My cat attacks my ankles – What can I do?

Our question this week was:

Dr. Debra,

Izzy is the newest member of our family who was a stray cat that wandered into our back yard. He has a fantastic personality who loves to play. Izzy will let us hold him when we found him and surprisingly did not try to claw or bite. We never found his owner so Izzy just moved in. The vet gave Izzy a clean bill of health and determined his age at about two years. We chose to have him neutered and declawed months after his arrival. Here is our problem. Izzy loves to “play bite” in order to gain our attention. I could be sitting at my desk next thing out of the blue Izzy nipped my ankle. He knows he is in trouble so he runs away and hides. Lately I could be walking around the house when next thing the cat is pouncing on top of my shoe then biting at my ankle. We have more than 25 toys around the house and every day provide him with two hours of play. We tried everything from time out to a water gun but nothing seems to work. What are we doing wrong? Will Izzy ever learn not to nip? My neighbor tells me I ruined the cat’s personality by having him declawed and neutered. I think he wants my attention and is just hoping I play with him. Who is right? If there is a Nanny 991 that makes house calls for cats please sent her our way. I am at wits end with this behavior.Thanks,

Gina Sharman


Hi Gina – thanks for your email. It sounds like Izzy found a great home. It sounds like Izzy has “predatory aggression” which can be very frustrating. Cats can act like “stalkers” or “snipers” and attack when you don’t expect it. It is a very frustrating problem.

We have an article on Predatory Aggression in Cats that might be helpful. However, I think you are doing a lot of the right things as far as lots of toys and play time. We also have an article on general Aggression in Cats.

Dr. Dodman, a wonderful behaviorist that has written many article for petplace recommends: “If owner-directed predatory aggression is severe, the owners should not flee like prey but rather “freeze” and discourage the cat by diverting its attention or by spraying it with water. It is important that water is sprayed within a second or two of an aggressive assault otherwise the cat may associate punishment with something other than the attack. Following successful diversion of a predatory attack, a toy or game should be introduced to allow the cat to discharge his predatory energies appropriately.”

You may want to call a local behaviorist in your area as another option.

Best of luck!

Dr. Debra