Q:My cat has always been gentle and loving, but the other day she went for me. She was looking out of the window when a dog jumped over the fence into our garden. She arched back, fluffed up her fur, and hissed. So, naturally I went over to calm her. I put what I thought was a reassuring hand on her back, but, to my horror, she lunged at me. It was a really scary experience. Why did she hurt me when I was only trying to help?
A:You are describing a perfect example of how a well-meaning human can give a cat the opposite of what it needs, simply by misunderstanding feline signals. In this situation, your cat was showing all the signs of feeling terrified and cornered. You realized that she was scared, and went to offer reassurance – just what a child would need in similar circumstances. But your cat is not a child; in danger situations, she reverts to being a wild creature. When you touched her, she redirected all of her rising fear and aggression toward you. In that instant, she followed her deepest instincts and went for the nearest target as the most likely source of the threat.
This type of “redirected aggression,” as it is known, is quite common. It is the reason why you should approach a scared or aggressive cat with caution. The object of the aggression need not be the cat’s owner: It could be another cat or another animal, a human bystander, or a child. Sometimes, too, the cat can continue to attack the target of its aggression even after the danger has gone. That person or animal can become inextricably linked with danger or pain in its mind. In extreme instances, friendly relations cannot be re-established, and the cat has to be rehomed. Fortunately, that does not seem to have happened in your case.
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