Cat attacked owner randomly and violently!

by Jade Daniels

Hi there,

I was recently on the phone in the midst of a particularly upsetting conversation when my 4yr old female cat jumped onto my lap, latched her teeth into my neck and wouldn't let go. I had to literally pry her mouth open in order to free myself. I am left with these huge bite marks and the obvious question, "What the heck just happened?"

She has never ever shown any signs of aggression whatsoever. She isn't even interested in play fighting. She literally does nothing but sleep and eat, all of the time. I'm lucky if I even see her in a day! She is an indoor cat, shots and medications up to date... needless to say, this encounter was an unbelievably shocking one.

Why did she attack me and what can I do to prevent this happening again? She's a very good girl and I won't get rid of her but I'm worried that maybe she's upset with me over something I've overlooked. I would really appreciate some help.

Thank you.

Dear Jade,

The way you described this aggressive episode in your cat, it sounds as though this attack was quite violent. It can be hard to convey the degree of aggression in words through emails, but this is something to consider. Was the attack violent? It is very unusual for a cat to behave in the way you described, and especially to go for a person’s neck. In fact, the only time I have ever had a cat bite me on the neck was playfully. Was there anything playful about your cat’s behavior?

Assuming that the cat aggression you experienced was as violent as it sounds, there are some things you will need to think about and look at to help determine how to avoid this in the future.

If you were having an upsetting conversation, you need to examine what you were doing at that time. Were you screaming, crying, sobbing, or yelling? Were you reacting in such a way to your phone conversation that your cat had never experienced before?

Also, think about what was your cat doing in the moments prior to the attack. Was your cat near a window where she may have seen another animal? Was she using her litter box or eating or drinking just before? Depending on what she had been doing prior to the aggressive episode, your cat may have had a high startle response to a way you reacted on the phone call or may have even displaced her aggression on you in response to an animal she had seen outdoors.

Aggressive episodes like the one you described are usually the result of fear in cats. The immediate problem to address is doing what you can to calm your cat back down. If you can figure out the answers to the above questions, you’ll be able to better determine how to avoid these outbursts in the future. But, in the meantime, as hard as it may be, there are some things you will need to keep in mind to help your cat regain her sense of security.

While it is, of course, important to protect yourself, acting afraid of your cat will only make things worse. Your body language is very important. It is equally important to keep in mind that yelling and/or physically disciplining a cat will only make things worse as well. Give your cat some space for now, and be careful to not approach her while you are both readjusting and calming back down.

Try using cat pheromone products throughout your home, such as Feliway diffusers and sprays, to help create a more calming environment for your cat. Bach makes a product called Rescue Remedy that can also help reduce cat anxiety. And, if these tools do not help, you can always consult your veterinarian for prescription behavioral medications for your cat.

Cat aggression can be quite frightening for owners, but try to remember that your cat’s episode was truly the result of fear. Determining what you may have done and what your cat was doing in the moments prior to the attack as well as creating a calm, safe environment for your cat again will likely resolve the issue. The key to all of this, though, is giving it time.

All the best,
Dr. Neely

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