Have you ever been minding your own business relaxing on the sofa, or walking around your house when suddenly, you feel a set of little daggers sink into your ankles?!
All seasoned cat owners will know that cats do sometimes bite or scratch completely unprovoked. If you are left confused as to why this happens or need to understand the thought process behind these random attacks, you have come to the right place! We are here to answer the question, why does my cat bite my feet?
Cats attack for many different reasons. A very common thing for cats to do is attack our feet! They also have lots of different ways in which they attack – biting, scratching, and pouncing are all behaviors we’re probably familiar with. Let’s explore why the feline foot fetish is a very real thing.
Also Read: Why Does My Cat Bite Me When I Pet Her?
Why Does My Cat Attack Me Out of Nowhere?
The words ‘attack’ or ‘bite’ all sound very negative, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing if your cat is attacking your feet. Your cat will have some subtle and not so subtle ways of showing their feelings towards you.
A gentle playful nibble can mean they are feeling lively and high-spirited and want to bond with you. On the other hand, if you have ever been unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a proper bite, there will be no doubt your cat is feeling frightened or threatened.
Whether you tolerate this behavior or not is up to you but it is worth bearing in mind if your cat hasn’t been taught how to be gentle, you may end up with a few injuries. Cat’s teeth and claws can do some serious damage! Another thing to bear in mind is that if your cat gets used to games of cat and mouse with people’s feet, any guests may not appreciate this and will likely take offense!
Also Read: Why Does My Cat Lick Me Then Bite Me?
Let’s explore the reasons behind the attacks!
1. A Sign Of Affection
Believe it or not, biting is one of the (perhaps most confusing) ways cats express their love for their favorite humans. It may be a comfort to hear that a gentle nip or bite has the same sentiment as a cuddle. Cats learn this behavior from their mothers when they are tiny. The queen will often gently bite her babies whilst grooming them.
These little love bites the mother gives her babies teach them some valuable lessons about social interactions. Litter mates often play fight and affectionately bite each other as a bonding exercise too. Play sessions like this are also very important for their development. Your cat may let out little purrs or meows while nibbling or biting.
Also Read: Why Does My Cat Headbutt Me?
Why does my cat attack my feet when i walk away you asked? Well, Cats, much the same as humans, learn a lot through play. This is likely to be the most common reason your cat goes for your toes! It is also known as play aggression. Cats learn lots of important life skills such as hunting through frivolous pouncing on wriggling objects. Your feet are fast-moving and low to the ground so they are the perfect target practice for your cat to perfect their pounce!
Not only that but they are very accessible, so it’s a very natural thing for them to incorporate your feet into their playtime. Usually, your cat will also get a reaction from you when they attack your feet. A yell or a jump or a jerk will excite them and encourage them to continue their game. There are some scenarios where cats are drawn to our feet, for example when we are sitting on the sofa.
Human feet might be the only thing that moves for a while (hello Netflix marathon!) so they will try and interact through play. Remember too, if you like to snuggle up under a blanket or duvet but you move your feet about underneath, that’s a green light for your cat to investigate the mystery moving object and attack!
Also Read: Why Do Cats Play With Their Prey?
3. Hunting Instincts
Why does my cat attack me when you sleep? See cats can’t resist the thrill of the chase so if you are wriggling your feet about, they will be sure to prick their ears up at them! This is another common reason cats engage in feet attacks, although it is less commonly seen in adult cats. Domesticated cats don’t need to hunt their prey, however, the instinct is still very strong.
This is called prey drive and it is very difficult for cats to resist. A little clue to assess your cat’s bite and whether your cat is playing or actually hunting your feet is if they stalk them for a period before they pounce.
A moving object, low to the ground, is basically irresistible to them once their instincts kick in. Don’t forget as well, those adorable character slipper socks you love to wear with the face on, they are a prime target for your cat!
This sort of behavior is usually seen in younger cats, as they are learning to hunt. Older cats who exhibit this sort of behavior may be indoor cats who don’t get an opportunity to stalk and hunt prey outdoors as part of their daily regime.
Also Read: How Do Cats Hunt?
Cats get bored, just like we do! If your cat is not stimulated enough in their waking hours they will seek ways to expend excess energy. This can manifest in playful attacking of your feet amongst other things.
Depending on how frustrated your cat is, they may just engage in playful nibbling, however, they may bite quite hard which can be painful. Essentially they are searching for something mentally stimulating to occupy them.
If you don’t want them to attack your feet and you think they are bored, you can try giving them more attention and affection and play with them more frequently to keep them engaged and stimulated.
This is an interesting one. Cat’s body language can be hard to read! Cats can bite or attack your feet because they want attention, and equally, they can also do the same thing if they are over-stimulated and want to be left alone – cats are complicated creatures! Pay attention to when your cat is launching their attack at your feet.
If it is when they have been on their own all day or if you are busy engrossed in something else they are likely to be craving some attention. They might also do it if they want to let you know they are hungry or thirsty. Just remember, if your cat is trying to get something from you by attacking your feet, and you give them what they want – you are reinforcing bad behavior.
They will learn that if they bite or attack you, it results in a positive outcome for them and they will do it more often.
Also consider if you have been holding your cat’s attention for a long period, by playing with your cat for a while already and they suddenly bite your feet aggressively or give you a little cat scratch, it may be their way of saying “I need some space”. This is called overstimulation aggression. It’s hard not to take it personally but they have just had enough and need a rest.
6. Medical Issue
If your cat’s behavior suddenly changes it may be an indication they have an underlying health issue. One of the reasons cats can start attacking their humans is if they are in pain. They may feel threatened and feel like they have to defend themselves, or warn you not to touch them in a certain place.
Hormone changes can cause cats to become more territorial and aggressive which may result in some ankle bites. Cats can become more fractious or hyperactive if they have a condition called hyperthyroidism so increased aggression may be one of the first things you notice at home.
Negative interactions with other family members (feline or human) can upset your cat and lead them to display more aggressive behavior too. If there is a new cat or human in the house, this may stress your cat out to an extent. If you are at all concerned, it’s definitely best to get your cat checked out with your veterinarian.
Your vet may also recommend a veterinary behaviorist if they are suspicious of behavior problems depending on their clinical findings.
7. Sexual Behavior
Male cats tend to bite the queen on the scruff of her neck during mating. The males, even if they are neutered, can still possess this instinct and exhibit biting/attacking behavior towards various different body parts.
Female cats can also react with biting/clawing if they mistake you playing with them as sexual aggression. This usually only affects younger cats. If you are concerned, speak to your veterinarian.
Also Read: Why Do Cats Scream When Mating?
How Do You Get a Cat to Stop Attacking Your Feet?
Don’t worry if your cat is attacking your feet regularly. This does not mean you have an aggressive cat. As you can see there are plenty of different reasons they may engage in biting behavior, and not all are bad. The important thing is to be able to understand why your cat is doing this. There are many ways you can encourage your cat to stop biting your feet which you can read about here.*
Most include positive reinforcement of good behavior or redirection of excess energy. The main thing is that you and your cat have a healthy relationship. If you are reading this article, it’s certain you are a good owner and your cat appreciates you, even if they have a quirky way of showing it sometimes!
Also Read: Why Do Cats Knead and Bite Blankets?
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it normal for my cat to attack my feet?
The short answer is yes! It is completely normal and an important part of their development and daily routine. It isn't necessarily a bad thing either. Your cat may just want to play with you as your feet are an irresistible moving target for your cat. Their instincts take over and they just can't help but pounce!
Why do cats suddenly attack their owners?
Cats can suddenly turn on their owners and attack them if they are feeling frightened, territorial, or defensive. They can attack if they want to play, practice hunting or if they are wanting attention. Cats also sometimes attack if they are overstimulated and want to be left alone. Another reason is if they are in pain. If your cat suddenly starts attacking you, and you are unsure why it is best to speak to your veterinarian for advice.
Why does my cat hug my leg and bite my feet?
Cats often gently bite or nibble their owners’ legs or feet as a sign of affection. Young kittens are groomed in this way by their mother with gentle bites and licks. They often try to replicate this behavior with family members they are fond of.
Holzworth, J. Hyperthyroidism in the cat: ten cases
J Am Vet Med Assoc 1980 Feb 15;176(4):345-53.