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Why Does My Cat Bunny Kick? Is It Common?

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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As a cat parent, you’re accustomed to the fact that, occasionally, your cat will do some wild and wacky stuff. Chattering when they see birds outside, giving you dead critters as “gifts,” kneading with their paws, and cramming themselves into the tightest places. All these fascinating habits are part of the experience when you have a cat, but what about bunny kicking, that odd habit your cat has of kicking its rear paws and legs like a bunny rabbit?

Bunny kicking is a normal cat behavior and is usually done when cats play aggressively or attack something (or someone). Those funny bunny kicks are an innate behavior that serves a double purpose. First, they are a means of self-defense, especially when a cat is on its back. Second, bunny kicks are a hunting maneuver cats use to capture or kill their prey. Bunny kicks are very common, and most cats engage in bunny kicking regularly, and it has no ill effect on their health.

Now that you know bunny kicking is common and cats do it when playing and hunting, you might have more questions about this behavior and other cat quirks your feisty feline might have. To discover more about this fascinating cat behavior, what it means and what you should do when it happens, read on!

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What, Exactly, Is a Bunny Kick?

A bunny kick is an innate behavior all felines have, whether they are house cats or big cats living in the wild. As mentioned earlier, bunny kicking is an aggressive move that cats use when hunting or defending themselves. To use the bunny kick maneuver, your cat will first roll onto its side or back.

Next, your cat wraps its front legs and paws around the object they’re attacking (or that’s attacking them). That could be your arm, for example, a toy, a bird, or a larger animal. Lastly, using only their back legs, your cat will kick like crazy, using rapid-fire kicking movements that, as you might have guessed, look like a rabbit when it kicks.

Bunny kicking is a maneuver that all cats use and is a natural defense mechanism. You’ll often see kittens perform the bunny kick maneuver to learn how it’s done. Bunny kicking is a very effective defense mechanism that allows a cat to use all of its claws and teeth simultaneously, which allows it to inflict as much damage to its prey or attacker as possible. When done correctly, a bunny kick can perforate a cat’s prey body.

man hand is playing with a lovely cat
Image Credit: SNeG17, Shutterstock

Is It OK To Let My Cat Bunny Kick Me?

While bunny kicking might not look all that bad, it’s not a response that you want to allow your cat to get away with when they play with you. Bunny kicking goes hand-in-hand with aggression, even if you and your cat are “playing.”

Since it’s aggressive, it’s possible that your cat could hurt you or someone in your family with its sharp claws and teeth. Bunny kicks can cause deep, nasty cuts that can be very painful. For that reason, letting your cat bunny kick you without disciplining them or redirecting their aggression is not recommended.

How To Stop a Cat From Bunny Kicking

It might not be possible to prevent your cat from bunny-kicking you all the time, but you can reduce the behavior. For example, if you’re playing and your cat suddenly wraps its paws around you, stop playing immediately, pull your arm away gently and give them a favorite toy instead.

Some cats will lay on their back in front of you, seemingly to get a belly rub. If yours does this but then attacks you with the bunny kick maneuver, stop petting them when they offer their belly. In time, they will get the hint that you won’t fall for their little trick. Instead, give your fighting feline a catnip-stuffed toy. Your cat will stalk it like prey and bunny kick it, which is much better than your arm, hand, or leg.

Most importantly, to stop your cat bunny from kicking you or other people, don’t play with them aggressively. Using your arm or hand to “battle” with your cat might seem like fun, but to your cat, it’s a life-or-death type situation, and it could lead to some serious wounds for you. While your cat will never stop bunny kicking altogether, allowing them only to do it with toys is recommended by vets.

ginger cat biting hands
Image Credit: Irzhanova Asel, Shutterstock

Why Does My Cat Bunny Kick Her Kittens?

When a female cat has kittens, you might see them use the bunny kick maneuver on their kittens. In all but the rarest of cases, this is so your cat can teach her kittens some discipline, and how to perform the maneuver to protect themselves in a life-or-death situation.

Also, by performing the maneuver, she teaches her kittens how to hunt for prey, an ability all cats need to learn, even house cats. In short, unless there’s bloody mayhem (which would be highly unusual), if you see your cat using the bunny kick with her kittens, it’s all good.

Why Does My Cat Hug My Arm and Bite Me?

What you need to remember about cats is that they are still natural-born predators even though they’ve been domesticated for thousands of years. Hunting and killing prey is part of their core behavior, as natural for them as breathing. If your cat has a tendency to “hug” your arm and then bite you, there are several things that might be happening. They include:

Your Cat is Done Being Petted

What’s interesting about cats is that their stimulation level continues to increase as they are petted or otherwise stimulated. Once their particular stimulation level has been reached, their emotions will change to being uncomfortable or aggressive. In other words, if you‘ve been petting your cat a lot, they might simply want you to stop and show you by biting and hugging your arm.

cat licking human fingers
Image Credit: congerdesign, Pixabay

Your Cat Is Showing You Affection

Cats, when they want to be, can be very affectionate creatures. They often display this affection by wrapping their legs around your arm and licking you. If they give you a light nip, that’s just part of the process.

Your Cat Is Overexcited

Your cat can become overexcited if you’ve been intensely petting or playing with them. When overexcited, your cat may hug your arm and give you a light nip out of pure excitement or restlessness.

You Cat Is Unhappy With Your Handling

Cats like to be petted… until they don’t. If your cat doesn’t want any attention, but you give it, or they don’t like to be touched on the area of its body you’re touching, its response might be to lock onto your arm and give you a good bite.

Your Cat Is Showing Dominance

Cats, like many animals, need and want to show dominance over other individuals. If they’re hugging your arm tightly, bunny kicking you, or biting you, your cat might be trying to establish their dominance. Letting them continue is not recommended as they might start to do it more often.

aggressive gray cat biting the owner’s hand
Image Credit: Sozina Kseniia, Shutterstock

Why Do Cats Stomp Their Back Feet?

If you see your cat stomping their back feet, they are probably engaging in the bunny kick maneuver. If they are, your cat is likely playing with a toy, playing with something it has caught, or defending itself.

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Final Thoughts

As we learned today, bunny kicking is something cats do instinctively to hunt and defend themselves. All cats use the bunny kick maneuver, and it’s essential they know how in case they are attacked by another animal or run away from home and need to eat. However, although it’s a natural behavior, letting your cat use bunny kicks on you is not recommended because it’s too aggressive and could lead to injuries.

While it might seem cute, bunny kicking is serious business for your cat and something that will save their life if they’re attacked. As long as they don’t use the bunny kick maneuver on your arm (or on other people), It’s a safe and normal behavior for your cat.


Featured Image Credit: Pelagey, Shutterstock

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