Why Does My Cat... Like to Pounce on Me?

Cat ready to pounce
Does your cat pounce on you? She may be doing it to play or to get attention.

What do you do when your cat seems to think the most interesting thing in the house is you — and not just as a source of food and affection but as a sort of giant kitty toy? If your cat seems to like lurking behind the couch waiting for you to walk by so she can pounce, you might ask yourself, is this behavior normal?

The quick answer is yes, it is normal. The most common reasons cats pounce on their owners are for play and attention. Typically cats who engage in this behavior hide behind a corner or furniture and then suddenly jump out at the owner. Your cat may dig her claws into you and hold on or lightly touch you with her paws and run off. There is a higher risk of injury to owners if the cat digs in with her nails and starts biting or kicking with her back legs, and owners can find this alarming. However, keep in mind that for a cat, this is generally normal play behavior. Remember, cats have thick fur and loose skin while we, as humans, lack fur and are thin-skinned. When our cats attempt this version of play with us, we do run the greater risk of getting injuries, but it is not due to any malicious intent from our cat. Additionally, some cats may have figured out that if they pounce on their owner the owner may cry out or chase after them. In this case, cats learn that when they pounce on you, there is more interaction with you, which most cats find very rewarding. In other words, your reactions to being pounced on have become "big fun" for your cat!

In some situations a cat may pounce on the owner when she becomes agitated, and the underlying reason for this is generally related to other people or animals in her environment that may have triggered the pouncing behavior. For example, some cats may see a neighbor cat walking through the yard and become upset. Since the cat cannot go out and chase after the neighbor cat, it may redirect its aggressive behavior toward the nearest living thing, which in a household is often her owner. Certain cats also may be bothered by an owner’s quick movements through the house. When the owner is still, the cat appears calm, but when the owner is moving around, whether cleaning or making dinner, the cat may become agitated and pounce.

If your cat‘s pouncing behavior has increased in frequency or intensity it is always a good idea to have your cat examined by your veterinarian to rule out underlying health problems that may be contributing to the behavior. If the pouncing behavior is resulting in injuries to you and you want to curb it you may also wish to speak to your veterinarian for ideas on how to redirect your cat’s “playfulness” with some simple play activities or food puzzles or to obtain a referral to a veterinary behaviorist or certified animal behaviorist who can advise you.

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