Dear Critter Corner: Whenever I walk by my cat Fluffles whether in the hallway, through the bedroom, or around a corner, she grabs onto my leg and scratches me. Sometimes she even nips me. What can I do to stop this behavior?
From what you’ve described, it sounds like your cat Fluffles is exhibiting some play aggression. Meaning that her natural instincts to hunt and chase prey are not being fulfilled or met by her play activities during the day, and thus she is redirecting this behavior towards you.
It can be helpful to start paying close attention to Fluffles’ behavior right before she grabs onto your leg and scratches. Does her tail flicker or are her eyes dilating? Is she watching your feet as you walk and move away? Do you notice any ripples along her back or hair raising? If so, these could all be indications that she is becoming excited by the movement of your feet and legs, as she may view them as prey and then want to hunt and chase after them. Cats that are not getting enough mental and physical stimulation may redirect this behavior to you in a form that is inappropriate towards people.
If your typical response to this behavior, is to say “ouch!” and “no!” and move away, try instead to redirect the behavior at the start when her tail is beginning to flicker. This is her way of showing you that she has some pent-up energy stored and in a way is her invitation to play. Alternatively, it would be helpful if you’re able to create a schedule of daily playtime for Fluffles, so she can actively engage in play that channels her natural instincts. Using long wand toys to get her chasing and jumping in short bursts will help channel her instinct to chase after small ground prey or prey in flight. You may have to consider how a bird or mouse may behave in order to fully engage Fluffles. The more playtime Fluffles receives on a daily basis, the less likely she is to reserve her playtime for your legs and feet.