Why Did Our Cats Attack Us Out of Nowhere?

CatChannel and CAT FANCY cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains how your cats can attack you for seemingly no reason.

By Marilyn Krieger, CCBC | Posted: March 9, 2012, 8 p.m. EST

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Q: Last night our two cats attacked my wife, leaving deep scratches and bites on both legs. The cats are 7 and 8 years old.

My wife was walking up the stairs and when she got to the top of the stairs, the older cat attacked her legs all the way up to her thigh by biting and scratching her. As soon as she could stop the older cat’s attack, the younger cat attacked her. She stopped it but a few seconds later, the younger cat attacked again. Both cats were agitated and wouldn’t stop growling. My daughter and her fiancée managed to separate the cats, putting each in a separate room.

My wife and I are concerned because we have a 1-year-old granddaughter and now we feel the cats cannot be trusted when we have our granddaughter over.

Can you provide some advice as to why this happened and if it might happen again. What should we do? 

A: This must have been extremely frightening for your wife. I hope the wounds were not severe and that she sought medical attention. Cat bites can be very serious — developing into painful infections if not immediately attended to by a physician.

Without knowing all of the circumstances before the aggression occurred, it is hard to determine the original trigger for your cats' behavior. The aggression may be due to a medical problem or it could be behavioral in nature.

Before approaching this as a behavior problem, have your cats thoroughly examined by their veterinarian. The older cat may have a physical/biological problem that caused the original aggression. The 7-year-old cat’s aggressive reaction may have been triggered by older cat’s extreme aggression and your wife’s understandable response.

If this is a behavior issue, the attack could be an example of redirected aggression. Something could have occurred immediately prior to the attack that upset or startled one or both of the cats. A visiting neighbor cat or other animal or sudden noises are examples of events that can trigger redirected aggression in cats. Since the cats cannot reach the source of their problems, they vent their frustrations and aggression on whoever is near them. Sometimes the recipient is another resident animal—other times, the victim is an unlucky human who happens to be in the vicinity.

Your daughter and her fiancé took the correct action in separating the cats and placing them in their own rooms. If this is redirected aggression, it may take a few hours to a few days for the cats to calm down. Both of the confinement rooms need food, water, litter boxes and comfortable places for the cats to sleep.

Assuming that this is redirected aggression, identify all possible triggers for the behavior. You may have neighborhood cats or other wild animals hanging around that initially caused the aggressive response. Additionally, construction noises and sudden, loud vocalizations can startle cats, triggering aggressive reactions. After identifying the triggers, manage them. If there are neighborhood animals hanging around your house, put safe deterrents around the exterior of your home that will keep the neighborhood animals away.

I hope that this was a onetime event. Play it safe and take precautions when your granddaughter visits. Either monitor the situation when the cats are in the same room with your granddaughter or keep them confined away from her when she comes to visit.
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Reader Comments

Jukie    International

7/19/2015 9:42:27 AM

My cat attacked my granddaughter who is 2 years old this morning. The cat has recently had a chip fitted and has been neutered as I moved to a ground floor property in may, previously she was an indoor only cat but as soon as I moved wanted to go outside. Unfortunately she had become pregnant the vet did not ask if I wanted her to have kittens just said having op was better for her, now I realise she needs rehoming as she was aggressive previously but to other people not myself now I'm scared to go home

Bridget    Ringgold, GA

3/12/2015 11:51:36 PM

My cat attack me pretty bad about 2 weeks ago. There was some loud noises, but this is the third time she's gotten me, I'm not talking about a little attack, I mean she went straight due the head, I had to go to the hospital because there was so much blood coming from my head. She is 7 and spoiled rotten. This cat has warned us to let us know someone was trying to break in. We are most of the time inseparable. I just don't understand and it breaks my heart because if I have to give her away, I'm sure she will grieve herself.

Gary    International

1/3/2015 11:52:51 PM

I have 3 cats,my female cat that I found out in -50 weather has been a challenge the last 8 years. She can be so nice and then suddenly attack me or the other 2 cats just because we got off the couch or went to get a drink of water and so on. I'm not sure why she does this but presume it comes from her past before I found her.
I always try to make sure she's happy and well taken care of but haven't been able to help her get beyond these sudden mood swings that come to her attacking me and the other cats. I'm not sure what to do with her and I don't want to get rid of her as for I want her to have a good life and i care about her very much. Does anyone have any solutions that may help me get her out of these states she falls into periodically ?

Dianne    Alliance, OH

3/21/2014 4:59:47 PM

I have a calico that is almost 3 and she will sit by you and allow some petting but if you try to pet her with 2 hands or one too many strokes she bites! That is unfourtionate that the cats attacked her like that! I hope she recovers from that eppisode and it never happens again!

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