Why Do Pet Cats Attack Their Owners?

The danger of pet cats?

Cats are one of the most popular pets in the world and are savagely beloved by millions, although the dangers present from their razor sharp claws and teeth, such as serious infection, are largely not taken seriously. But how much of a threat do they really pose to human health? Have domesticated cats ever killed a person?


In this article...

  • Can cats cause human fatalities or severe injury?
  • Overlooked dangers of pet and feral cats
  • Why might a cat become aggressive?
  • A list of reported cat attacks and aggression, plus video

Human fatalities

Cats are too small to kill a human by force with the exception of human babies, although there are no reported cat-related deaths involving infants in recent U.S. history. Domesticated cats are also the subjects of various folklore, including the old wives tale that they can suck the breath from an infant, which might lead some people to believe that they are dangerous with small children.

However, cats typically have little incentive to attack a helpless child. They are predators of small animals like mice and birds, and have territorial tendencies directed towards competing animals and predators, therefore babies are relatively safe. The recipients of reported cat attacks have largely been adults, although aggression toward infants has occurred. You won't find statistics about cat bite incidences like you will dogs and exotic pets, because people don't really care.

Kitten in the piloerection posture
Kitten in the piloerection posture | Source

Are all cats dangerous?

It is important for anyone who wants to understand animals and their behavior to place things in the proper perspective. Cats are domesticated, but this term is useless when discussing propensity of aggression, whether or not a pet is capable of attacking, and basically anything else meaningful.

The fact that cats are domesticated and widely kept as pets often misleads people into thinking they do not have the instincts associated with so-called wild animals. All cats are products of their environment, and if a cat is not socialized with humans, it will become just as 'wild' as what they've descended from (and, vice versa, many wild cats can be tamed when human-socialized, although to different extents).

Humans and dogs are not the only victims of cat aggression
Humans and dogs are not the only victims of cat aggression | Source

Most domesticated cats (and dogs), when socialized, will never severely bite or attack humans as long as they aren’t ‘provoked’. However, this comforting fact does not determine whether or not your pet might end up unexpectedly acting aggressive one day as animals, not being robots, are subject to the same shifts in mood that result from various factors that may be hormonal, stress-related, or a response to an environmental change.

It is all too common for petowners to say "he's never done this before" when they experience a bite from their pet. At any point, in any situation, there can be a first time for anything.

It is often the case that people view animals like tigers and jaguars as dangerous because they are 'wild'. It is very important to consider that domestication has little to do with why a cat has never killed a person. Size is by far the most important factor that causes such incidences. If domesticated cats had the same size and musculature as lions and tigers, they would be extremely dangerous pets. This, and only this is what makes tigers dangerous—most tame big cats won't attack their owners for most of their life, but there are those one or two fatal 'exceptions' that can occur at any time.

So, repeat the following mantra if you really want to understand animals: domesticated is meaningless, domestication is meaningless.

How common are cat attacks?

While most people find it shocking and amusing when a surprisingly severe cat attack is caught on video, such incidences probably occur more often than people realize.This is how domesticated pets can end up being more of a threat to public because people don't expect it of them. Dogs and cats do emit behavioral signs of impending aggression that are often missed or not taken seriously by their caretakers. Aggression is indeed common but not as common as aggression that results in severe injury.

Cause of cat aggression and attacks

  • Redirected Aggression: Lashes out at owner after sensing something it can't access. May seem like it occurs for no reason because source of agitation isn't present.
  • Petting-induced Aggression: When petting causes over stimulation or discomfort, cats may bite their owners (signs of agitation include tail swatting, skin twitching, meowing, or changing body position).
  • Fear: The root of most cat aggression
  • Territorial: Natural aggression all cats are prone to, and can occur with other cats, animals, and humans.
  • Maternal Aggression: The insecurity of a female cat with kittens.
  • Pain-induced: Retaliation if an owner touches the cat in a painful area.
  • Unprovoked Aggression: When a cat is aggressive for seemingly no reason. Rare, and hard to diagnose. Often mistaken for redirected aggression.


Signs of cat aggression

Many pet owners fail to become attuned with their pets mannerisms that may hint that an animal is becoming irritated. Here is a list of the more subtle signs of aggression and agitation in domesticated cats.

Defensive (submissive) posture

  • Ears pointed back, flattened
  • Dilated pupils
  • Piloerection (fur stands up)
  • Tail curved and tucked inward
  • Crouching
  • Turning sidways to opponent, not looking straight on
  • Open mouth, hissing and spitting.

Defensive (fearful) aggressive posture

This cat is defensive because of the downward, curved, bristled tail (raised and bristled also is fearful), flattened ears, gaping mouth, and stiff legged posture. Sometimes the postures of defensive and offensive can resemble each other.
This cat is defensive because of the downward, curved, bristled tail (raised and bristled also is fearful), flattened ears, gaping mouth, and stiff legged posture. Sometimes the postures of defensive and offensive can resemble each other. | Source

Offensive aggression (LOOK OUT)

A posture that indicates offensive aggression may result in an attack. Never attempt to console or calm a cat that is showing these signs.

  • Faces the opponent (instead of slinks or leans in the opposite direction)
  • Direct stare, steps forward
  • Tail points straight down (as opposed to curved downward)
  • Ears are pointed upright with the back rotated slightly forward
  • Piloerection (fur stands up)
  • Growling

*Some of these signs are present in defensive aggression. The most obvious distinguishable signs include the ears, vocalizations, and movement of the cat (is it backing away or inching forward?)

*Rabies, a lethal disease in cats, can result in irrational behavior. Such animals suspected of showing symptoms should be euthanized immediately.

Take cat bites seriously

Cat attacks are no laughing matter, and aside from the frequently reported agony that they cause to the victims, cat bites are heavily prone to infection, even more so than dog bites. The reason this is so is due to the sharpness of cat teeth creating deep puncture wounds into areas that are sufficient for bacterial activity and hard to clean.

A study determined that 1/3 of patients who sought treatment for cat bites in a three year period had to be hospitalized, and 2/3 of these patients ended up needing surgery to flush out the bacteria via debridement. If a cat bite occurs over a joint or tendon along with swelling, redness, and pain, this increases the chances that a hospital visit might be needed.

Bites by unfamiliar cats with access to the outdoors is a substantial rabies risk. While cases of humans contracting rabies are rare, cats are the pet most frequently found with the virus in the United States.


Cats are derived from wild ancestors (the African wild cat) that are both predator and prey, so they possess a complex array of defensive behavior. However, despite our much greater size, cats often see humans as equals when they are raised around us, and therefore their territorial nature can be taken out on us just as fights occur between two cats.

Cats are equipped with bluffing abilities. In the wild, animals try to avoid physical encounters because wounds can often be fatal (there are no veterinarians in nature). Cats will often stare down their opponent and assess them for hesitancy in attacking. This could trigger a cat to attack if it becomes aware that the opponent isn't confident (watch how these powerful lions are scared away by intimidating tribesman). Because cats are domesticated (not selected by nature) and many live with or close to humans, many individuals may be less afraid to approach and show offensive aggression to humans and dogs. Healthy wild animals generally fear humans and do not attack unless humans stumble on their territory or their babies are nearby.

Some Cat Attack Incidences and Footage

Now that we understand what provokes cat attacks and what body postures indicate aggression, let's look at a few recorded incidences of felines fighting. The animals in the videos are a mix of pets, feral street cats, stray cats (once owned) and a combination of both (some feral and stray cats are cared for outdoors).

Attacks on pets

Cat attacks Rottweiler

Animals attacking non-human animals is a far more common occurrence, and of course, this is an easy way for a human to get mixed up in the scuffle when they try to defend their pet. At the right is one such example, possibly a territorial dispute with a pet dog results in a street cat attacking.

Cat attacks small dog

Here is another example of a cat attacking a dog, and just like the previous video, the animal is ignoring the humans, even when they retaliate against it. The cat leaping into the air resembles the cat-human attack in the snow that will be shown below.

Another small dog attack...

Again, a cat seems to be having a territorial dispute with a dog. The status of the cat (stray, feral, owned) is unknown.

While the headline of the video says 'unbelievable', we know it isn't.

"Hero" cat

This widely televised cat 'attack' that had a very positive result is a good example of cat territorial behavior. Many cats will rub against their owner to mark their 'territory' (much of the cuddling behavior pet owners experience), and many may see small children they live with as 'property'. In this case, a cat launched itself at a dog that trespassed on its property and 'its boy'. While many were surprised a cat could be brave enough to confront a large dog, the other videos in this article reveal that it is not an unheard of occurrence. A similar attack with a negative result will be seen below.

Black cat attack

These cats appear to be feral, possibly being fed by humans, which I'm guessing by the presence of numerous animals around a group of people.

In the video, people also appear to get caught in the scuffle. The humans fail to notice the somewhat obvious offensive aggressive posture.

Attacks on people

Attack in the snow in Michigan

This recording of a woman from Melvin, Michigan being attacked by a cat is perhaps one of the most famous cat attack videos circulating the internet because it shows just how agile and deliberate cats can be, even with opponents 10x their size. The woman, identifying herself as Maxx, was attempting to shoo away the animal that she had been caring for in an attempt to defend her mother's dog when the animal leapt up and latched on her face. The incident was recorded on her security camera. This attack appears to be a good example of displaced aggression, as the animal was attempting to attack a dog (like in the previous videos) but the owner intervened.

*Despite the fact that Maxx saved the cat, and despite the fact that the cat was known to be aggressive and had attacked 2 other people before, the video brought out the profound irrationality of many 'cat lovers' who found snow kicking to be 'cruelty' and that Maxx 'deserved' to be brutally harmed by the animal (her face also became infected). This reveals the mentality of many cat owners, which I will be discussing in a future article.

Cat attacks woman in Greenville: This is a similar story to what happened to Maxx, and it also provoked similar nonsensical criticism. A woman, attempting to shoo a cat off her property that was showing aggression to her own cat was severely attacked by it (this was not caught on video). Pet owners are probably far more likely to be in a confrontation with free-roaming cats, as the animals might get into aggressive disputes with their pets when the owners get in their way.

Cat attacks babysitter

I cannot find any credible information verifying the events of this video, so watch with the understanding that the editing and text in it can be misleading (assuming the footage is real). A cat appears to attack a babysitter, presumably after hearing glass shatter (as the video editing seems to suggest). The cat is likely showing territoriality just as the 'hero cat' shown previously, this time undesirable.

Pet cat sends 3 to the hospital

Although there's no footage of the actual incident, this is another case that shows that pet cat aggression should be taken seriously. A 1 year old cat clawed its family of 3 (again, leaping toward the face, showing cats instinctively know where to aim to harm their opponents), causing deep gashes and a call to the fire department. The cat was described as never having been aggressive before, so it's difficult to determine why this occurred.

Cat holds family hostage?

Something prompted a 22 pound Himalayan cat to attack its family's 7 month old child, and after a kick from the child's father, the large feline proceeded to charge the family (including a dog), leaving them stranded in a bedroom. They even had to call 911, and police arrived to subdue the pet. The family is surprisingly attempting to keep the animal and are getting it therapy.

Here's another very similar situation and another one (Cuppy the cat) in Florida in the same year. Are these cats really 'going crazy'? Or is there a misunderstanding of symptoms prior to the incident?

Regardless, cats are very lucky to be considered 'domesticated', or there would be a Federal ban on them immediately enacted.

© 2014 Melissa A Smith

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Comments 25 comments

he shall remain nameless 2 years ago

I surmise that half of the "terror" incidents you linked are due to idiot owners who have already provoked their own cats (a child, then the man in the family KICKING the cat, really? And YOU wouldn't fight back to protect yourself?!), and because there are far more idiot owners than are aggressive cats.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Which videos are you watching nameless? These attacks are not provoked, except for the snow incident, but that aggression occurred because a cat was attacking a dog unprovoked, just as the other videos show. In one of the videos, a cat gets kicked AFTER it has started attacking. Are people supposed to sit there and let animals maul their legs or should they try to stop it? It sounds like you might be one of those people that believes cats have more rights than any other species, including humans. You will not fare well on my articles.

he shall remain nameless 2 years ago

You posted it, you should know what the heck you're rambling about. I am referring to this: "Something prompted a 22 pound Himalayan cat to attack its family's 7 month old child, and after a kick from the child's father, the large feline proceeded to charge the family (including a dog), leaving them stranded in a bedroom."

ONLY THE FAMILY knows what provoked the incident. As often occurs, the truth is never revealed in common news headlines (media doesn't care, we no longer have the investigative journalism we once cherished for the facts).

Btw, Himalyans are among the most mild-mannered, laid-back, docile of all domestic cats. But, that's not going to matter to you because as you know, ANY animal, when provoked, is going to defend him/herself at whatever the cost. Even after being provoked, a human male KICKING a cat did nothing but provoke the cat into a state of fear and protective behavior for it's own life! I guess being around all those docile reptiles, you would not know cat behavior if it bit you in the rear.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

My goodness, you are a fool if you think that self-defense consists of relentlessly attacking until your 'aggressor' is locked in the bathroom, calling 911 because they fear for their safety. You are shockingly right about something, we can't know 'for sure' what happened because there is no video documentation.

What we do know is that the man called 911, and unless they were having a laugh and felt the need to humiliate themselves and/or waste the emergency respondent's time, the cat was behaving aggressively and dangerously. A "mild mannered cat" does not do this, period. I don't care if the animal was 100% provoked. None of my pets, including my oh so scary exotic pet (spotted genet), would come CLOSE to forcing me to lock myself in a bathroom. My dog would NEVER do that either. Hence why I wrote this article. This is what makes domesticated animals dangerous when they are attacking. Wild animals RETREAT; some dogs and cats treat humans like they are one of their own species. You said "half of the "terror" incidents" I linked are due to provocation. Maybe you missed the plentiful videos I posted that show no provocation other than a human or dog looking at or walking closely to the animal. So I believe the man when he said the cat attacked his child and he kicked it as a result of that. Your statement "Even after being provoked" sound like you are suggesting that the infant provoked the cat! You are bananas.

You might want to believe that in order for a cat to do something so scary, that the man must have kicked his cat for no good reason, despite plentiful evidence of the contrary. That is why you'll always be blind to animal behavior and reality.

he shall remain nameless 2 years ago

Melissa, you have a really bad habit of contradicting yourself in your own statements.

In one sentence you say the cat was provoked, and "behaving aggresively and dangerously". I submit to you, so was the male owner.

How stupid are you really, to believe that small children know how to treat animals correctly? Any animal in the company of a small child is at some form of risk. To say otherwise merly shows YOUR lack of understanding.

As for the videos, so what, it is NATURAL BEHAVIOR for cats to dislike dogs, particularly when they are approached in the manner most dogs approach them - if the cat is not familiar with the dog, of course the cat is going to be defensive, DUH. That does NOT mean the cat is inherently dangerous, aggressive, mean and deserves criticism by dolts like you.

This: "You might want to believe that in order for a cat to do something so scary, that the man must have kicked his cat for no good reason, despite plentiful evidence of the contrary. That is why you'll always be blind to animal behavior and reality."

WHAT evidence, the word of the man who kicked the cat and called 911 and told only his story? Neither you nor the man ever understood the nature of cats, being they don't appreciate being provoked, harmed or KICKED. Another DUH.

I'm sure YOUR dog would never harm a fly. So, that justifies your contempt for anyone and any animal other than yourself and your do? It's quite clear who here doesn't have a clue about animal behavior or reality. Humans abuse animals every day, every single DAY on this planet, but in your narrow minded blathering, it's always the animal's fault because domestic pets shoudn't be trusted.

Right. Can you blame them for not trusting humans?

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Ok, so for educational purposes I won't block your comments at this time. Readers should take note that this poster is 100% stating that:

-A 7 month old child provoked a cat, and this was justifiable cause for a cat to attack it.

- Kicking a cat that is attacking a small child will justifiably result in that cat attacking anyone in the house to the point that you need to call emergency services.

-A 'mild mannered' cat can commit these actions

-When a cat is not familiar with a dog, your dog WILL be attacked.

I submit that cats are one of the most dangerous pets you can own. I've never been attacked by an animal like that in my life. Any animal capable of going on a rampage as a 'defense' is dangerous. I'm not aware of too many other pets, exotic or otherwise, that would commit such an action. Maybe monkeys.

he shall remain nameless 2 years ago

Perhaps it should be pointed out to you that not only do you contradict your own statements and then when challenged, you keep changing your story, but you also fail to read another person's post and continually inject your own, again, contradictory statements.

So, I am "100% stating that"...that's your problem, you assume too much.

You have a twisted version of reality. Just because the majority of mankind have also never been attacked by a cat, does not make cats as "dangerous" as you wrongly perceive. You have no argument, no value, no specific facts to base your twisted opinions about cats to back up your accusations.

You're "not aware of too many other pets, exotic or otherwise that would commit such a (perceived by only you) action"?

Are you freaking kidding? Ever watch the thousands of videos on tv in the last half century and now the advent of youtube? You really need to get out more.

The most dangerous animals on the planet are, wait for it...Humans, and particularly those of your ilk. Monkeys are far kinder than you.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Another silly response. Thanks nameless, I don't need to see anymore. Your words are here to verify my accusations against you.

Kelly 24 months ago

Amazing article. I was recently bitten by my own (6 year old) pet cat, but it was an entirely embarrassing situation; she has a habit of nibbling on the side of my laptop (which I never gave much thought) and in this instance my hand was on the side, slid right up into her path, and she bit down onto my finger. Didn't involve any incisors but her premolars, and yet oh god did it hurt. It was inflamed and swollen almost immediately, and while I was lucky enough to avoid serious infection, it hurt for days thereafter. I've never believed cats were harmless or safe -- I've enough playful-mishap scars on my hands and wrists to prove it -- but it was eye opening to see just how bad a bite can hurt (and one that didn't intend any kind of harm, at that). Very disturbing to see people laughing in some of these videos, particularly when dogs are involved. The video with the Rottweiler was anything but funny.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 24 months ago from New York Author

Thank you Kelly for being one of those rare cat owners that is intelligent enough to realize this article isn't a condemnation of cat ownership, and that domesticated pets can harm humans. It does piss me off that people make light of cat attacks and even go as far as to laugh at injured humans who are victims, or even suggest they deserve it because they gave the animal a funny look.

DelancyManor 23 months ago

Melissa, the funny thing is this cat, first was NOT a Himalayan. I always get a laugh over that, because himies are colorpoint cats, not piebalds. They look exactly like what they are, siamese crossed with persians.

Second, this cat was featured on Jackson Galaxy's My cat From Hell, and guess what? Lux attacked the people who were fostering him.. FOR NO REASON AT ALL.

Oh wait, he has a medical condition.

You know, dogs have the same thing, only we call it exactly what it is, rage seizures (once quite common in cocker spaniels).

"Galaxy consults veterinarian Amelie Hatfield, of the Cat Hospital of Portland. And he visits the Oregon Humane Society, where marketing and communications director Barbara Baugnon pairs Lux up with Mollie and Jim, who take him in on a test basis as foster cat guardians, to see if Lux will stay calm in a stress-free home.

When Lux unexpectedly attacks Mollie's leg, Hatfield suggests he has a form of feline hyperesthesia syndrome, which can cause aggressive behavior. There's no cure, but medication may help control the symptoms."

The cat attacked once more, with zero provocation. So they medicate the cat. Even after medication, the cat attacked YET AGAIN, with ZERO provocation, and those people gave him up.

"In the reality show that aired last weekend, Galaxy persuades another Portland couple to take Lux while the cat is treated with antidepressants and anti-seizure medication. A veterinarian diagnosed Lux with feline hyperesthesia syndrome, which can trigger violent behavior.

But after the episode’s taping, Lux attacked his new guardians and they gave him up for their own safety."

What was that again? They gave him up FOR THEIR OWN SAFETY...

So are you suggesting that Jackson Galaxy put this cat in a family where he was abused and kicked? Or could it possibly be this cat has major problems?

You know what we do to dogs that repeatedly attack people? We kill them.

Now, I like cats. I have 4 of them. All are fixed, all are indoor only cats. And none of them have ever attacked anyone in my family, and as soon as one did, she would be dead (they are all females).

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 23 months ago from New York Author

DelancyManor-- What are you asking me? I've never suggested that the cat was abused by anyone. Cats with unprovoked aggression should be euthanized unless someone wants to keep them the same way one keeps a dangerous wild animal.

DelancyManor 23 months ago

I am sorry, I didn't make myself clear. I was commenting to you about ridiculousness of he shall remain nameless' comments regarding Lux the demon cat from hell.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 23 months ago from New York Author

Oh Ok, thanks.

kathi patrick 18 months ago

Is there anything that can be done for the cats that attack for no reason? I raised a baby that the mother kept throwing out of the place where she hadher kittens, she was just born she's always been a little silly named her sybil (personality issues ) and is spayed shots all that,11/2 yrs old shes attacked me twice and got my husband last nite? It seems that she doesn't know what she's doing or why herself, if there isn't a reason iam convinced its seizure or something in her brain!?

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 18 months ago from New York Author

I don't know Kathi, it sounds like you have some research to do. You might want to contact a behavioral specialist.

Zach Reed 15 months ago

Interesting. I've never had a cat attack me before, and the few times that one of my cats bites me, it has always been either playful out of irritation and they've never punctured the skin on my finger.

I guess it all depends on how you approach the cat, and simple knowledge of wild cats and their behavior. Not all cats are the same.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 15 months ago from New York Author

Cats vary with their dispositions and environments.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 12 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

I've never owned a cat, and don't plan to, but this seems like some good information to be aware of. Most people never consider cat attacks as a possibility, and it's good to know the signs to look out for that indicate a cat is feeling provoked toward some aggressive response.

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Melissa A Smith 12 months ago from New York Author

Thank you Ron.

MarsWarbringer 9 months ago

Thank you for the article. I'm having problems at the moment with my very reactive adopted cat who doesn't like my fiance at all. She's bitten him once very seriously and scratches him frequently. Unfortunately, he does tend to irritate her. He had his previous cat for 18 years and expects this one to be exactly the same, whereas I'd never had a cat before and just tried to learn what she liked and would tolerate. Consequently, she hisses, growls and lashes out at him and snuggles right up to me.

I'm a dog person by nature and frankly though I love my cat to bits I find them pretty scary, much scarier than dogs. Not that I think they're bad pets. As I said, I love my cat. But they inflict a LOT of damage for their size and in my experience, probably because cats aren't such social animals as dogs, they don't have nearly as much calming body language to suggest that they are uncomfortable before they lash out. Dogs often exhibit long series of 'calming signals' to indicate their discomfort before they escalate to violence which cats rarely seem to (though admittedly, I've formally studied canine behaviour but not feline). A cat can go from purring and rubbing against you to sinking teeth in in a split second.

Not bad pets at all, but should be treated with respect like any animal and not underestimated just because they're small and soft. And I hate the notion that we should put animals down because they show aggression, whether provoked or not, but I do think it's highly unfair that a dog can be put down for a single bite if it looks too much like a pit bull (at least here in the UK that's the case) but that this almost never happens to cats no matter how aggressive. I wouldn't want it to happen to cats. I just don't want it to happen to dogs either.

J.G. 7 months ago

Good article.

The comments in some of the videos are really disappointing. Do cat lovers really expect dog owners to just stand there and watch their dog get attacked and possibly injured? Many of the comments condemned the people that kicked the cats away too. Who in their right mind would bend down and risk injury to their face and arms in an attempt to grab the aggressive cat? If the situation is reversed and a dog attacks a cat the crazy cat lovers wish harm upon the dog and its owner. There is no reasoning with them.

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Melissa A Smith 7 months ago from New York Author

Exactly J.G.

Jenna 6 months ago

Great article. Very educational.

6 months ago

Awesome videos! Super brave cats! I love the part where the human tries to kick the cat away.

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