Berkeley cat has sudden aversion to being petted

I have taken the title from The Mercury News. The reason why I am writing this note is because a reader of that online newspaper asked a question of their resident expert, Joan. They said that their nine-year-old beloved indoor cat had suddenly taken to clawing at her after she petted him for more than a minute. She found it very odd because he is usually very docile. She wanted to know the cause. I'd like to throw my hat into the ring.

Cat being petted
Cat being petted. Image: Getty.

Joan suggested two possible causes: that the cat was feeling pain for some reason and petting him exacerbated the pain causing the inadvertently provoked aggression in response. And secondly she thought that he might be feeling stressed because of a change to his lifestyle as a result of the pandemic.

It's a good question which implies that for many years this woman has been petting her cat in a completely acceptable way. Therefore nothing has changed in the way that she is petting her cat. Therefore the change must come within the cat i.e. there is pain or the environment has changed.

The most likely cause would be that this middle-aged cat has developed sensitivity to petting. This could be quite easily investigated. It may be a certain area of his body which is tender. The owner could do what veterinarians do namely palpate her cat which means to feel her cat and apply a bit of gentle pressure. She can then observe her cat's response. An aggressive response after palpitating a certain area would clearly indicate pain in that area. She could then telephone her vet is there was no external injury.

Cats perceive these circumstances as the person being aggressive towards them. They don't rationalise the fact that they are injured and the person is trying to find the injury. They just feel pain and the pain is being caused by a person so they think that person is deliberately causing them pain. And this would apply even if they have lived with that person for many years in a very good relationship. It's instinctive.

If that doesn't produce any results then you need to look to the environment. I don't believe the coronavirus is the problem (but see below). There may be something else in the environment which is upsetting him. For example, there may be a cat outside which he has noticed which is irritating him because that cat is invading his territory. He wants to attack the cat but can't because he's an indoor cat. Therefore he redirects his aggression at his owner. Petting can irritate under these circumstances and therefore he claws the owner. This, I believe, is the most likely kind of environmental issue causing this abnormal response to petting.

There might be someone else in the home which is upsetting them. Or the owner might be away a lot more than before. On reflection Covid might be a factor on this basis because if the owner was home all the time and then it suddenly away from home the cat might be upset. However the aggressive reaction under these circumstances is unlikely.

The first thing to do is to check health as Joan said (the most likely cause) and then to go through the environmental tick box possibilities until you hit the right answer. The problem might subside naturally with patience.

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