OUCH! Why Do Cats Chase Feet?
Do your cats chase your feet? Fun and games for them mean DANGER for humans! Youngsters think EVERYTHING invites play-attack, but cats chase feet at any age. Karma-Kat has decided bare ankles merit a bite-attack each evening, while I try to relax and watch television. He does this at night in the dark, too, if I have to get up for any reason, yikes! It’s part of kitty play.
Seren-Kitty also enjoyed targeting toes, but since she only weighed 6 pounds, at most we endured a furry ankle decoration. With big cats like Karma (13+ pounds!), when cats chase feet, it can be a dangerous tripping hazard.
Why Cats Chase Feet?
Karma-Kitten does this. He even does it to Magical-Dawg. When Seren was young, she also targeted my feet and ankles. Do they really want to maim us, or worse: trip us on the stairway so we’ll break our necks? Do cats have mayhem in mind?
Do your cats chase feet? What in the kitty-world is going on? No, it’s not malicious or psychotic or vicious or any of those other labels we humans love to attach. Again, it’s normal, and has to do with several things either separately or in combination. Part of the behavior arises from hard-wired cat hunting instinctual behavior.
CATS CHASE FEET BECAUSE OF HUNTING INSTINCT
As hunters, cats’ hunting behavior evolved to be prompted by different stimuli. That’s a survival mechanism that triggers pounce-and-attack to put food on the feline table. Several things trigger the urge to hunt–and the cats chase feet instinct.
Sound, such as the ultrasonic mouse squeaks can stimulate attack. Scent is also important especially to stimulate appetite, but cats don’t have to be hungry to hunt. They have to take advantage of every opportunity and not give that mousy morsel a pass, just because their tummy is full. So other senses are more important to trigger predatory behaviors. And let’s face it, chasing feet qualifies as prey to kitten-hunters.
Sight rules in terms of kitty attack triggers. Think about it: the motion of our feet walking is at kitty eye level (prey location!), and the continued movement self-rewards the cat’s interaction. Couch Potato Puss has no real prey, so makes do with surrogates. It’s just FUN for the cat to chase/tag/play with our feet and ankles. And the more you squeal and try to shake ’em off (like prey), the more the cat’s hunting engine revs.
But the behavior can go on for other reasons.
“YOU BELONG TO ME!”
Again, cats are all about territory and location is important. The eye-level location of our ankles/feet as well as what they represent–the human they adore–makes ankles/feet prime kitty marking targets. It’s hard for the cat to reach other body parts with any regularity, but our tootsies are always within paw-and-cheek reach.
Cats mark important owned territory with cheek rubs, body rubs, tail winding, etc. When they wind around our feet and ankles, this leaves scent marks that you are important and owned by them–a huge feline compliment. A common time at our house for both Seren-Kitty and Karma-Kitten to indulge in this body-rub-fest is right after the humans get out of the shower. That makes scent sense because a shower or bath washes off all the important “family smell” that identifies you as safe and known. The cats need to refresh these marks to feel all warm-and-fuzzy-friendly.
IT’S YOUR FAULT CATS CHASE FEET!
Hey, the cats made me say that! They’re always MEOWING about something. But there’s truth to the statement. If you hate having the cat(s) constantly underfoot, take a step back (carefully, LOL!) to see what YOU do when this happens. It could be that you’re actually rewarding the behavior and reinforcing it, so the cats continue to target your feet. Also, bored cats need enrichment to maintain emotional health, so things like scent enrichment can help stem the mayhem of when cats chase feet.
Cats are very easily trained. It only takes one or two repetitions for them to connect-the-dots and say, “Hey, if I do THIS, then my human does THAT!” And if your cat happens to like THAT (a scream, you jumping around, picking them up, filling the food bowl, opening the door, giving ATTENTION) that can reward the cats chase feet behavior. Remember that even bad attention is sometimes better than being ignored. (I suspect parents of two-legged kids will agree with that, too.) As I said, cats are very easily trained, but they’re even better trainers of us humans. Ahem.
Your Turn: How do YOU Stop Cats Chasing Feet?
So how do you manage your ankle-rubbing/biting-kitties? Right now, we’re just watching our step–literally–and stopping in place until Karma moves on. No motion makes feet less attractive and doesn’t reward paw-grapples. Because once the behavior is ingrained, it’s even more difficult to stop. Prevent the cats chase feet behavior before it starts.
There’s lots more fun info and tips for your rambunctious kitties in COMPLETE KITTEN CARE (and you can “hear” me in the Audio version, too!)
I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!
Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!