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Five Steps to Correct Petting-Induced Aggression in Cats

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Some body language signals that indicate your cat is reaching his tolerance level can include:

Cessation of purring

Tail lashing

Tail thumping

Skin twitching

Shifting body position



Ears in airplane mode

Ears flattened back against head

Cat looking back at your hand

Dilated pupils

4. End on a Positive Note with Your Kitty

The way to help a cat feel more comfortable with being petted is to pay attention to his tolerance level so you can stop petting well in-advance of an attack. Pay attention to his body language and stop petting before the warning signals start appearing. For example, if you know that you can typically pet your cat for about three minutes before he bites, then in order to keep this a positive experience, stop petting after about a minute-and-a-half. Leave your cat wanting more. When you stop petting while the experience is still positive then it breaks that chain where your cat feels the only want to end the session is to be aggressive. At the very least, stop petting the second you see the first body language red flag.

Pay attention to where on the body your cat likes to petted and where he doesn’t. He may enjoy being petted on the back of the head but not at the base of the tail. Petting in some areas may actually cause too much stimulation.

photo: istock

 5. Never Punish Your Cat

If you yell at, hit or chase your cat for biting you during a petting session then you will only accomplish one thing – you’ll increase his fear of you and that’s a surefire way of damaging the human/cat bond. He isn’t biting you because he’s mean; he’s biting because he feels he has no other option. From his point of view all other forms of communicating with you have failed. He was left with no choice. If you watch his body language, pet in the body locations he likes and you stop petting long before he reaches his tolerance peak, you stand a very good chance of changing his mind about physical contact.


If you have a question about your cat’s behavior, you can find information in the articles on our website as well as in Pam’s books. If you have a question regarding your cat’s health, please contact your veterinarian. This article is not intended as a replacement for your cat’s veterinary care.


  1. I have a cat that i pretty well know knows why she is being disciplined. Some times you have no choice, The cat wants to walk on something that could break or create other problems. What seems worse is when i have no choice but to pick the cat up.
    When i first got the cat and it went to bite me after petting her for a while i would push her away. Or put her in the bathroom for a time out. Then i read articles like this and stopped with the discipline. the cat is not stupid. The next time she nipped me i did nothing and THEN her ears went down because she was expecting some recourse. After i stopped for a while each nip got more aggressive as if like a child she was testing me to see what she can get away with.
    Sometimes she lets me know she no longer wants to be petted by moving away or meowing in a nasty way. Other times there is no warning. And it not that i pet is not that i pet her some where different.
    I think with cats it can be a game of who is in charge. and it will be you the owner or the cat. I will try your advice a little longer and if her actions become steadily more aggressive i will go back to discipline.

  2. My cat Sky,it’s hard to read the warnings, she is always wagging her tail, she reminds me of a dog, as soon as she sees me the tail starts going she gets excited. Even when she eats, her ears don’t go back or out but her tail is constantly wagging when do I know when to stop petting her. She doesn’t stop purring and jumps in my lap for me to pet her. But she bites me.

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