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Cat parents know the routine: You've just settled down to rest when suddenly, your cat pounces on top of your feet. And don't even think about moving your toes — your feline friend is a stealthy hunter and will jump on those, too.
Why do cats attack feet? And why do cats like feet so much, anyway? If you've ever lay motionless in bed hoping to avoid a foot ambush, these questions probably have crossed your mind.
It all comes down to instinct. Why do cats attack feet so often? As Cat Health noted, "Cats chase things because it's innate behavior. They're predators, so it's second nature for them to chase things. For some cats, that drive is so strong that your moving feet will trigger it." When your kitty sees your feet moving around under the bed covers, their instincts are on high alert: Attack!
Why do cats like feet in particular? Human feet happen to be the perfect shape and size for their preferred prey. "As cats hunt alone their prey is small in size as this is all they are capable of catching on their own," explained International Cat Care. Beware if you wear big, fuzzy slippers or socks that look conspicuously like small mammals, as this may encourage pouncing.
When Cats Attack Your Feet
Cats are quirky, sometimes complicated creatures that capture the hearts of so many pet parents. They also are very persistent and when cats want your attention, they won't stop until they get it, including jumping at your feet and ankles. Usually, this happens when you're sleeping or trying to work.
Typically, your feline friend swats at your feet because they want food or a snuggle session, or perhaps are acting out aggression. But more often than not, they do it because they want to play. A cat who's looking for a playmate doesn't exhibit hostile or fearful behavior — quite the opposite, in fact.
"The cat does not exhibit dominance posturing toward the victim, and does not retreat from or avoid the victim with characteristic signs of fear," explained the RSPCA Australia. "In fact, the cat often hides behind some furniture and waits until a person walks by, and then dashes out and attacks the person's ankles." Sound familiar? Kittens, in particular, are notorious for such behavior and will lunge at your feet, even if you're just walking across the room minding your own business.
Sometimes, cats can become overzealous during playtime and take it to the next level, such as biting or scratching that breaks the skin. You'll recognize cat aggression when you see it. In addition to biting, an aggressive cat will display one or more of the following behaviors:
- Exposed claws
- Open mouth
- Stiffened stance
- Arched back
Aggression is often the result of roughhousing gone wild, hostility caused by an outside factor such as an illness, or defending territory against a new pet in the family. Why do cats like feet when it comes to acting out aggression? Feet are easily accessible and mimic the movements of an animal.
To calm an aggressive cat, avoid roughhousing and redirect their attention. "A cat that habitually chases a person's feet is distracted (redirected) when a toy is waved in its face so the cat plays with the toy instead of focusing on the person's feet," said the American Animal Hospital Association. Invest in some soft, squishy toys that will make your feet less desirable as chew toys.
When to Call the Vet
Contact your veterinarian to discuss any worries that you have about your cat's aggressive behavior — the sooner the better, advised the American Association of Feline Practitioners. The vet will ask you questions about other behaviors, including destructive habits like scratching furniture, so jot down a list of concerns, including the question, of why cats attack feet. Together, you and your vet can address your cat's erratic behavior.
Understanding your cat's body language and knowing which behaviors are normal (and which are not) are two important tools that will lead to more positive interactions with your cat. With a little time and a little patience, your feet will be safe and sound.
Christine Brovelli-O'Brien, Ph.D., is a professional member of the Cat Writers' Association (CWA), a STEAM educator, and a devoted pet parent. Her work also has appeared in Fit Pregnancy, What to Expect When You're Expecting Word of Mom, and Care.com. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien