Why cats hate you…

As I quite like cats, and this is generally known by my friends, I often get told things like, “I used to like cats, but they all hate me so now I hate them too.”

While I don’t want to suggest that everyone has to love cats, I’ve always felt that, as a cat quite-liker, I should at least speak up in their defence.

For starters, to understand any domestic animal, it helps to understand something about where they came from. Dogs, for example, are very closely related to wolves, a highly social predator with relatively few threats in life apart from humans and the odd unfriendly wolf.

African wildcats (Felis silvestris lybica), the ancestors of the domestic cat, are not top predators. Kitty may strut around like she owns the place, but the truth is that wildcats are prey to virtually everyone and everything in their native habitat.

By Rute Martins of Leoa’s Photography (www.leoa.co.za) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Birds of prey, snakes, wild dogs, hyenas and bigger cats like leopards and lions would all see an adult wildcat as a meal, and their kittens would be even more vulnerable.

This might explain why a friend of mine struggled for days to retrieve a cat he was looking after for a friend from a tree.

I can’t say for sure why the cat ran up the tree in the first place, but I can hazard a guess as to why it didn’t come down. My friend thought that the best way to coax the cat down would be to stand at the base of the tree clapping and shouting:


This technique will work just as well if you are trying to get a rabbit or a mouse to come out of its hiding place. Just like cats, they’re prey animals. They don’t come to you when you act like a predator.

One of the more common reasons people cite to prove to me that cats truly hate them can be put down to what is sometimes termed ‘petting-induced aggression.’

If it hasn’t happened to you, you’ve probably at least heard about it happening to someone you know.

You’ll be calmly petting a cat, luxuriating in the feel of her softer than soft fur and generally feeling that all the world’s problems have dissolved. The cat looks to be enjoying the experience too, she’ll be purring, perhaps even drooling and her eyes will be closed in complete ecstasy.

Then, SNAP. She tenses up, flips onto her back in a micro-second, and slashes your arm with her needle sharp claws before fleeing the room.

By [dead link] Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez from Santiago de Compostela, Galicia (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
What happened there?

For starters, she was probably a cat that had not been socialised with humans properly early in her life. She may not have seen a human in the first months of her life, or perhaps she was taken from her mother too early.

Either way, she never really adapted to the social life she’s started living with humans. She likes you, and she obviously likes being petted to some extent (she wouldn’t be hanging out with you if she didn’t). But when she’s had enough she can get a bit antsy.

She might be feeling trapped – you are massive in comparison after all. Some even think that excessive petting may hurt cats’ sensitive skin. She wanted you to stop, so she told you to stop in the only way she knew how.

In reality, she probably did give you some warning before shredding your arm, but cat signals can be subtle. Perhaps a change in the angle of her ears or a twitch of the fur on her back was all the warning you were going to get.

It comes back to wildcats not being the most social of creatures. Funnily enough, that’s one of the things I like most about cats. They’re not very well adapted to social life, but they like us enough to give it a go, and the fact that they don’t always get it right is kind of endearing (if sometimes a little hurty).

So why do cats hate you? Well, as you may have guessed, the truth is that they probably don’t.

If they appear to hate you, it’s probably because you’re big, you’re loud and you’re scary.

Ultimately, it’s hard to like something you don’t understand, so before committing to hating cats, try to see yourself through their eyes. The fact that they seem to want to be around us at all is remarkable.

4 Responses to “Why cats hate you…”

  1. meghanb says:

    I think the best explanation for your cousins’ cat comes from The Simpsons:

    Animal Park Ranger: Well, animals are a lot like people, Mrs. Simpson. Some of them act badly because they’ve had a hard life, or have been mistreated. But, like people, some of them are just jerks–Stop that, Mr. Simpson.
    (The camera pans to show Homer repeatedly head butting the warden.)

  2. Lucy says:

    To defend us cat- haters, my cousins cat used to spring out of nowhere and attack your legs. The best attack he did was when for a good hour he sat on my uncles chest, purring and being tickled under the chin. The cat then got off, stretched, then turned around, grabbed my uncle by the ears with his claws and bit his forehead. He then ran off leaving my uncle bleeding and confused. Evil, defiantly evil! 😀

  3. meghanb says:

    Thanks for the comment! My partner’s allergic to cats too, I highly recommend an air filter if you’re keen on spending more time with cats – it’s worked wonders for him!

  4. Eileen says:

    I love cats, maybe it’s lucky I’m allergic so I can’t pet them for very long anyway haha