Have you ever tried to play with your cat only to find it suddenly kicks its hind legs at you? Not only can this hurt, but bunny kicking usually signals the end of your game. If you’re wondering why a cat does this, you’re not alone. Is your cat angry at you, or is it just having some fun?
Bunny kicking can be a sign of play or aggression. In the wild, cats kick with their hind legs to capture their prey and fend off predators. Because of these ingrained instincts, cats may bunny kick in the middle of playtime when they’re feeling stressed, anxious, or want to be left alone. But bunny kicking can be playful too. It’s best to discourage this kind of behavior before your cat gets into bad habits it can’t break.
While a bunny kick can be alarming, the answer to why cats kick with the back legs is a fairly simple one. Either your cat is engaging in playful behavior, or it is warning you to leave it alone.
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What Is Bunny Kicking?
A bunny kick is usually seen during playtime with your cat. It will grab its intended target, such as your arm or a toy, with its two front legs before kicking repeatedly with its hind legs – just like a bunny would do.
A bunny kick can hurt somewhat, especially if your cat’s claws have gotten long and sharp. It can also be difficult to unlock your arm from your cat’s grip once your cat has grabbed hold of it.
To release your arm from your cat’s grip, relax as much as you can. If you’re able to, gently pull yourself from your cat’s grip. Stop if you feel their grip tighten as this means they’re not willing to let you go.
If your cat doesn’t release, you may need to distract it with a toy or something it enjoys playing with in order to encourage it to release you.
Why Do Cats Bunny Kick?
It can either be an act of aggression or a part of feline play. It’s performed by all members of the feline family.
The bunny kick has been part of a cat’s evolution and is an important move to help it survive in the wild. In a nutshell, it can be described as both a tactical self-defense move and a hunting maneuver.
In the wild, a cat will perform a bunny kick to capture and subdue its prey. A bunny kick won’t always kill it though, especially if a cat isn’t hungry and wants to save its meal for later.
However, the move will inflict enough damage to the prey to ensure it can’t escape. A cat may also choose to have fun with its prey by batting it around and kicking it with its hind legs, before eating the animal.
If a cat needs to fight off another feline or defend itself against a predator, it will roll onto its back during an attack. While this may look like the cat is submitting, it’s actually quite the opposite.
Lying on its back allows the cat to use its claws and teeth at the same time. This position also allows the cat to grab its foe with its front paws, leaving its hind legs free to kick its enemy’s exposed stomach. This fight is usually over quickly once the bunny kick is unleashed. This move is designed to inflict maximum damage because cats don’t like to fight for long.
Unneutered male cats will often fight with one another over a female cat in heat too. Using the bunny kick will help gain dominance over the enemy, allowing the victorious animal to reproduce with the female cat.
A bunny kick is also a distance-increasing mechanism. A cat will perform this move to defend itself from your touch if it’s not in the mood for interaction. It is a cat’s way to tell you to stop what you are doing.
While it may be tempting, a cat rolling onto it’s back is not always an invitation for you to give them a rub. Instead, they’re simply indicating that they feel comfortable around you, meaning they don’t feel threatened.
Since most cats don’t need to defend themselves from predators, bunny kicking can be playful. In fact, it’s one of the first things kittens will do with each other when learning to wrestle with their littermates.
Much like when dealing with a predator, a cat will roll onto its back while grabbing its littermate with its front paws. The cat will then finish by kicking the other cat with its hind legs.
In this scenario, the cats are playing and exploring their instincts through fun interactions with one another. If kittens engage in this way without hissing or aggression, they’re just playing and are fine to be left to carry on.
A cat will use the bunny kick when playing with its human too. Cats are very good at tricking their opponents into thinking they are resting or chilling out. If you fall for this and begin to rub a cat’s belly, it’ll attack and grab your hand the second it gets the chance.
Cats will also do this with their toys. They’ll treat the unfortunate stuffed toy in the same way as their prey, gripping them tightly and not letting them go until they grow bored or believe they have subdued their toy.
Playfulness vs. Aggression
Analyzing your cat’s body language is the best way to tell if your cat is being playful or aggressive. If your cat’s ears are pushed back, its tail is swishing wildly, and its eyes are dilated, these are all signs that your cat is feeling agitated and stressed. If this is the case, it’s wise to back off and leave your cat to cool off for a while before you get yourself hurt.
On the other hand, if your cat is looking relaxed with its ears in their natural position then it’s likely your cat just wants to play. Proceed with caution – try throwing your cat its favorite toy so that it can bunny kick that instead of your own hand or arm.
Can I Prevent My Cat from Bunny Kicking?
While it’s rare that your cat intends to hurt you with a bunny kick, it’s understandable that you’d want to stop it from getting into the habit. When it gets too rough, it can bite or scratch you. This is not only likely to hurt, but it can leave unsightly marks.
The problem you might face in trying to stop your cat from bunny kicking is that it’s an instinctual movement. When cats were once wild, only the best hunters could survive. A bunny kick is a hunting manoeuvre to capture prey so it’s very difficult to stop.
Discourage Hunting Behavior
Perhaps you encouraged your cat to attack from a young age. While this was not your intention, kittens pick up on hunting behaviors quickly. While playing with your cat, you may have encouraged play by moving your feet around under the duvet or using your finger to entice your cat.
Unfortunately, all this does is breeds predatory-style play. Your cat may begin to ambush you in seemingly unprovoked attacks because it now associates your movements with these behaviors. However, there are techniques that you can try to stop your cat from bunny kicking.
Try not to get involved in aggressive play with your cat. Being too rough with your hand, or ‘roughing’ up your cat during playtime, could result in a reaction of self-defense, ending with a bunny kick.
Instead, positive playtime will encourage better behavior. Keep your cat engaged with puzzles, obstacle courses, or battery-operated toys that will keep it entertained for longer.
Don’t Use Cat Nip-Infused Toys
Also, if your cat is in the mood for stalking then buy it a stuffed toy that it can practice its sneaking on. Avoid toys stuffed with catnip that will make your cat go a little crazy.
In a report in Companion Animal Psychology, it was explained how the classic catnip response includes bunny kicking, as well as rolling around and drooling. As this is something you’re trying to avoid, catnip will only encourage unwanted bad behavior.
Even if your cat is exposing its belly to you, few cats like having their stomachs rubbed. You’ll often find that a bunny kick is a direct response to you touching this sensitive area.
While it might be tempting to give your cat’s abdomen a delicate rub, it’s best to avoid this area. And this goes for most cats too. In doing so, you’re likely to receive a painful bunny kick to warn you to get off.