When in play this is a common problem because it is normal cat behaviour. Not all domestic cats do it but it is still normal behaviour. Therefore the first point to make is that punishment is not the way to fix it because we don’t punish for engaging in normal behaviour and as all cat behaviour is normal we never punish.
It depends how bad the ‘attacks’ are. If they are minor and no real damage is done I’d more or less accept them. It’s just play. It’s no different to your husband refusing to do the DIY. Irritating but not the end of the world. Also cats need the outlet. Are they getting the chance to play-hunt? Although the problem is often age related. It’s a young cat activity, isn’t it? They’ll get out of the habit.
We shouldn’t regard this issue as a “cat behaviour problem” because it is not a problem from the cat’s perspective. And we have to get inside the head of our cats. This is an equal relationship. I don’t like the word ‘problem’ when used to describe normal feline behaviour. Let’s call it a feline characteristic that is uncomfortable for humans living with cats which should be adjusted in an intelligent way. We should be able to outsmart our cat.
Ambushing ankles is a classic play activity of young cats. It has to be the ankles because we are so tall compared to cats. If we were a lot smaller they’d attack our bodies instead. It’s all in good fun but if your cat jumps out at you and bites your ankle and it hurts it needs to stop because it can break the skin resulting in an infection.
If it is play (and not redirected aggression) it may happen in the same way each time. It may happen in the same place. If so, the activity may be predictable to a certain extent and it might be able to prevent it by tossing a play item such as a mouse or ball of paper onto the floor. She’ll attack that instead. This may set up a new ritual which stops the ankle biting.
The obvious background solution is to play more with your cat; play so much that she is played out and no longer has a desire to attack ankles. If, as mentioned, it occurs at a similar time or place, playing beforehand may prevent it. I don’t play with my cat enough and I am sure that a lot of people don’t either. Cats need to attack prey. We know that and we know they need to express this inner drive more so if they are full-time indoor cats.
What about some lateral thinking? Wear some thick socks around the home as slippers. I wear “Smart Wool” socks as slippers. They are hiking socks; very thick and comfortable. I don’t wear them to protect my ankles because my cat does not attack them but I reckon they’d stop 90% of the damage done by a feline play-attack. The only downside is that they may become synonymous with playtime for your cat which may encourage him to attack them more. It is often about by rituals and routines. But you might protect your ankles AND divert attention by playing more and predicting the attack as mentioned.
This is a big step which must be taken with great consideration and care but another cat would almost certainly stop your cat attacking you because they’d play together provided they get along. There, however, is the complication. They have to get on. Jackson Galaxy recommends adopting two well matched cats because it makes life easier for the human guardian. There is less work in terms of play time and providing entertainment.
We live with a predator
Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we decided to live with a top predator, one of the world’s best. If we don’t like it we need to reassess our attitude. This aspect of feline behaviour needs to be dealt with sympathetically.
I mentioned this above. It won’t happen often and therefore probably does not need a planned method to stop it. As you may know it occurs when a cat wants to attack another cat or animal, has no chance to do it so attacks their human companion instead. The fix is to find out what animal is causing it and prevent them aggitating your cat.
Please tell me your tricks and tips
I’d love to hear from experienced cat guaridans on this topic.