Ask A Vet: Why Does My Cat Attack My Legs When I Walk By?

| Published on August 23, 2016
Image Source: Vee Satayamas via Flickr

When we domesticated cats, we took these tiny hunters from their natural environment and insisted that they adapt to ours. Cats are built to stalk and chase. It is who they are and written on their DNA.  Sometimes we humans are the only thing that moves in our humanized world and our cats have to chase us!

The nature of the hunter drives him to lurk and stalk. Wild felines choose areas to hide that are frequented by prey species. Lions preside over watering holes. Leopards lie on branches overhanging frequented paths. Our pet cats choose similar behaviors, except in our case, the hiding spots might be under our couches and the prey item might be our legs! In essence, you can take the cat out of the wild, but you can’t truly take the wild out of the cat.

Unlike dogs who have evolved in tandem with humans, domestic cats actually are genetically very similar to their wild ancestors. Stalking and chasing are absolutely essential to our cats’ happiness and survival. They are not optional because they are literally written as requirements on his brain. All cats must stalk and chase. It is a drive separate from hunger.¹

If the behavior bothers you, redirect it, understanding that your cat needs something to replace it. Fishing pole toys and small balls can provide this entertainment for your cat. Other enrichment toys can really do this job beautifully. Hollow balls that dispense food rewards to the cat as they roll are an excellent idea. Try to think of creative ways to get your cat moving and using his brain. If you recognize your cat’s need for this type of activity, you can prioritize it and redirect it away from your skin!

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  1. Adamec, R.E. (1976) The Interaction of Hunger and Preying in the Domestic Cat (Felis Catus): An Adaptive Hierarchy? Behavioral Biology, 263-272

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