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I have a Maine Coon which was a rescue. She was wild for about five months before the shelter picked her up. I got her at about 5 1/2 months, just over 3 years ago. I figured she'd remain near-feral, but she has become extremely affectionate, esp over the last year. She meets me at the door, jumps up in my lap, licks my face, never wants to be in a different room than I am, and is generally a sweetheart.

The only thing is that she will suddenly go into attack mode.

Now, I don't do anything to provoke this. She will jump up on my lap, or on my chest when I'm laying down, meow at me, and demand to be petted.

Then, in the middle of being petted, she'll attack my hand and arm SAVAGELY. Now, I know that this isn't malicious on her part, because if I put my face near her, she goes back to cuddle mode.

The problem is, she's a BIG KITTY and can actually break the skin with her teeth, and I'm sure her claws could cut steel if we let them get sharp enough. (we have the vet trim them).

Anyone know why she might be doing this? Is there anything I can do to discourage this behavior?

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    Have a look at related questions: Why does my cat bite me while I'm petting it?, Why does my cat bite my face while being affectionate? and Why is my cat attacking my face & what can I do to stop it?. If none of them answer your question, please clarify how your cat's behavior differs from those in the existing posts. – Elmy Jan 17 '19 at 8:07
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    Can you read her mood when she attacks? Is she playful, threatened, angry, defensive, ... ? Part of the clue here is her state of mind rather than her physical actions. – Flater Jan 17 '19 at 10:36
  • @Flater she's often purring when she does it. It's not malicious at all, that much I know – user10233 Jan 24 '19 at 17:32
  • By any chance do you rub her belly when petting her? – Spencer Apr 9 '19 at 2:03
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    @Spencer No, I'm an experienced cat person. I know that showing the belly is an act of trust, and the best way to violate it is to give a belly rub. – user10233 Apr 17 '19 at 13:54
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The key here is the fact that she was wild/feral from 6 weeks - 5.5 months. This means she was likely getting minimal human contact during a good portion of the prime socializing window, and the behavior you describe (with it not being malicious) sounds very similar to how cats interact with each other. Affectionate grooming can swap to play fighting/chasing in the blink of an eye and just as quickly switch back.

They also will bite other cats harder than humans (our epidemis is way thicker than a cats but is less flexible and takes longer to replace itself - so to them small pin-prick bite is barely even worth noticing) whereas cats socialized to humans at young age can easily learn that "play" or affectionate bites to humans need to have less pressure applied (they have remarkable control about how much to apply).

If this is the case then given her age I think this might be a difficult one to break - and you might have to settle for quickly defusing it by signalling the desire to return to "cuddle mode" as soon as she flips that switch.

If you want to try training it out you could do the following:

  • As soon as she "attacks" saw "ow" in a clipped, high pitched voice (essentially like a kitten mewling)
  • calmly disengage, place her on the floor
  • leave the room as slowly as is practicable to prevent her following.
  • Return ~10-15 mins later and rinse/repeat as consistently and as often as possible to see if it "takes"
  • If she goes through a petting session without doing this give her a small treat.

Don't:

  • leave quickly - that would likely be read as in invitation to chase.
  • kick the cat out of the room - the goal is to make it boring not to punish
  • shout or display any aggression to the cat - you'll either scare her or make her think you want to play fight, neither of which will be productive.

Additional things to try:

If you think there may be an underlying excess of energy or hunting urges you could try redirecting onto a toy (fishing rod type is generally best for this) as soon as she flips - you're still playing with her but she has a healthy outlet.

Potential clues in may be an annoyed response

It doesn't sound like it is but watch for:

  • any tail swishing (even if just the tip) - unless you know your kitty does this as contentment this can be a big warning sign
  • flattening or twitching of the ears (when you aren't petting that area)
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  • Yeah, I know what's coming when the tail starts swishing, I usually get out some toys and let her fillet them. Those times are easy. IT's the calm to murder that gets me, altho, she seems to realize sometimes, and go in for a lick instead of a bite – user10233 Jan 25 '19 at 19:01
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Upon having done some research, I've learned the following:

  • This cat was eventually socialized at 20 weeks, nearly double the maximum recommended.
  • One of her litter couldn't be socialized, and had to be released
  • More play time has reduced the aggression.

She's also started addressing the issue herself. She now just walks away when she's had enough. I think she was getting over-stimulated.

Overall, this is a very affectionate cat who will jump in my lap without encouragement.

The issue seems to be that she didn't know how to communicate that she had had enough petting.

Now, when she does bite, it's not hard or fast, as in an aggressive move. She will slowly open her mouth, and lightly bite down. Not enough to hurt, but enough to get her message across. Usually, she licks as well, like "I still love you, but stop that okay?"

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  • this sounds normal,it does often take some time for a new cat and owner to get to the same page,glad to hear everything is well. – trond hansen Apr 17 '19 at 17:08
  • @trondhansen she really is a sweetheart, and just needed patience and more play. – user10233 Apr 17 '19 at 18:50

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