were outside.
Lastly, enrich your feline friend’s environment by making sure they have places to hide and hunt. Also consider using puzzle feeders or food balls instead of bowls to make feeding more natural.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Fear might be another reason why your cat attacks your feet. Fear aggression occurs when a cat is unable to escape something or someone that they perceive as a threat. This is usually accompanied by other signals such as a tucked tail, flattened ears, crouching, hissing, and growling.
If your cat displays any of these signs, it’s best to avoid them and wait for them to calm down. Desensitization and counterconditioning treatments might also be necessary.
Look at your cat’s overall body language, which includes their facial expression, body posture, and the position of certain body parts such as the ears and tail. These should tell you if your feline friend is feeling playful or afraid.