Q&A: How To Stop Cats From Attacking Your Ankles

Jackson answers your questions via video.

 “Why does one of my cats like to come up behind me and bite my calf?”

“My cat is loving, played with, has vertical space, loves people but late at night, he attacks my ankles.”

Jackson explains why cats will attack your feet, ankles, and calves when you walk past.

He calls it play aggression, and more importantly, he explains how you can stop them from doing that using ritualized play therapy.  And why it works.

  1. karen   June 28, 2012 at 5:34 pm  

    It was really helpful to hear that . thank you ..

  2. Christy Sai   June 28, 2012 at 11:10 pm  

    Love your show!! I do have a problem with a beautiful white female cat my husband and I rescued. She gave birth to 3 cute kittens and they are now adopted out. my problem is mama cat does not interact well with my other cats (i have 7) She chases them and attacks them when she sees them. I do not know what to do. I do not want to take her to the pound or just put her outside.. What can I do???

  3. barb blauman   June 29, 2012 at 9:39 am  

    What if the cat`s favorite time to attack legs is when you just wake up on your way to kitchen to feed him? How will that work out vis a vi ritualized play an hour before??

    1. Nye   July 2, 2012 at 8:31 am  

      He’s probably now associated feeding time with nipping your ankles. You could try keeping a dangle toy next to your bed and when you get up to feed him, distract him with it all the way to the kicthen.

  4. Bridgette   July 10, 2012 at 10:35 am  

    Hi Jackson I have two kittens one of them hates for me and only me to hold her what can I do so she will let me hold her

  5. Mary   July 25, 2012 at 9:20 am  

    My Rockie kitty does this. I started playing with him more and also revised the way I approach him and the way I pet him. I now see I wasn’t respecting his space or his ability to determine contact. He’s the boss now and it’s working. When he approaches, I will hold my hand out for him to sniff and if he wants to reciprocate, he can, or not, it’s totally up to him. It’s very rewarding when he gives me a head butt back! Makes me feel like Sally Field “you like me, you really like me…”. I also limit my pets to his chin and scent gland area, he is definitely not into the full body pet, except when he jumps into bed with me in the morning for our AM snuggles/Reiki treatments. 😀 That’s when he says he wants to be cuddled and loved on. Makes a huge difference when you start seeing the world from their perspective and understanding that they have the right to self determination. Once that respect is established, the relationship becomes very rewarding indeed.

  6. Dawn   July 29, 2012 at 9:30 am  

    Hi Jackson,

    I have to usually wonderful male cats. One is 4 years old and the other is 5 months. The two of them get along great most of the time. They will sleep together, play together, and the older one will even give the kitten a bath. However, occasionaly, the older cat will start to meow at the kitten and then pin him down and bite him around the neck and hold him there for awhile. Why is he doing this? I am afraid he is going to hurt him. Should I interfere and if so, what is the best way to do it. Also, if this is dangerous to my kitten, how do I keep the older cat from doing it in the first place?

    1. Susan Santiago   May 19, 2014 at 5:33 am  

      Oops! Either he’s showing the little one he’s the alpha of the house or he’s thinking the little one is a potential mate. They’ll figure it out eventually.

  7. tamara   August 30, 2012 at 7:08 pm  

    dear jackson i need help how do i get rid of stray cat order that marked my front door ,before my cat was fixed

  8. Caitlin   September 11, 2012 at 8:51 pm  

    I am at my wits-end with my 1 year old cat. She lives with me and my roommate, but she only attacks me. And when I say ‘attack’, I mean she hunts me and has even backed me into a corner. A spray bottle hasn’t even helped curb her attitude. I’ve had to shut her in a room till she calms down! She has all her claws, and every day she scratches me so deep I bleed. And I’m the person who feeds her, cleans her litterbox, make sure she is healthy..and it’s like she doesn’t even respect any of that. She barely purrs and have ‘lovey’ time with me…even though I pet her and do everything to make sure she’s safe and happy. I love her so much but I’m not sure how much more scratches I can take. I have tried tons of toys, but nothing seems to help! How can I make her stop?! I don’t want to declaw her, but she won’t let me cut her nails…she completely freaks out!

    1. LailaVN   November 26, 2012 at 5:15 pm  

      What breed?
      How much time outdoors?
      How long left alone?
      What is feeding regime?
      How long have you had her and if rehomed to you, why?
      How often do you use a spray bottle to distract her?

  9. Lora   November 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm  

    I think this is great advice. My cat bite my legs in the morning when I first get up. I can’t in that instance play with him an hour before because I’m sleeping. I’m wondering if playing with him before bed time will help.

  10. Chantal   January 13, 2013 at 11:54 pm  

    Hi Jackson,
    I have a 4yr old (desexed) mixed breed (Chinchilla, ragdoll + other) named Tigger, that we adopted when she was about 8weeks old. She is very affectionate, timid of new people and especially loves my 12yr old son. Several months ago Tigger became an only cat as our 16yr old Persian Chinchilla (named Chicken) passed away. Tigger would often pounce on and attack our Chinchilla. Since we lost Chicken, Tigger has taken to attacking my son and husband, literally chasing them into other rooms and drawing blood by biting and scratching their legs. Tigger is an indoor cat, who has a large cat-run, has large, tall scratch posts and has daily play-time in the backyard. We have recently begun having our son feed her to help establish that she is not the boss of him. Yesterday she attacked my son as he walked past her, he had been home less than an hour after staying at his Grandparent’s for a few days. I believe she was angry at him for being away. Can you please suggest how we can curb this behaviour?

  11. stephanie pots   January 30, 2013 at 2:40 pm  

    Hi Jackson,
    I have a kitty, Spatz, he is a tuxedo male, fixed. We have had him since birth. Some nights when I go to bed he likes to come up and lay on my tummy/chest so I can pet him and give him one on one attention. He will even doze off. Sometimes when “he” is finished he will get up and goes and lies at the foot of the bed but occasionally when “he” is finished being loved on he will sit up, stare at me, then I notice his ears change position and quick as a flash he pounces and will try and occasionally succeeds in biting my wrist, or hand then like flash he’s gone. What am I to do ? He has drawn blood and given me a few nice scars. I love the cuddling but hate thinking it is going to end violent.

  12. stephanie pots   January 30, 2013 at 2:41 pm  

    oops for got to tell you he is a healthy, totally indoor cat of 13 years…

  13. Sara   April 8, 2013 at 4:08 pm  

    I am having an issue with this, the petting biting, biting when hungry, biting when afraid, and peeing and marking behavior. I just got my cat fixed but I’m worried that he may have some issues from his previous owners. When he does play he acts like you are going to hit him. I’ve had him a week and I don’t know if its because of the change or if he just has some behavioral issues that the previous owners didn’t tell us about. If it were just me I could handle it but I’m afraid for my baby. He is a big cat. He will be upward of 15-16 pounds when I get him back to a healthy weight. I’m totally lost on what to do with him.

  14. Sara   April 8, 2013 at 4:09 pm  

    Also I forgot to mention he is an Egyptian Mau so I’m not sure if its a breed behavior.

  15. Nicholas   April 27, 2013 at 9:31 am  

    Anyone, please help.
    I have a 6 month old kitten who constantly is biting and scratching any skin he can find. He isn’t always like this. Sometimes, on the weekend, he will be really cuddly on his cat tree and I can pet him without a reaction. We (my mom and I) get bit/scratched mostly when we are walking and he is behind or in front of us. The thing that is bothering us the most, though, is that he whines almost every night and I do have my room door open, but he is constantly

  16. Nicholas   April 27, 2013 at 9:32 am  

    Going and knocking stuff down and getting up in the window. Can anyone PLEASE help?

  17. emma   July 6, 2013 at 10:58 pm  

    whereas i understand the whole need to hunt thing, my cat who does this is an outdoor cat. he’s a year old stray who i just got fixed, vaccinated and microchipped. before he was neutered, he showed up only for meals for about 6 months. now, he spends most of the day sleeping on our patio. when i come outside the first thing he does is jump on me. if im in the yard, he will sometimes run across the yard to jump on the backs of my legs. i cant take my eyes off of him because he seems to be a cat on a mission! why the heck doesnt he burn off some of this hunt-energy by HUNTING!?! why does he only seem to do this with me? weve got plenty of birds, squirrels and chipmunks—all which seem to stroll right by him without him showing any interest. but when it comes to me, he’s completely zeroed in. and when hes not attacking my legs, hes the absolute sweetest cat on the planet. im completely confused.

  18. Una   August 1, 2013 at 1:28 pm  


    I was hoping that someone could suggest what to do in this situation – my cat has started to gnaw all kind of cords (telephone cords etc.). What can I do? Thank you for your answers

  19. Rose   September 22, 2013 at 3:26 pm  

    Call me crazy but I like when my cat attacks my ankles. She never bites them(that explains why lol) she just “acts” like she does. She will hide behind a door if she hears you coming and right when you’re in perfect position… BAM! She will clasp your ankle with both arms, bite at the air(I think she knows she doesn’t want to purposely harm me, just play) and then run off! Sometimes she does it so fast that you never see her, just feel her! She also let’s you have a turn after a while. She will come out looking for you, jump up in the air arms wailing when you pop out at her and she runs off. We do it to each other all the time(the whole family gets involved) We love it! I can definitely tell she enjoys it and its all fun for her. She won’t bite or scratch you when she’s playing so I get to play with her a bit roughly. I guess you can say that I pretend to be another cat since I copy her play behavior. When she was a kitten and she bit or scratched me I would immediately yelp and I guess she learned from that. She never bites now except when I pet her(different story) and I clip her nails when they get too sharp.

    Have you played with your cat today?=)

  20. Kitty   June 25, 2014 at 12:51 pm  

    HELP!!!! My Willie, A Russian Blue, whom has personality that just will not stop, I mean everyday is something new so he even has his own Facebook page, started to bite my legs, feet, and ankles too but not the same as what has been addressed here, he will just be rubbing against my leg and give a soft bite like he is saying he loves me but I KNOW my Willie, he is trying to tell me something I just know it, he wants something but I cannot figure out what it is. He is not playing when he does it he is in a relaxed mode usually rubbing against me or laying next to me purring. My main problem is that my legs swell a bit and even though he is not biting hard enough for it to hurt, the tightness of my skin causes it to hurt when it probably normally would not hurt. I almost always figure out whats wrong with my Willie but this activity he started recently has me stumped. My Other cat Pip is way easy but still insists I mention her to you, She is a big fan. :)

  21. michele saudi   July 10, 2014 at 3:51 am  

    My kitty likes 2 cuddle with my husband,but mostly plays n nips me..y is he playing wit me n cuddling wit him?

  22. Nikki   July 13, 2014 at 8:48 pm  

    My grandmother has a 3 year old male cat named “Squeaky” who has been neutered back when he was a kitten. She owned two other female cats when she took him in as a kitten, but recently within this last year one by one the other two cats have passed. Now, my Grandmother has recently retired from working and is now home all the time 24/7. Since her retirement Squeaky slowly began biting and clawing her more and more frequently, which we are assuming is because he is bored. He has many toys to play with, has his own “cat condo” tree, and gets lots of love and play time with his toys and we also play with him using a laser that he likes to chase. At first he was only attacking her once in a while, but it has now gotten to the point where my Grandma is afraid to be alone in the house with him and she is even afraid to walk to her bedroom at night when getting ready for bed because he likes to wait outside her bathroom and attack her feet by biting and clawing her. Last week he bit her so hard she had to go to urgent care because it had swollen up and gotten infected a few days later. We have tried everything in our power to get him to calm down and stop attacking her but it is now to the point where she is contemplating getting rid of him for her own safety. Is there any suggestions anyone could give us to help Squeaky calm down and stop attacking her so that we do not have to find him a new home? We love him and he is a part of the family but at the rate things have been progressing lately, it is quickly becoming a decision of the cat or my Grandmother’s safety and comfort in her own home. Please, what could we do? He does not act like this with her when other people are in the home, for the most part that is. He will play attack her a little while we are home but not too bad, most of the hard biting and attacking is when it is just the two of them. He lets people love on him and pet him, and sometimes even initiates for you to pet him but then will suddenly out of the blue turn and bite the crap out of you, scratch you, and hiss at you while growling. We are all very careful while petting him these days. I guess I am just writing here because I don’t know where else to go to ask for help and I have been searching for answers online but am hoping to find a professional to help us solve this problem. If there are any experts or even anyone with any similar situations which they have found a solution for, please PLEASE help us! What do we do!? We are at our wit’s ends but we love this cat and do not want to have to get rid of him. Thank you to all who are reading, and I hope to hear of any advice you have to offer. God Bless!

  23. rebecca   August 26, 2014 at 2:10 am  


    I just adopted a cat. She is 4 and a half years old. We only just brought her home. She seemed to really loves us as much as we loved her. I understand she is probably terrified of the move. But she keeps growling and attacking me if I’m not sitting down stroking her. I have a 3 year old so need to constantly tidy and clean. Can’t a always be stroking her.

    Will this stop? I’m afraid she may attack my daughter if I’m not there watching her every move.

    Help me

  24. Tracey   October 26, 2014 at 8:50 am  

    please help my 15 month old male cat keeps attacking and pinning my new 3 months old kittens and attacking there necks>???? thank you Tracey

  25. Susanne   December 10, 2014 at 7:07 am  

    My 7-year old spayed female cat attacks me when I am working out. Usually toward the end of a workout when I am a bit winded and maybe breathing heavier. She also attacks me if I am crying.
    She only started this in the last year and it’s not every time, but it is fairly vicious. I can see it coming and stop what I’m doing, but she still stalks me for several minutes and will attack full throttle. I usually grab a pillow to protect myself and firmly say “NO” and wait for it to pass. What can I do to stop this behavior?

  26. Leslye   December 27, 2014 at 8:34 pm  

    What would make an extremely sweet and loving cat attack legs with teeth and claws of only one person in the family? 6 year old female cat spayed and acts more like a dog than a cat. She loves everyone including my youngest daughter who she likes to attach in the morning when she is getting ready for school. Some basic ideas of what we may be able to try to deter this behavior would be great.


We regret that Jackson does not answer questions posted in the comments. This is due to his demanding schedule and the high volume of requests he receives. But most importantly, since he has not met your cat, it would be contrary to his approach for him to give specific personalized advice for your specific situation. That being said, general questions and issues are addressed throughout this blog, in his book Cat Daddy and of course, the show My Cat From Hell.

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