Why Are Tabby Cats So Mean?

Why Are Tabby Cats So Mean

11 Reasons Your Tabby Cat Is So Mean

Cats are considered by many to be the sweetest, most loving pets in the world. Undoubtedly, they are also one of the cutest. They are fiercely independent creatures with their own unique quirks – no wonder we love them so much!

That said, cats can also be unpredictable. One minute, they might be clingy and very affectionate. Later, they might hiss, swat, or bite you for no apparent reason. This can be upsetting, especially if you have zero clue as to what triggered your them to suddenly behave so negatively.

So, why are tabby cats so mean? Does a cat’s coat pattern affect their personality?

In a nutshell, all cats, no matter their coat pattern, can react negatively out of fear, discomfort, or pain. 

So, if you have a tabby who seems to target you or other family members with aggressive outbursts, it is likely due to one of the reasons below:

1. Your tabby is overstimulated

Imagine this: your beautiful tabby approaches you and begs to be petted. Head-butting and rubbing you, you can hear her purring happily as you run your fingers through her fur. And then, all of a sudden, Fluffy bites your hand and runs away. That is sure to leave you wondering what went wrong!

Frustrating and frightening as it may be, this “cattitude” tends to be very common among cats, and is known as petting-induced aggression. It usually happens when our furry friends feel irritated due to excessive physical contact.

Unlike dogs, most cats are not as accustomed to so much physical contact with their peers. In the wild, they are lone hunters. Yes, we might see them grooming each other, sleeping together, or showing affection by touching each other’s noses or rubbing their heads and tails against each other. However, most cats prefer their physical contact to be short and sweet. 

Petting-induced aggression or overstimulation is something that has left many animal experts confused, but it is believed that it could be due to cats’ varying sensitivity threshold. Sometimes it is also associated with pain, bad experiences with previous owners, or excessive handling. 

Hence, knowing your tabby’s tolerance for petting is important to avoid unwanted scratches and bites. Remember that cats can act out quickly with little warning if something makes them feel uncomfortable. Watch out for signs such as dilated pupils, tail twitching, and ears moving back against their head, as these are sure signs of an annoyed cat.  

2. Your tabby plays rough

Playing with your tabby is a fun activity that helps you bond with your pet. They will chase, swat, pounce, stalk, and bite as if they are hunting actual prey. This keeps them mentally stimulated, physically fit, and happy.

However, some cats can be too rough during active play, especially when they want to show their dominance. Play can turn into aggression, causing them to use their sharp claws and teeth to subdue their playmates, including you. 

Cats that are not well-socialized can be prone to such aggression. While it is normal for kittens and young cats to play roughly to hone their hunting skills, some cats might retain this behavior as they grow older. Having a cute kitten nibbling your fingers might be adorable, but a strong, adult cat biting and clawing your hands is not fun at all! 

Hence, you must discourage your cat from biting and scratching too harshly during play sessions. To avoid those sharp claws, you can use toys to play with your tabby. If the cat tries to grab your hands with his front paws, simply say “no!” in a firm voice to convey your displeasure.

It is also important never to punish your cat if he starts getting rough with you. Remember that he has no intention of hurting you, but smacking or yelling at him might only make him more aggressive.

3. Your tabby hates other cats

Cats are territorial creatures. They establish territory they consider theirs through spraying, scent rubbing, or scratching. In the wild, this behavior is important for their survival. Aside from hunting, cats need to secure their individual home range where they can feel safe from predators. This strong natural instinct is retained in domesticated cats – even those that are well-fed and provided with safe, comfortable shelter.

So, if you have multiple cats at home, it is likely that they are merely tolerating each other, unless they have grown up together as siblings. At some point, they might fight, especially if one cat accidentally invades the other’s private space. Also, if you have just brought home a new cat, the resident cat will likely feel insecure and treat the newcomer as a threat. 

To avoid inter-cat aggression, make sure that each of the cats is provided with their own bed, food bowls, toys, and access to a hiding area or another room. If you are adopting a new cat, make sure that it is properly introduced to the resident cat. Do this gradually, as cats do not welcome drastic changes in their environment, including new housemates.

4. Your tabby likes to be dominant

Another way your tabby cat could come across as mean is by trying to establish dominance over the other cats in the home. Cats with this kind of behavior might hiss, growl, and display an advancing posture to enforce their superiority. 

This unpleasant “alpha” cat behavior can be problematic in a household with several pets. The dominant cat will also think that he owns you, and that he can demand food or attention at any time he wants. If he does not get what he wants, he might react aggressively by attacking the other pets or their human owner.

One way to handle an alpha cat is to reinforce its positive behavior. Give your dominant tabby some tasty treats or attention every time he displays desirable behavior. However, never punish him for bad behaviors as this will only magnify the aggression and cause him to avoid you.

5. Your tabby feels threatened

Tabby cats might appear mean if they adopt a defensive posture when feeling threatened. This could be due to small changes in their environment, such as rearranged furniture, the arrival of a new baby, or a new pet. As we probably all know by now, cats do not do well with change. Even the slightest shift in their environment can already cause a lot of anxiety for our feline friends.

A tabby might also crouch and display submissiveness if they feel threatened by another pet or a stranger. An anxious cat will readily claw or bite to defend itself from what it perceives as a threat.

So, if your cat displays a defensive posture toward anyone in the house, ask the person to back off to avoid a dangerous confrontation. New pets should also be introduced slowly, not hastily, until the cat feels comfortable with its new playmate. Most importantly, give your anxious feline a private space and plenty of time to allow him to calm down.

6. Your tabby is overprotective of her kittens

Mother cats will generally do anything to protect and defend their offspring, even if it means risking their own lives. This overprotectiveness in cats is known as maternal aggression. So, if your tabby is expecting, you might see her transform from an affectionate, snuggly pet into a snarling tiger. Anyone that approaches the litter, be it a curious puppy or another familiar person, will likely experience the wrath of an overprotective mom.

Maternal aggression is normal in cats. Even if you mean well, approaching the kittens hastily without the queen’s approval can trigger an attack. To avoid the mother’s spitting fury and a fistfull of sharp claws, it is best to give her and her kittens a little privacy. Make sure that the entire litter is in a safe place away from other pets in the house.

7. Your tabby feels lonely

While most domesticated cats are praised for their independent streak, some cats can struggle with loneliness if left alone for too long. Breeds like the Siamese and Burmese are also prone to developing separation anxiety and are thus more reliant on human contact to feel safe. If your tabby is a mix of these breeds, it is likely that they will inherit such traits.

Tabby cats can also become bored and display destructive behavior as a result of past trauma, lack of environmental enrichment, or being deprived of attention. 

First off, if you think your cat’s negative behavior is due to loneliness, consider getting another cat, preferably of the same breed, to keep him company. Even after a long day at work, make sure to spend a little time bonding with your pet in the evening. If you are a busy individual, consider providing your cat with lots of toys and scratching posts to keep him busy while you are away.

8. Your tabby is redirecting his aggression

Have you ever heard your tabby chattering while sitting next to a window, gazing at birds and squirrels outside? Cute and funny as it may be, a chattering cat can sometimes mean a frustrated cat. Because he cannot readily reach the prey to satisfy his predatory instinct, the frustration can sometimes turn into redirected aggression.

This type of feline aggression can be unpredictable and can cause the cat to attack another pet or its owner to vent its annoyance. Unfortunately, it is one of the most challenging behavioral issues in cats. 

When a cat suddenly becomes aggressive towards you for no apparent reason, keep in mind that it does not really intend to hurt you. It is simply acting on how it feels and, more often than not, this is beyond its control.  

Hence, the absolute best thing you can do is just walk away and let your tabby calm down. If your cat is laser-focused on something outside the window and starts chattering, consider interrupting the observation by clapping your hands, tossing a toy, or spraying the cat with water.

If the aggressive cat attacks another pet, try not to interfere with your hands or any body part to get in between the fight. Remember that an angry cat will not hesitate to use all its force to inflict injuries. Instead, use a toy, spray-bottle, a broomstick, or sudden loud noise to safely break up the fight.

9. Your tabby is old and cranky

Sometimes, a cat could be mean due to old age. Just like humans, senior cats do not like being bugged by other pets and would rather enjoy quiet time in a cozy spot, reminiscing about their youthful days and hunting escapades. 

Age-related diseases and mobility issues can also make your older tabby a bit cranky, so make sure to provide a comfortable private space away from other people and pets. If your cat gets increasingly more aggressive, it might be best to take him to the vet to rule out serious medical issues.

10. Your tabby is in pain

Cats are generally masters at hiding their pain, thanks to their strong survival instincts. That is because pain, whether caused by injury or a disease, can make cats more vulnerable to their predators. As such, it becomes a challenge for cat parents to determine when their fur babies are struggling with pain.

While sudden aggression can indicate pain and discomfort, a cat in pain might also display other subtle changes in its behavior, such as sleeping more or less, overgrooming or neglecting to groom itself, and loss of interest in socializing or playing. 

If you think your cat is in pain or is becoming more aggressive than usual, take him to the vet right away for a proper checkup.

11. Your tabby has medical issues

A cat struggling with a medical problem can lash out due to discomfort and unhappiness. Just like humans, a sick cat can be quite moody and irritable. Certain medical issues like sensory deficits, adrenal dysfunction, hyperesthesia, orthopedic problems, and cognitive dysfunctions can also trigger the cranky behavior. 

In this case, your vet might recommend certain medications to help your cat relax. Synthetic pheromone sprays like Feliway should also help to calm an agitated cat while he is being treated. 


Having a sweet tabby cat unexpectedly swat at you or bite your hand can be both painful and frightening. If your tabby suddenly becomes mean, know that your furry friend does not intend to hurt you. Whatever the reason, give your pet some space to calm down. Never punish a cat for sudden aggression. If the negative behavior escalates to the point that it bothers you or other family members, take your tabby to the vet to rule out injuries and serious diseases.

Image: istockphoto.com / Nynke van Holten