Pet Talk: Watch for Signs of Petting-Induced Aggression

Q:  My cat will be sitting on my lap purring and enjoying being petted when all of a sudden he turns and bites me, then runs off and stops to groom himself. I am starting to be leery of petting him because of this happening. Is there anything I can do to stop this?

A:  The term used to describe this behavior is “petting-induced aggression.” The experts don’t agree on why some cats display this behavior but they do agree it is a sure sign your feline has had enough petting.

Although it seems this sudden change in attitude comes out of nowhere, this is a common behavior in some cats who have reached their tolerance threshold for being stroked. It happens when a cat gets too stimulated from the constant petting and his body language signals have gone unnoticed. Cats differ in the amount of petting they will accept, and not all felines respond by biting when they have had enough. But some cats will nip and your animal is one of them.

Although it may seem the bite came without warning, there is a good chance your cat was giving off body language signals to warn you he has had enough petting that you didn’t acknowledge. Since your cat is showing signs of petting-induced aggression it will be necessary to watch his body language as you pet him or you will easily miss his warning signs if you become distracted.

It is important that you know your cat’s warning signs.

If you are very observant certain clues will often become apparent so you can stop the aggression before it begins by ending the petting session. Below are some subtle signs he may display that he’s just about had enough.

  • Stops purring.
  • Begins swishing his tail from side to side or thumping it.
  • Flattens his ears against his head or rotates them to the side or back.
  • His skin twitches while being petted.
  • Pupils become dilated.
  • Looks back at your hand or starts staring at you.

At the first sign he has had enough, stop petting him and offer a treat. Some experts believe a feline will learn to connect petting with treats and may with patience and time allow petting for longer periods without biting.

Good luck.


Sally Salopek is the owner and operator of Attend-A-Pet pet sitting services in northern Door County. She has also worked professionally with animals in health care, pet grooming, training, wildlife rehab and rescue. Send your pet-related questions to her at [email protected].


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