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Dogs are known for being fiercely devoted to their pet parents, but is there such a thing as a protective cat? Learn whether your cat feels protective of you and how they might let you know it.
Are Cats Protective?
Cats are often stereotyped as standoffish and aloof, even to the people who love them most, but the truth is that cats can be just as protective of their people as dogs are of theirs. Put simply, cats love their family and their family loves them right back. In a groundbreaking study published in 2011, researchers showed for the first time that cat-human bonds were just as strong as those between humans.
You might not realise how closely your cat pays attention to where you are and what you're doing, but cats use their razor-sharp hearing and smelling abilities to keep their pet families safe. The BBC highlights cats who have detected cancer and heart disease in their pet parents, alerted them to a heart attack, protected their young humans from bullies, and even served alongside humans in the Royal Navy!
More frequently, cats try to protect their pet parents from people they consider to be dangerous. Although cats are fierce predators, humans can seem big and scary to some cats. It's instinctual for a cat to defend their territory and yours.
But while it's adorable to imagine your cat rushing in to save the day, they probably don't think the same way about their actions. Renowned animal behaviourist Dr. John Bradshaw, in National Geographic, cautions against people's tendency "to imagine that [cats] have thoughts and intentions rather like ours." If your cat attempts to protect you from something (or someone), they're probably just following their instinct.
Signs of an Overprotective Cat
In some cases, cats can be protective to the point of aggression. Try to pay attention to your cat's nonverbal communication so you can determine what's causing your cat to go on the defence.
To tell if your cat is in bodyguard mode, look for the following cat body language:
- Dilated eyes
- Pointed ears turned out like satellite dishes
- Sharp, quick tail movements
- Crouched stance
- Exposed teeth and/or claws
- Hissing, growling or screeching
- Biting or scratching
How to Handle an Overprotective Cat
A protective cat is a fearful cat, and fear can turn into aggression. But before you go out and purchase a "beware of attack cat" sign for your front door, work on ways to calm your aggressive cat and teach them their behaviour is unacceptable.
Know that, while you shouldn't reward your cat's hostility, punishing an aggressive cat isn't productive either. The RSPCA explains that if you tell off or punish your cat for bad behaviour, they’re very unlikely to understand. Rather than deterring the unwanted behaviour, you may make it worse by making your cat even more nervous or fearful. The best thing to do in this type of situation? Walk away and encourage other people in your household to do the same.
Are cats protective? It's your pet's instinct to react when they smell, hear or otherwise sense something strange. It's also in their DNA to go on the defence when they're frightened. It's nice to know that in times of trouble, your cat's got your back.
Christine O'Brien is a writer, mum, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.
Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA