Why does my cat attack people’s legs when they walk past?
If you've read any of my other behaviour focus blog posts in this series, you've probably guessed what the first thing I'm going say is! It doesn't matter what the behaviour problem is or what change in behaviour you've noticed in your cat, the first port of call is always the vets to rule out medical problems. This is vital as behaviour measures can be useless or even dangerously mask the problem if medical conditions are not addressed. As always, describe the behaviours you are seeing and in what context, rather than being tempted to explain why the cat is showing the behaviour. For example, does the cat grab people’s leg with their paws and/or are they biting? If the cat is biting, what pressure does the cat use and is it breaking the skin? What facial expressions and body postures does the cat show before, during and after going for someone’s legs? It is really easy to miss these signs and many people feel that this behaviour is out of blue, random or unprovoked.
If there’s just one thing you take away from this post (other than the importance of getting a vet check and qualified behaviourist to help), it is that cats are not random. Everything happens for a reason. It is just that it is not usually obvious what that is! So look out for the position of your cat’s ears and whether their pupils are constricted or dilated. These all help to piece together the underlying emotional state of the cat and point towards the underlying reason/s for the behaviour. It is really useful to keep a diary to document everything to look for patterns in context and behaviour.
|Image by Exeter Adoption Centre|
|Photo: CP library|
|Photo: CP library|
Cats are frequently attracted to high pitched toys and the hunting instinct is often triggered by movement, so toys that move such as fishing rod toys with feathers are a useful way to provide pet cats with this outlet, as well as great fun for you too. Short games of a minute or two throughout the day are best to mimic the cat’s natural hunting activity. Cats are generally most active during dawn and dusk (as this is normally when their prey is most active), so it can be useful to have extra play sessions during these times to use up that extra energy. Cats in the wild spend a lot of their time on short, frequent hunting expeditions. In comparison, our domestic cats are given food bowls, so a meal doesn't take long to eat and doesn't make use of their great senses. Create interest at meal times by hiding food around the house for your cat to search out, make a pyramid out of cardboard toilet roll tubes and hide food in the tubes, or use a puzzle ball.
Inappropriate play behaviour is just one of the many possibilities to explain this type of behaviour and often it could be a combination of factors. If you are experiencing a problem with your cat, please get a referral from your vet to a suitably qualified behaviourist such as a member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (www.apbc.org.uk).