It’s all fun and games until your cat starts bunny kicking you. You could be playing with her, using a toy or petting her, and suddenly she gets a bit too excited. Bunny kicking isn’t a scientific term, but it’s an accurate description of a specific behavior that cats exhibit.
Typically, a cat will roll over onto their back or side, wrap their front legs around a toy, another cat, or even your arm, and vigorously kick with their hind legs in unison. This natural behavior is often seen during hunting or defense activities. It’s perfectly acceptable when a cat bunny kicks a toy or prey, defends itself from an attack, or play-wrestles with another cat who is receptive to this behavior.
However, it becomes problematic when the bunny kicking involves your sensitive flesh, such as your hand, arm, or leg. A cat’s sharp claws can cause serious harm to bare human skin. In the wild, when a cat senses an impending attack from another cat or predator, the bunny kick is an effective move. By rolling onto their side or back, they can use all four paws to defend themselves. The front legs pull the attacker closer, allowing the cat to strike with its hind legs.
Here’s where the primordial pouch, a saggy flap of extra skin along a cat’s underside, comes into play. This built-in “armor” protects cats from the claws of other cats during bunny kicking. It prevents the claws from penetrating too deeply and causing damage to vital organs.
Bunny kicking is a behavior that kittens practice as they grow. Through play, they develop hunting skills, chase and pounce on littermates, stalk insects, and “kill” their toys. Wrestling with siblings helps them build the necessary muscle strength and techniques to capture prey or defend against real attacks. Many cats continue to play throughout their lives, honing their skills and experiencing the thrill of the hunt, even when there is no actual prey involved.
Socialization with other cats during kittenhood is crucial for the proper development of social skills. Cats who have been given the opportunity to learn from their mother and littermates for at least the first 12 weeks of life understand the boundaries and rules of play. Friendly cats may engage in wrestling matches, including bunny kicking, but they will avoid causing harm to each other.
To differentiate between “for real” and “for fun” bunny kicking, pay attention to the absence of growling, hissing, or screaming when cats are playing. They take turns being the attacker and the victim, and there is no true aggression or intent to cause harm.
When it comes to your interactions with your cat, it’s essential to set boundaries. Even if bunny kicking starts as playful behavior, it can escalate and become aggressive. Cats communicate through subtle cues that humans often miss. To maintain a healthy and happy relationship with your cat, it’s vital to prevent any form of aggression towards you.
Providing toys specifically designed for bunny kicking is a great way to redirect this behavior. There are various catnip-infused, stuffed kick tubes available in the market. Cats may also enjoy bunny kicking stuffed animals, so offer a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials to find what they prefer.
Avoid using your hands or feet as toys. While it may be tempting to play rough with a cute kitten, it’s important not to encourage them to see your body parts as playthings. Dangling small toys in front of your cat with your hand can lead to accidental grabs, reinforcing the idea that it’s acceptable to claw at your body.
When your cat invites you to rub their belly by flopping onto their back, it’s best to resist the temptation. While some cats enjoy belly rubs, others may interpret them as the beginning of a bunny kick. Respect your cat’s boundaries and refrain from patting their tummy.
Learning to read cat body language is essential for understanding your cat’s behavior. Cats often give warning signs before engaging in aggressive behaviors. Swishing tails, backward-turned ears, dilated pupils, and whiskers moving sideways indicate irritation or potential aggression. By observing these cues, you can avoid situations that may lead to bunny kicking episodes.
In the event that you find yourself in the middle of a bunny-kicking episode and your cat’s claws are digging into your skin, try your best not to move. Sudden movements can increase excitement and encourage your cat to kick more vigorously. Your goal is to make bunny kicking your body parts as uninteresting as possible.
Avoid making noise or touching your cat during bunny kicking. These actions can further stimulate them and intensify their kicking. Instead, redirect their attention to a toy, if possible. Tossing a small ball or another suitable toy away from your body may shift their focus and prevent them from targeting you.
Remember not to punish or yell at your cat for bunny kicking. It is a natural behavior that cats are born to do. Punishment will only create fear and mistrust between you and your cat, without addressing the underlying behavior.
By respecting your cat’s boundaries, providing appropriate toys, and understanding their body language, you can maintain a harmonious relationship with your feline companion. A healthy and happy cat-human interaction is built on trust, empathy, and mutual respect.
*Note: This article was written by Dawn LaFontaine, an experienced animal lover and the author of Kitty Contemplations. If you want to learn more about cats and their behaviors, visit the website 5WS for informative content.