Most of the time, when you picture a pet who will protect you, it’s probably a dog—the bigger the better! But dogs aren’t the only pets who can behave protectively. Cats may not be very big, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get in on the “guard dog” act. Here are nine common signs your cat is protecting you.
The 9 Common Signs Your Cat Is Protecting You
If your cat suddenly turns into a “Velcro cat”, refusing to leave your side and following you wherever you go, it could be a sign of protection. Cats are good at recognizing human emotions and responding to them (although not quite as good as dogs). If you are feeling anxious or fearful, your cat may sense this and stick closer to you. In addition, a cat’s senses are more finely tuned than ours, allowing them to hear, smell, or see things that we can’t. If your cat feels something is amiss, they may get clingy for their own protection as well as yours.
You’re probably familiar with your cat’s happy sounds—purring, chirping, and meowing. However, your cat may vocalize in other ways to demonstrate aggression or protection. Growling and hissing are two common sounds that show your cat is agitated in some manner. Some cats will also produce other noises, like an ear-splitting yowl or deep, slow meow. Generally, the cat probably hopes to avoid a fight by scaring away whatever they feel is threatening you or themselves.
3. Puffing Up Their Fur
In response to a threat, cats will often puff up their tail or even the fur on their whole body. By doing this, they make themselves look bigger and hopefully scarier to a potential enemy. The goal is to prevent a fight by frightening off the threat instead. Officially, this behavior is called piloerection and is a reflexive response in the cat, controlled by the nervous system. To protect you or themselves, your cat may have to (literally) go big or go home.
4. Flattened Ears
Another sign that your cat is entering ‘attack and protect’ mode is when their ears are pinned flat against their head. In theory, your cat may be attempting to protect a vulnerable body part in the event of a fight. Sometimes, a cat may simply turn their ears backward rather than fully flatten them for the same purpose. If your cat is on alert but not certain whether they should be protecting you, their ears may be up and active, swiveling in all directions as they try to determine where danger is coming from.
5. Arched Back (Halloween Cat)
Besides the puffed-out coat, another trick a protective cat may employ is arching their back up in the classic “Halloween Cat” pose. Again, this behavior is meant to be intimidating to an enemy, hopefully scaring them away from a confrontation. Often, the arched back is accompanied by other behaviors such as vocalizing and flat ears. Some cats will slowly walk sideways towards the threat with their back arched.
6. Tail Lashing
When a dog wags their tail, it’s usually (but not always) a sign of happiness. When a cat does it, it usually means the opposite. A cat’s tail is one of the most expressive parts of their body. Fast, aggressive tail movements are a sign that a cat is worked up and could be an indicator that they’re ready to engage and protect you. Some cats will crouch low to the ground and swat their tail, preparing to pounce if necessary.
7. Dilated Pupils
Another sign your cat is protecting you may be dilated pupils. If all you see is black when you look at your cat’s eyes, that’s a clue that they are agitated and possibly ready to become aggressive. Any strong emotion or stimulating situation can cause your cat’s pupils to dilate involuntarily. Like piloerection, it’s an involuntary response. It also has the added bonus of making your cat look a bit more frightening.
8. Whisker Pointing
A cat’s whiskers are one of their most important sensory organs. They also play a vital role in communicating feelings, including stress or agitation. Your cat may point their whiskers towards potential threats if they’re trying to protect you. Alternately, your cat could pull their whiskers in tight against their face if they feel out of sorts. Small muscles at the base of each whisker allow the cat to control their direction, whatever emotion they’re trying to communicate.
9. Choosing Violence
The final sign that your cat is protecting you is when they give up on trying to scare off the threat and attack. Your cat may use their paws to swat or bat at the enemy. They may even scratch or bite like this cat did when a burglar tried to enter his home. Cats typically try to avoid conflict, but they are more than capable of deploying their teeth and claws to protect themselves or you if needed.
When Protection Goes Too Far
While you may appreciate your cat’s protective behavior in the face of a break-in or other scary situation, what happens if your cat gets the wrong idea about who you need protection from?
Because of their territorial nature, cats can become aggressive or protective in situations that they perceive as threatening, even if you don’t. For example, your cat may view a new pet, new roommate, or even a new baby as a threat and attempt to protect you from them.
If your cat’s aggression is directed inappropriately, it could create a dangerous and stressful situation. An estimated 27% of cats taken to animal shelters are given up because of aggressive behavior. To avoid your cat becoming a statistic, seek professional help from a cat behaviorist or veterinarian.
Dogs may be labeled “man’s best friend”, but cats are capable of forming deep bonds with people as well, despite their reputation to the contrary. In some cases, that bond could lead to your cat protecting you from harm, real or perceived. Just remember, some of these 9 signs could also be indicators of other issues, including medical conditions. Anytime you’re worried about your kitty, don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian.
Featured Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock