Why does my cat bite my partner when he laughs loudly?
October 25, 2011 3:54 PM   Subscribe

OK, I know this is the perennial AskMe "My cat does this crazy thing" question, and that the answer will be the eternal "because cats are weird", but I want to find out if anyone else's cat does this. When my spouse is laughing loudly, for instance (but not exclusively) in response to being tickled, my cat will launch himself at him and attempt to bite him (fortunately, it's always been through clothes). This has happened three times. It was not a playful bite, but rather a full-on chomp. The cat is very sweet at all other times, if occasionally a bit jumpy. Has anyone else seen this behavior, or have any idea what's going on, or how to make the cat less reactive to loud laughter?
posted by matildaben to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, my childhood cat would do this to my sister whenever she was excited (the sister, not the cat). Once my sister jumped up in excitement when her team won the world series and the cat latched onto her arm drawing blood and it took my mom and I to pull the cat free. We have no idea why this happened except that the cat seemed very scared.
posted by saradarlin at 4:21 PM on October 25, 2011

I had a cat that did this in response to pretty much any shrill sound being emitted from a human - loud singing, whistling, etc. Does your cat respond similarly when someone is whistling?
posted by wondermouse at 4:22 PM on October 25, 2011

I'd say control for movement. Someone being tickled usually is squirming, not just laughing. Harder to fault the cat for attacking then, and definitely not so unusual.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 4:38 PM on October 25, 2011

Hand to god there was a question about "my cat bites my partner when they laugh," but I can't find it now. I seem to remember that in this case, the partner in question was female, and the consensus was that her laugh was within the high pitch range that triggered the cat's prey drive.

(May not apply if your husband has a less-than-girlish laugh.)
posted by ErikaB at 4:44 PM on October 25, 2011

I think ErikaB is thinking of this question.
posted by roomwithaview at 5:18 PM on October 25, 2011

Why does my cat bite my girlfriend?

And, here's my story of my cat freaking out in similar circumstances:

"My old female cat used to freak out whenever I whistled or sang, her eyes would dialate, she'd run around, and yowl back. And attack me. I'm guessing in her little Tonkinese walnut brain that "me trying to sing Radiohead" = "danger Danger DANGER" and she's react accordingly by losing her shit.

It was great fun when I did it in the tub, because she wanted to attack, but I was protected by OMG WATER. So she'd just stand there on the rim and try to kill me with her death ray eyes.

Requiescat in pace, Qu'Appelle. Hope you're not spazzing out too much in Heaven, what with those harp playing angels and stuff."
posted by spinifex23 at 5:20 PM on October 25, 2011 [16 favorites]

The cat I grew up with used to do this when I would sing- which says a lot about my singing voice. So yes, this is common. I think when their humans do something startling and out of the ordinary, they get very scared that because you're the alpha and a trusted provider. So, they want to assert some show of defense or dominance immediately.
posted by superfille at 5:21 PM on October 25, 2011

And, not all cats do this.

The current cats I live with, Stoner and Mall Cop, don't flip out and bite me when startled by shrill laughing, singing, etc. Instead, they just bite each other. And 90% of the time, it's Mall Cop getting agitated for no good reason, and biting Stoner instead of me.

I live with some really dumb cats.
posted by spinifex23 at 5:23 PM on October 25, 2011 [8 favorites]

I had this one cat, when I was a child, whenever I would cry for long periods of time, she would come up to me calmly and rub her head against me in what I assume was an attempt to comfort me. However, if I went on for longer than she'd tolerate, she'd sternly bite me.

More often then not, that got me to stop crying.
posted by Peregrin5 at 5:25 PM on October 25, 2011 [11 favorites]

Over the years, I've had several cats that reacted to extreme emotions in humans - whether it was anger, laughter, crying, whatever. They don't really understand human emotions like laughter, so I think they read them all as fear/threat. Much the same way as some dogs will attack someone who is angry at their (the dog's) owner.
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:34 PM on October 25, 2011

P.S. Hugo is gorgeous!
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:35 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Something like this happened to me, where I knocked over a vase that made a loud clattering sound and my friend's cat flew at me like a tornado of teeth and claws, and had to be quarantined to the bathroom until after I left.
posted by hermitosis at 6:05 PM on October 25, 2011

My friend's cat used to do something similar - it would go insane and latch onto the closest limb of the nearest person whenever someone was panting. The 4 siblings would often pant to sic the cat on each other (though perhaps that goes without saying). Sorry but, cats ARE weird!
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:33 PM on October 25, 2011

My wife's childhood cat would bite her mother when her mother sang.
posted by rodgerd at 1:46 AM on October 26, 2011

I had a cat that would attack people who were laughing too loudly or making other loud noises. We dubbed her "the police," because she'd come stomping into a room if she heard any noise that was too loud for her preferences. Occasionally she'd just hover as if her presence was enough of a threat, but if it kept going on, she'd strike out and hiss.

I always saw it as defensive behavior--going after the loud threatening thing before it went after her. I suspect your cat is working the same way.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:58 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

(also, she was very small for an adult cat, so I think she had sort of a Napoleon complex going on and that drove her need to attack first)
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:00 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think that this is akin to cats being weird around babies. Our cat Eli is especially uncomfortable around our 3 month old niece. He gets puffy, super jumpy, and will attack the thing closest to him, which is usually a dog. He has yet to attack the niece. I also had a cat growing up who would attack me when I was crying. Chalk another tally in "cats are weird" column.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 7:04 AM on October 26, 2011

I guess because cats don't have much of a sense of humor, Hugo thinks the sound of laughter is something else--maybe human aggression or something--and is responding to that. For what it's worth.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 11:29 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

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