How Do Cats Defend Themselves – Understanding The Behavior


Sure, cats might be apex predators, but they’re small ones. Your little feline has to be equipped to defend themselves if they come across a larger predator in the wild. Knowing which techniques your cat will use to defend themselves can be a good way to get to know them better. Not to mention it’s an important way to help you watch for signs of stress in your cat so you can help them. So how do cats defend themselves?

Cats use their claws and leaping ability to defend themselves. They also use a combination of evasion, stealth, and bite to defend themselves.  In tight spaces, a cat will use its claws to try and harm or startle a predator so they can get away. 

That might not sound like much, but cats’ combination of skills makes them quite impressive defenders when they’re committed. Here’s what you can expect from a cat that’s trying to defend itself. 

6 Ways Cats Defend Themselves

Generally, cats won’t use their teeth to defend themselves, except as a last resort weapon. Instead, they’ll rely on other natural skills to either get away, evade a predator, or scare the predator away from themselves.

Cats Use Their Speed

One of your cat’s primary defenses is its speed. Many predators can’t keep up with a domesticated cat running as fast as it can, especially if it has a convenient escape route handy.

Even if a predator can keep up with your domesticated cat, it might decide that running isn’t worth the effort. After all, predators have to make sure they are getting more calories from each kill than their using to catch their prey.

Cats Defend Themselves With Their Claws

If your cat gets too close to a possible predator, its claws are its next line of defense. A cat will try to kick at the predator’s face, scratch their eyes, or cause any damage that will help them get away from the predator.

Agility Is A Cats Primary Evasion Technique

Sometimes speed isn’t the answer, but agility is. Cats will climb trees, dive into dens, or dodge around obstacles to get away from a predator. That’s part of why cats often don’t like to be out in the open; the more nearby obstacles, the safer they can potentially be.

Using Natural Hiding Places

Your cat will also sometimes defend themselves by hiding. They can fit into a lot of surprising places. In your home, this manifests in your cat hiding under couches, behind your refrigerator, and in other small spaces. This can be under trash cans in the wild in dens and burrows, under porches, and in crawlspaces.

Cats Remain Alert And Pay Attention To Their Surroundings

One of your cat’s biggest defenses is just paying attention to the world around them. A relaxed cat will close its eyes, won’t react as much to sound, and doesn’t seem to care about its environment much. A cat that’s feeling more defensive will constantly look around, listen for sounds, and may even glance and the sky occasionally to make sure they are safe.

Getting Bigger

If your cat is closer to a threat than they want to be, they’ll try to make themselves bigger, so they are less appealing to the predator. This is why cats puff up their fur when they are startled, excited, or feel threatened. By sticking their fur out on end, they look bigger than they are. Some breeds may also get a defense advantage from puffed fur since it’s harder to get to their skin through the thick fur.

What Is A Cat’s Defense

Of course, the list above isn’t a complete list of your cat’s defenses. Even some of their vocalizations, from purring to growls and yowls, can be used defensively in a pinch. Like most predators, a threatened cat has many ways to defend itself in a fight, and even more, ways to try and prevent it from getting to a fight in the first place.

Your cat’s claws are their primary offensive weapon, and they’ll use them in defense if needed. But for the most part, your cat will try to avoid a fight or get away from a fight instead of trying to fight their way out.

The only exception is if the animal they are fighting is their prey. Sometimes a rabbit will fight back or groundhogs. Your cat might decide the meal is worth the risk and keep going.

But against a larger predator like a lynx, cougar, or even an eagle or owl? Your cat is likely just going to try and escape.

Do Cats Defend Their Territory

Cats will defend their territory selectively. That is, your cat won’t try to defend its territory from a possible threat like a coyote, but they will defend against other cats. Feral cats may also defend their territory against people, dogs, raccoons, and other small animals.

Cats will mark their territory and vocalize if they see animals nearby. Catfights can happen when a cat is defending its territory, but cats will typically try other techniques to deal with invaders first.

Why Is My Cat So Defensive

Cats are defensive when they have experienced a negative series of events. There are lots of other reasons your cat might be defensive, especially when you first bring them home. As a general rule, give your cat a week or so before you expect to see their normal behavior after adopting them.

If your cat is still defensive after that time frame, you might be dealing with a cat with a history of abuse or that’s been attacked in the recent past. Unfortunately, cats can get into fights in animal shelters, and it’s not uncommon for them to be more defensive for a while.

Your cat might also have been feral caught, in which case it will take them longer to get used to being a pet.

It can be hard to tell why your cat is overly defensive. If it’s becoming a problem, consult with your cat’s vet to see what options you have to help them deal with their anxiety and feel more comfortable at home.

Can Cats Protect Themselves From Dogs

Cats can protect themselves from dogs to some extent. A cat can generally defend itself against a dog that’s the same size or slightly larger than the cat. Against large docs, though, cats will typically try to get away.

Unfortunately, a cat that can’t get away from a large dog probably won’t be able to stop a determined attack. Dogs can and do kill cats, so it’s important to manage introductions between the two animals so neither feels threatened or aggressive.

How Do Cats Protect Themselves From Predators

Cats mostly protect themselves from predators by being hard to catch, hard to find, and by trying to look and sound bigger than they are. Domesticated cats don’t have many predators that will hunt them preferentially, they’re just too hard to catch and can put up a good fight, but your cat would still rather avoid a fight in the first place.

How Do Wild Cats Protect Themselves

Wild cats can be a little more aggressive than cats raised as pets, but they still rely on the same basic defensive tactics as your cat.

Of course, if you’re talking about larger cats like lynx, cougars, and even tigers, then you’re dealing with animals that have much better teeth and claws for fighting. Big cats can afford to be aggressive in a way your little domesticated cat just can’t.

Things To Consider

Ideally, your cat shouldn’t ever feel like they need to defend themselves in your home. However, if your cat is naturally a little more anxious or defensive, they might display defensive behaviors more often, even in a perfectly safe home.

It’s important for cats that show signs of being a little more anxious to make sure they never feel cornered or trapped in your home. Moving slowly around them and talking to your cat in a soft voice can also help keep your cat calm and feeling secure.

Some cats may never be entirely comfortable living inside with people. These cats are more likely to need special accommodations to live in your home and are best for owners who don’t mind a cat that’s more independent and less affectionate.

If your cat is acting especially defensive in a new place, try to give them spaces to feel safe. Cat beds, cat trees, and even cardboard boxes big enough for them to curl up in can all help your cat feel more comfortable at home.

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