Cats can claw you, cats can even bite you.
But do cats actually kick?
When someone talks about their pet kicking, the first image that comes to mind is a playful bunny. They are rabbits and rabbits, well, they are known for kicking.
And for cat owners to actually notice their cats kick or even kick themselves, it can come as a surprise.
Let’s dive a little deeper to try and understand why do cats kick themselves or even kick.
Why Do Cats Kick With Their Back Legs?
Cats kick with their hind legs when they are feeling playful. Some cats can also kick themselves when grooming or playing when they start to get too carried away. On the flip side, a cat can also kick with its hind legs when fighting or feeling defensive. This way of kicking is also known as ‘bunny-kicking’.
Most cats owners have trouble telling when their cat is bunny kicking out of playfulness or aggressiveness until it is too late.
Here are some ways for you to differentiate them.
Bunny Kicking When Feeling Playful
You will definitely know when your cat is bunny kicking during playtime. This starts off with your cat nibbling and at hand or arm. Your cat will then start to grab and wrap your arm tightly with its front paws and use the hind legs to kick you.
Cats can also bunny kick another cat or pets when playing. It’s a behavior that they have been doing since they were kittens and playing with their littermates.
Some parents will also use a kicker if they know that their cats have a thing for kicking. It looks like a long bolster that the cat can grab and kick.
Cats often will engage in playful aggression with small prey like insects and small birds. In fact, it has been documented that many feral cats in the wild will kill small critters without even eating them.
The cat will bat the prey around with its paws, bite and bunny kick them and left them for dead.
To us, it definitely can seem cruel but to a wild cat, it is how they keep their hunting skills sharp by engaging in such playful aggression.
Bunny Kicking Out Of Aggressiveness
As cute and adorable as a cat can look when doing a bunny kick, this behavior can be dangerous to other pets or the owner if left unchecked.
Cats in the wild will drop on their backs to expose their razor-sharp claws when they are feeling threatened. This is to let their enemy know that they have sharp claws that can cause serious harm and they won’t be afraid to use them.
Your domesticated cat can also exhibit the same behavior when you think it is looking docile and welcoming when lying on its back. The second your hand touches your cat’s soft and furry tummy, your cat will start to bunny kick and cause some injury.
My cat will tend to bunny kick my face away if I start to irritate him with too many kisses.
Trying To Scratch An Itch
Sometimes, the simplest and most obvious reason is usually the correct one. Your cat is kicking itself because it has an itch on its face or chin.
If you look at your cat’s front paw, it is not biologically possible for your cat to pronate or supinate the paw. This means trying to scratch itself under the chin is the task for its hind legs.
There’s a possibility that your cat’s aim with its back legs leave much to be desired which makes it seem that your cat is kicking itself.
How Strong Are A Cat’s Back Legs?
A lot of the cat’s strength and power comes from its hind legs. Cats in the wild rely heavily on their legs to run and pounce on prey. Once the prey is caught, they will hold it down with its front paw and jaw while bunny kicking it to further weaken their ‘meal’,
If you have ever tried to give a difficult cat down to give it liquid medicine, it can be very challenging to keep them still when they start pushing with their legs.
A cat can jump almost 5-6 times its body length. I doubt there are many humans that can even jump 0.5x their own height.
So you can imagine the kind of power and damage that a cat can inflict on the prey or your arm if it bunny kicks out of aggression.
Why Does My Cat Grab And Kick Me?
Most domesticated cats kick out of playfulness when playing with their owners. Some cats even nibble or play bite but they will know how to hold back on their strength and aggression.
For cats that are just being playful, I don’t see much of an issue.
The real problem arises if your cat purposefully seeks out your arm or leg to kick and cause harm with its claws and teeth. There are cats that can also start off being playful but end up aggressive if allowed to do so.
Here’s what you can do if your cat is an aggressive bunny kicker.
Don’t Engage In Rough Play With Your Cat
This is one thing all cat owners should not be doing with their cats. But engaging in rough play, you are actually pressing all of your cat’s natural hunting instinct.
Your hand or arm is mimicking the prey that your cat has just caught and it is your cat’s job to go in for the kill. Thus it won’t hesitate to be aggressive with you.
If you want to roughhouse it with your cat, use a toy or a kicker instead of your appendages.
Discipline Your Cat
By discipline, I don’t mean to verbally or physically abuse your cat. Please don’t do that as it can be very detrimental to your cat.
What you can do when your cat kicks you is to remove your hand away quickly with a firm verbal ‘no’ and redirect your cat’s attention to another toy or kicker.
Try hard to not start shouting and jumping around in pain and anger as that is the kind of reaction that can fuel your cat’s aggression.
Just a firm ‘no’ and remove yourself from the room.
Pro Tip: The only way to successfully discipline your cat is to not curtail its negative behavior but to convert it to something positive or acceptable. One thing I learned in school is that energy can’t be destroyed but only converted. Letting your cat store up all that pent up energy might result in an explosive outburst.
Can I Stop Or Reduce My Cat From Bunny Kicking?
It is possible to correct your cat’s behavior if it starts to kick you in an aggressive manner. But you will have to be patient and quick with your disapproval. Here are some things to look out for.
Learn To Watch For Body Language Signals
Even though cats can’t speak, their body language speaks a thousand words about their current emotions.
If your cat is kicking you gently with just grading onto your arm or leg that is good playful behavior.
However, if your cat has its ears pulled back, pupils dilated, meowing or yowling and starting to kick and bite you with its teeth and claws exposed, you have to put a stop to it.
Your Cat’s History
This information might not always be available but if you have just adopted a kitten from the shelter or found one abandoned, how old is it?
If your kitty is less than 12-14 weeks old, there’s a high chance of it developing some form of aggressive behavior as it gets older.
I’m not talking about turning into a killer cat but behaviors like this are common amongst kittens that are taken away from their moms or siblings before 14 weeks of age.
They don’t have the proper socialization and guidance from their mother and littermates. When kittens get too rough during playtime, their siblings or mother will let them know by hissing or sometimes even paw batting them.
Said kitten will learn that bitting or playing too aggressively means ‘punishment’ and will learn to take it easy.
A lot of times, many of such behaviors goes uncorrected or undetected by the new owner thus allowing the kitten to think that such behavior is fine.
Getting bunny kicked by a kitten isn’t such a big deal but it is a different story if it’s a full-grown adult cat.
Why Does My Cat Attack His Own Legs?
If you have a kitten or a young adult cat, they still are full of energy and excitement. These cats are able to self entertain by chasing their own tails or even a hind leg, depending on how crazy your cat is.
Your cat can treat its hind leg like a struggling prey that is trying to get free.
Why Does My Cat Thump Her Back Leg?
Your cat might thump her leg as a sign of being playful or when it’s unhappy about something. Unlike rabbits who thumb their feet to communicate. Cats do it more from a behavioral point of view.
Why Does My Cat Kick His Leg When I Scratch Him?
You might have just found a sweet spot on your cat’s body that it loves being petted or scratched. It is probably a hard to reach area for your cat like its back. There are some cats that love patted on their bum area as they can’t really reach that part of their body.
Your cat can show its pleasure by involuntarily kicking its legs or making weird meowing or chirping sounds.
Cats kicking themselves, another cat or you ain’t always a bad thing. The most important thing to note is the cat’s behavior and body language when doing it. Any signs of aggression should be immediately squashed with firmness to prevent it from escalating.
At the end of the day, why do cats kick themselves might still remain an unsolved mystery to us cat parents given the quirky nature of cats.