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Cat Pouncing: Understanding Why & How They Do It

Written by: Lorre Luther

Last Updated on June 21, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Burmese cat face before pounce hunting to toy mouse

Cat Pouncing: Understanding Why & How They Do It

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Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM) Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM)

Veterinarian

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats love to pounce! While it’s a normal activity that’s linked to their hunting skills, there are times when the behavior can become a bit too enthusiastic and cross the line into aggression, particularly in indoor cats that don’t have the same ways to engage their instincts as pets with access to the outdoors. Keep reading to learn more about cat pouncing and why they do it.

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What Is Cat Pouncing?

Pouncing occurs when cats stalk and then spring on victims. Outdoor cats pounce to catch their prey, but indoor cats also engage in the activity, often when playing. Cats generally enjoy engaging in play activities that mimic the things they do when hunting, such as chasing, staking, and pouncing.

However, cats can sometimes become overstimulated and pounce on other pets in ways that aren’t always appreciated, and some have predilections for hiding behind furniture and pouncing on unsuspecting humans as they wander by.

When cats pounce on their people, it’s often just a sign they want to play or want attention. Many have figured out that it’s a pretty solid way to get a response.

tortoiseshell tabby cat prepares to pounce onto something
Image Credit: SJ Duran, Shutterstock

What Are the Signs of Cat Pouncing?

Cats often do a butt wiggle just before they spring into action, and their eyes become saucer-wide when they’re on the verge of leaping. Other characteristics that indicate cats are getting ready to pounce include their whiskers and ears pointing forward and lots of tail twitching.

They sometimes move forward in short, quick scurries, and chattering occasionally occurs when they’re excited.

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What Are the Causes of Pouncing?

Cats pounce for several reasons, some of which are perfectly benign and just need a bit of redirection, but they can also do so aggressively when motivated by fear or territoriality.

Other common reasons that cats behave aggressively include because of hormonal influences, when protecting kittens, and when overstimulated by something they can’t get to.

Play Aggression

Cats sometimes pounce when they get too excited while playing. It’s common in kittens that need to work on their socialization skills. Kittens sometimes hide and pounce on their owners as a form of play.

Territorial Aggression

Cats engage in aggressive behavior like pouncing due to territoriality. It’s commonly seen when new pets are first introduced to homes and can be made worse by resource competition over access to litter boxes, food and water bowls, toys, and attention.

Cute persian cat playing toy
Image Credit: ANURAK PONGPATIMET, Shutterstock

Fear-Driven Aggression

Cats can become worked up and react aggressively when they’re scared by something or someone they haven’t met or seen before. Places that remind them of prior bad experiences can also trigger unwanted behavior.

Redirected Aggression

Cats occasionally behave aggressively when they see or hear something that scares them that they can’t do anything about. They’ll redirect the aggression they can’t unleash on the triggering object on unsuspecting people and pets.

aggressive Bengal cat
Image Credit: Dina da, Shutterstock

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How Do I Care for a Cat Who Pounces

There are actually several things you can do to encourage cats to put a lid on the pouncing and aggression. Below, you’ll find suggestions for addressing a few of the most common causes of aggressive behavior.

Play Aggression

Play aggression can be improved by ensuring cats have several toys to play with so they don’t have to turn to each other for entertainment. Individual play sessions with cats in multi-pet households can give them ways to chase and pounce appropriately. Playing more with cats that like to hide and pounce may also help by providing them with alternate outlets for their instincts.

Two kittens playing with hanging toy
Image Credit: Michelle_Raponi, Pixabay

Territorial Aggression

Introducing cats to each other slowly can reduce the likelihood of territorial behaviors developing later. Ensuring cats have sufficient resources may remove the temptation to compete over or hoard resources. It also makes it difficult for cats to use their access to toys and prime napping spots to establish dominance. Separating cats and reintroducing them slowly sometimes helps.

Neutering usually ends many unwanted behaviors if a cat is still intact, such as spraying, and often mellows cats out, which may reduce aggressive behavior.

Fear-Driven Aggression

Providing fearful cats with calm places to hang out where they feel comfortable and safe can minimize aggressive conduct. Cats benefit from having comfortable rooms where they can retreat and enjoy a bit of peace that’s off-limits to triggering pets and far from overstimulating noises.

cat lying on cat bed
Image Credit: Iva Vagnerova, Shutterstock

Redirected Aggression

Redirected aggression can be tempered by making it impossible for cats to see whatever triggers them. Closing the blinds and shades is often an easy thing to try to restore calm.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Are There Other Options That May Help Improve the Situation?

There are a few medications veterinarians can prescribe to help reduce feline aggression, and pheromone products may also bring peace to some situations. Veterinary behaviorists can be helpful in situations where pet parents feel as if they’ve tried everything and need professional assistance.

What Should I Do if My Cat Is Getting Ready to Pounce?

Providing a distraction can prevent cats from pouncing. Cats on the verge of pouncing can be encouraged to move their attention to more appropriate targets by throwing a toy for them to chase. When cats do pounce, ignoring the behavior is often the best step, as being yelled at or punished stresses them out, which can make the behavior worse.

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Conclusion

Cats are gifted hunters who chase and pounce with stunning elegance as they go after and catch prey, but indoor cats sometimes go a bit overboard with the pouncing activities, which can lead to uncomfortable situations for people and other pets. Dealing with pouncing depends on identifying the cause and addressing what’s triggering the behavior, and punishing cats can make the problem more difficult to solve.


Featured Image Credit: Viacheslav Lopatin, Shutterstock

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