I argue that there is no such thing as an unprovoked attack by a domestic cat. The problem is that we don’t see a reason. That does not mean there is no reason. A recent news story prompted me to write this. A man, Mr Baxter, is suing a woman, who could be his wife, we aren’t sure, for $100k because her cat “without provocation, viciously attacked, bit and clawed” Mr Baxter, while he was attempting to feed the cat.
The incident allegedly happened in 2011 and he sued in March 2013. Odd that. Perhaps he was waiting for the injuries to settle down as Mr Baxter’s claim for compensation says he continues to suffer from the attack. I guess he would say that.
The claim is implausible. It seems to be a attack by Mr Baxter on his wife (if she is his wife!) rather than an attack by a cat on him.
“Unprovoked” means without prompting or motivation. A domestic cat might aggressively attack another domestic animal in the household, out of the blue, for no apparent reason but it may well be the case that something happened between the two animals beforehand that the owner had not seen.
There may well be a history of animosity between two domestic animals in a household that provokes one to attack the other. One cat might be dominant over the other and bully the submissive cat. Aggression and attacks under these circumstances are all predicable and motivated by good reason. Therefore they are not unprovoked. The real underlying problem is putting two cats or a cat and a dog together who don’t get along. That is the owner’s fault, as I see it.
Another possible reason why a cat might demonstrate apparent unprovoked aggression is when aggression is transferred from one animal to another. A cat might have gone outside and had a standoff or a fight with another cat. He immediately comes in and is still aggressive and the aggression spills over towards the cat’s owner. Once again this is not “unprovoked”. The aggression has been provoked by a territorial dispute with another cat. It is up to people to recognise that and steer clear until he cools down.
Unsocialised Cats (and People!)
Some domestic cats might be inherently aggressive because they are unsocialised. They have not been raised properly by playing with other cats, dogs and people when young kittens. If this has happened in a domestic environment it is once again due to a failure by the cat’s owner. Or the cat might be a former feral cat. Although most feral cats can be socialised with patience. If a cat attacks because he is unsocialised he has a reason to attack – he has been trained to behave like a wild cat and is defensive. These attacks are not unprovoked. They are programmed, really.
In terms of fundamental drives and emotions the domestic cat is very similar to the African/Asian wildcat ancestor. We don’t believe that wild cats make unprovoked attacks. There will always be an underlying reason if we can’t see it or understand it.
It is almost unimaginable that a domestic cat will attack a human in an unprovoked manner for the simple reason a human is too big. It is not good for survival for a domestic cat weighing 10 pounds to attack a man weighing 20 times that. It will always be something the person is doing, and/or has done for a while, possibly combined with a cat who has become very defensive for a variety of reasons.
People can mishandle cats. They can make cats fearful or make them feel insecure and defensively aggressive. People who mishandle cats don’t realise what they are doing. Accordingly, they might think their cat has demonstrated unprovoked aggression or attacks. They would be wrong.
Overzealous play by a person with their cat can lead to getting scratched or bitten. This is not an unprovoked attack! It is play. Someone could claim it was an act of aggression and they would be wrong.
A cat in pain, which may not be apparent to a person, may strike out if handled. An ill cat may also be depressed and irritable. These would be underlying reasons why a cat might demonstrate what looks like unprovoked aggression. Once again the aggression would have a reason.
Always look carefully for an underlying reason behind cat aggression and attacks. There will be a reason there somewhere and the reason can always be traced back to people.