Cats get a bad reputation for slapping things. Some people say cats are mean animals, but most cat owners know cats will even slap when happy.
So why does your snuggly cat suddenly decide to give you a bop with their paws?
Cats swat or slap when they feel overstimulated or have a need you aren’t meeting, like food or attention.
Your cat may slap to play, mark you with their scent, or explore unknown objects. If your cat slaps, it’s nothing to worry about–they’re just trying to tell you something in their own way.
Understanding the reasons that cats slap can help you understand and communicate with your pet better. Most cat slapping is a harmless instinctual behavior.
Remember that you are your cat’s voice, and if you feel like something is wrong, trust your gut.
Why Is Your Cat Slapping?
If every time you come home, your furry feline tags your ankle as you walk by, you aren’t alone. It may even seem like they’re mad at you for leaving them, despite any training you have given them.
That doesn’t mean they don’t want you to pet them. In fact, that may be the very reason for their “attack.” Here are some of the most common reasons cats slap at you, other pets, or objects they see as toys.
Your Cat Is Seeking Attention
You’re folding laundry when suddenly your cat pounces across the room, swatting at your feet. You weren’t interacting with your cat, so why did they smack you? It could be that your cat wants you to pay attention to it.
Your cat may want you to play with it or pet them. You’re busy, but your pet doesn’t understand that and wants you to give them attention.
This is part of their instinct; in the wild, they would try to interact with a friend by initiating play.
Play is important for cats in the wild because it keeps them in good condition to fight and hunt. Therefore, they practice keeping themselves in good shape.
If your cat is bored, it may want to practice its instinctual hunting skills.
Try to engage your cat with some sort of appropriate toy. Never use your hands or feet. That will encourage your cat to attack those body parts when it wants attention.
Your Cat Is Hungry
Half-asleep, you feel something tickle your face. You jolt awake as a furry paw makes contact again. Why is your cat slapping you awake before sunrise?
Chances are, your fuzzy friend is hungry. Cats use their paws as a way to communicate, as well. Your pet can’t open the food can or bag and needs help from your hands and opposable thumbs.
Cats in the wild hunt for their food and use their paws to secure their prey. House cats may not hunt, but the instinct remains.
They may paw at the cabinet where they know you keep the food. They might paw at you because they associate you with the arrival of their food.
Since you bring the food, they see touching you as a trigger. Using their paws is an instinctual method to get food, so your cat may be slapping you instead of hunting.
Your Cat Wants To Play
If your cat is randomly slapping at toys or other animals in the house, they could be trying to engage in play. This is very normal behavior.
Cats are not pack animals; however, they will engage in play with other friendly members of their “community.”
Play gives your cat’s brain a positive way to practice instinctual behavior. Giving your cat toys they can bite, kick, and chase engages them physically and gives their instincts a positive outlet.
Bored cats are more likely to claw furniture, shred paper towels, and do other “bad” behaviors.
Play is extremely beneficial to preventing destructive behaviors but also can help extend your cat’s life. For example, consider this statement from Dr. Carol Osbourne, DVM in Ohio, in a PetMD article. “One hour of play increases a cat’s healthy lifespan by four hours.”
Your Cat Is Scent Marking
Cats have scent glands in their paws, as well as other places on their bodies. In the wild, these scent glands allow them to mark their territory, like their favorite scratching tree.
If your cat is rubbing their paws on you or a toy, it may be marking you as theirs.
The scent glands in their paws contain pheromones. These vary between each cat and allow them to distinguish one another’s smell.
By pawing you with these scent glands, your cat is saying, “this belongs to me.”
If you have more than one cat, your cat’s scent also reminds other cats of their social standing and structure.
By gently tapping their scent glands near another cat’s nose, they force them to smell their scent. This reminds them of the household’s hierarchy and who is in charge.
Your Cat Is Overstimulated
Most cats love you to pet them. As you begin to pet them, they are engaged and enjoy the attention you’re giving. But once your cat feels like they have had enough attention, they want to tell you, “Enough!”
So, your cat slaps you. Your cat doesn’t have the intention of hurting you or causing you pain. They just want you to stop what you are doing.
If your pet hits you while you are giving them physical attention, let them go. If they go away, give them some space, and once they’re ready, they’ll come back to you.
If they don’t leave, they might be trying to tell you to change things up a bit. For example, your cat wants your physical attention but differently than you are giving it.
Your Cat Is In Pain
If your cat seems to swat at you with aggression when you touch a specific area, this could signal pain. Your cat could have an injury or be sick. If this scenario happens, it may be a good idea to take your pet to see its veterinarian.
Your Cat Is Exploring The Unknown
Cats use their paws the same way humans use their hands. They contain lots of sensory nerve receptors that let cats explore objects.
When cats see something new and unknown, their first instinct is to reach their paw out and touch it.
They don’t know if this unknown object is a threat or not. Rather than risk endangering their face and possibly throat, they will reach out a paw. The nerves in their paw can judge whether something is too hot or cold.
They can also tell whether something is alive and moving or still. They might cut their skin if something is too sharp and dangerous. This is a vital instinct for cats.
To humans, though, it often looks like cats are just inquisitively pawing at objects they see on tables and shelves. Some even just think cats like to cause mischief and knock things over.
What To Do When Your Cat Slaps You
If your cat hits you, try your best to be gentle and not hurt your pet with your reaction. Try determining whether your cat may need attention from you or was receiving too much and may require a break.
Assess whether or not your cat could be hungry, bored, or lonely. Is there something new in their environment that could be frightening them or leaving them confused?
Try to be patient and understanding of whatever your pet is feeling. Your cat is trying to tell you something about their behavior.
You know them better than anyone else. Use your knowledge of your pet to determine the best way to proceed.
Should I stop my cats from play fighting?
Not unless one cat is showing signs of real distress. Play fighting is fun for cats, and they will tell each other what is acceptable through body language.
Their posture, ears, and whether their claws are sheathed are all signals to each other.
Cats who are aggressively fighting will make vocalizations and use their claws. Aggressive fighting can be territorial, so make sure your cats each have plenty of resources.
Each should have their own food, water, toys, and even a litter box. A good rule is to have one of each item for each cat in the home, plus one more.
So, if you have two cats, it’s ideal to have three litter boxes, three food dishes, and so on.
How do I introduce a new cat to my cat?
Introduce cats to each other slowly. Start by keeping them in separate rooms, letting them smell each other through the closed door.
After a few days of that, introduce them for short amounts of time, with supervision. Lengthen the introductory sessions each day until you feel comfortable with the cats’ acceptance of one another.
How do I control claw growth in cats?
Make sure your cat has access to scratching toys and posts. In the wild, they would claw trees and other hard objects to dull down their claws. This keeps them from growing too long.
In a house, your cat’s options are the toys you provide or your walls and furniture. You can also make regular appointments to have their claws trimmed by a professional.
Stacy is a lifelong animal lover who truly believes life just isn’t complete without pets. She’s had pets her whole life (including three dogs and a cat living under the same roof, somewhat harmoniously). She currently resides in NOLA with her husband, son, and two pups, Scooby “Dooby” Doo and Zoey. Stacy always makes a point to learn everything she can about her fur babies, and she has been writing about the pet-parent life for over two years.
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