9 Reasons Your Tabby Cat Is So Mean

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Tabby cats are pretty popular in the United States and the world.  People love Tabby cats because their wild coat patterns look amazing.  Tabby is not a cat breed but is a coat pattern that many cat breeds have. 

Since many cat breeds have a Tabby coat pattern, it may be challenging to determine why your Tabby cat acts the way it does.  Sometimes Tabby cats can act friendly, and other times they can act mean.  So, what are the reasons a Tabby cat can act mean?

Tabby cats can act mean for the following reasons:

  1. Tabby Cat Plays Rough
  2. Your Tabby Cat Doesn’t Like Other Cats
  3. Your Tabby Cat is a Dominant Cat
  4. Scared Tabby Cat
  5. Tabby Cat With Kittens
  6. Lonely Tabby Cat
  7. Sick Tabby Cat
  8. Old Tabby Cat
  9. Overstimulated Cat
Why is my Tabby Cat So Mean?Description
Tabby Cat Likes Playing RoughA cat that plays rough can be perceived to be mean.
Tabby Cat Doesn’t Like Other CatsSome cats do not get along with each other.
Tabby Cat is a Dominant CatSome cats have a dominant nature and can be possessive.
Scared Tabby CatWhen cats are scared, they may act mean.
Tabby Cat With KittensCats will protect their kittens.
Lonely Tabby CatSolitary and lonely cats may have negative behaviors that seem mean.
Sick Tabby CatSick or injured cats may be fearful and lash out.
Old Tabby CatOlder cats may not like being bugged by younger cats or may have medical conditions that change their behavior.
Overstimulated CatAn example of this is petting-induced aggression.

Read on to learn more about all the reasons your Tabby cat is so mean!

Pro-Tip:  If you are thinking of buying a cat or are a cat owner already, then you should be aware that taking care of the litter box can be a real chore.  In this age of smart products, an automatic litter box has been created that actually makes life easier with taking care of the litter box.  If you want to make your life much easier with a litter box that means you’ll never have to scoop litter again, check out the best automatic litter box on the market (in my opinion) on Amazon. 

Tabby Cat Plays Rough

Mean Tabby Cat

One of the most fun activities you can do with your cat is playing, especially if you have a range of toys and activities. Cats are intelligent creatures and need mental stimulation daily to avoid boredom.

Cats that have not had human playtime experience as kittens have not learned that playing a bit rough can be painful for their humans. As kittens get bigger, their play can get more rough and tumble.

This is all part of growing up and establishing social hierarchies, but when you have a Tabby cat, especially if it’s a male, you may find your Tabby’s play a bit hard on your skin.

Also, if you have adopted an older Tabby that may not have had extensive playtime contact with people, it’s not that he is mean; he doesn’t know how to play with you. You need to understand that you both have to take time to learn how to play.

Grabbing your hand with his front paws and then kicking with the powerful back legs can leave you scratched and bleeding, which is not much fun. Most times, your Tabby isn’t trying to hurt you but sees you as a bigger cat and ramps up the play’s intensity.

If you can’t play with your Tabby without getting hurt, then use toys that give you a bit of distance between you and those claws, or, most times, a simple “no!” said with some authority or reacting with an “owwww”  is enough to convey your displeasure with his play.

Never smack your Tabby if he plays rough, as it could make him more aggressive with you and result in injury. Playtime with your Tabby should always be fun, and most times, it takes a little patience and understanding to get him to be a bit more gentle with you.

Your Tabby Cat Doesn’t Like Other Cats

This is one of the most common causes of sudden aggressive behavior from your Tabby. Cats will defend their territory when another cat or dog is introduced into the area or when stray cats start coming around the home.

Typically cats will ‘mark’  their territory by spraying or rubbing their chin on furniture and people. So yep, those innocent little chin nudges on your legs are your cat ‘marking’ you as part of their kingdom.

Typically if you bring in a new kitten around eight weeks old, the older cat would have some initial aggression to show the new kitten who is the boss in the house.

Once the hierarchy is established, peace will usually return. However, as the kitten gets older and approaches sexual maturity, tensions may well flare up again. At this point, it’s a good idea to have your new kitten sterilized, or you may end up with both of them marking your home, and the smell is not a pleasant one at all.

Not only that, but there could be increases in fighting, and the risk of injury to both cats and humans would increase. So play it safe and healthy. 

If you teach your Tabby cat that playing rough is OK, you may find your cat playing rougher regularly.  This could be a problem due to scratches and other injuries and the perception that your cat is being mean.

Most Tabby cats are quite friendly.  To learn more about Tabby cats being friendly, check out my article:  Why Are Tabby Cats So Friendly? (Genetics, Environment).

Your Tabby Cat is a Dominant Cat

Male and sometimes female cats may sometimes seek to become the dominant ‘alpha’ in the home and, in doing so, will enforce their social dominance through aggressive behavior.

This would involve typical aggressive posturing like growling, piloerection (hackles up), ears straight up and slightly forward, advancing on perceived opponents, and attacking people or other animals in the home.

While this is not a pleasant behavior to deal with, one of the best ways to resolve this is to not pay attention to this behavior and only reward or pet the cat when they are not in this mood.

The ‘alpha’ cat thinks he owns you and, as such, will be demanding attention or food and may even wake you up by biting your toes so he can get fed. He will want things done on his terms and react with aggression if he doesn’t get his way.

There are ways to train and dissipate this kind of behavior through click training and other methods.

To learn more about Tabby cats, check out my article on Tabby cats and water:  Do Tabby Cats Like Water? (Swim, Bath, Drink).

Scared Tabby Cat

Mean Tabby Cat

Cats that feel threatened by people or other animals will often display defensive posturing, and, as a cat owner, you need to know the difference between aggressive and defensive posturing.

We have looked at aggressive posturing in the ‘Alpha cat syndrome’ discussion above. Defensive posturing is different as the body language of the cat changes. In aggressive posturing, the cat is standing tall, with back legs straight and stiff.

In defensive posturing, the cat is crouched to make its body smaller and exhibit submissiveness to avoid confrontation. Aggressive posturing usually leads to an attack, while defensive cats will only claw or bite to defend themselves from perceived threats.

Other signs to look for are ears flat against the head and the tail curled around and tucked into the body. Again, this is not a cat that wants to fight, but one that wants to avoid a fight.

If you see your Tabby go into a defensive posture when you approach her, or someone else does, you need to then back off a little and let her relax.

Approaching too fast may elicit this reaction. This also happens if your Tabby was adopted and may have had negative experiences with people in the past. Be aware of the stimulus that causes this reaction and look to avoid it wherever possible.

Another aspect to consider if your Tabby cat becomes mean is whether there have been changes in the household, like moving house, bringing in new furniture, or rearranging the old furniture.

This can create anxiety for her and cause her to react defensively to attention or hide until the disruption has settled. Instead, allow her space and give her reassurance, and with time she will return to her usual disposition.

Speaking of dominance with other animals, we could be talking about dogs.  To find out more about Tabby cats and dogs, check out my article:  Do Tabby Cats Get Along With Dogs? (Breed Matters Most!).

Tabby Cat With Kittens

Maternal aggression from mommy cats is legendary for its pure ferocity. Any perceived threat to her babies will result in your once placid, calm, and docile Tabby turning into a total hellcat!

They will attack people and dogs many times their size and weight with unbridled aggression until that person or dog moves away. Even amongst the big cats, maternal aggression is well known. Many male lions have learned the hard way NOT to mess with a lioness and her cubs,

In this video, you can see how this mommy cat wouldn’t hesitate to attack the person filming her and her kitten if they got too close. They will often attack potential threats or predators, risking their own lives to protect their babies.

So if your Tabby has kittens, leave her be until she is ready to let you near them and make sure kids and other animals can’t get close to her. A ferocious mom tabby can inflict severe damage to people and other animals if she thinks they could hurt her kittens.

Concerning Tabby cats and kittens, you may be wondering how common Tabby cats are.  Check out my article:  Why Are Tabby Cats So Common? Detailed Answers!

Lonely Tabby Cat

If your cat is left alone for long periods of time, this may result in a few negative behavior patterns. The idea that cats are solitary animals has been debunked, and it is now well known that they need company, whether from people or other cats.

A bored cat can turn to destructive and aggressive behavior for attention and stimulation, so it’s best if you cant spend a lot of time with your Tabby. Perhaps consider getting another cat to keep them company until you do get home.

Even a dog will add a level of social interaction and stimulation to your Tabby’s day, as well as some exercise and play.

Having a companion can change your mean Tabby into a far more pleasant and happy cat and save you some scratches and bites when you get home. Coming home after a long and tiring day at work and having to deal with a mean cat may not be the reception you wanted.

But, you need to understand that cats are intelligent animals and need mental stimulation to keep them occupied. Boredom and lack of activities could make your tabby cat mean, so if you do spend a lot of time away from home, make sure your tabby cat has plenty to keep them occupied.

Sick Tabby Cat

A sick or injured tabby cat will not be happy and can express his unhappiness by hissing, spitting, and possibly clawing or biting. If you notice that he growls when you stroke him on a particular part of his body, this is usually a sign of injury or discomfort.

Open or festering wounds from fighting or accidental injury can turn your Tabby’s mood means until it’s sorted out. Like people, sick or injured cats become moody and irritable, especially in pain or significant discomfort.

If your cat is displaying signs that could indicate that they are sick or injured, you need to  get them to a vet as a matter of urgency. Obvious signs of injury are puncture wounds, limping, and frantic licking or scratching a part of their body.

You can carefully and gently run your hands over that part and see if you can feel any swelling or see any signs of bleeding or scarring.

Sick cats will often be lethargic, not want to eat, and spend time hiding away or sleeping. A noticeable behavior change can usually indicate that all is not well with your Tabby cat, and often he may claw or attempt to bite to keep you away.

Conditions ranging from dental abscesses or gingivitis, hyperthyroidism, toxoplasmosis, arthritis, and epilepsy (to name a few) can all be causes of a behavior change. A behavior change may be an immediate sign that your tabby cat is not well, and medical care should be sought immediately.

Old Tabby Cat

As cats get older, they may become less tolerant of both people and other animals than when they were younger. This can often be because of underlying medical conditions like cognitive disorder, kidney or heart disease, or even cancer.

Older cats also need a change in diet as their nutritional requirements change with age. If you notice your tabby cat getting a bit more mean and cranky, it is probably a good idea to take her for a checkup at your vet to make sure there are no medical issues that require attention.

Sometimes like some older people, they don’t want to be bugged by other cats or people and are more comfortable with peace and quiet and a nice cozy spot to sleep. If your Tabby is getting older, it’s wise to give her space and let her be.

Don’t let the idea that she is old fool you; she can still move with impressive speed, and those claws and teeth will still have some venom if she needs them to.

Sometimes older cats are also bigger cats on account of eating food and being less active.  To learn more about if Tabby cats are big, check out my article:  Do Tabby Cats Get Big? (All Your Questions Answered!).

Overstimulated Cat

Overpetting is one of the recognized causes of aggression in cats. According to Cornell University, petting-induced aggression can be caused by overstimulation, and when the cat looks to stop excessive contact, she can become mean if it continues.

Gradually introducing more and more contact can alleviate any petting-related stress and allow your Tabby to understand that this is a pleasant experience and nothing to be frightened about.

Petting-induced aggression can also happen if you have adopted your Tabby and her previous experience with people was not positive. If her last owners had been mean to her and poked her, smacked her, or pulled her tail, then by association, any petting may elicit a defensive reaction.

Another cause for this could also be excessive handling when trying to bathe or clip her nails. If you notice signs of an impending meltdown such as dilated pupils, twitching tail, or her ears back against her head, these are all signs of defensive posturing.

To defuse this, stop your petting or whatever action is causing this and let her calm down. Perhaps a food treats when she has calmed down and either a future avoidance of this action or gradual re-introduction of this action over time using food rewards could reduce her anxiety.

If you know your Tabby has a petting aggression issue, don’t allow kids to pet her excessively or go near her when eating. Some kids aren’t aware of the consequences of stroking a cat when eating, and they shouldn’t find out the hard way.

Avoid attempting to pick her up while she’s eating as some cats may perceive this as a food threat and react with aggression. Remember, your tabby cat is not being mean, just defending her food.


Video: Tabby Cats 101

There are many reasons your Tabby cat could be acting so mean.  A few examples of these reasons are sickness or injury, a cat with kittens, or a cat that enjoys playing rough.  If you think your cat is mean you should consult your veterinarian and possibly a cat trainer.

If you enjoyed this article, check out a few more:

  • Are Tabby Cats Rare? (Explained Super Simple):  Click Here.
  • Do Tabby Cats Shed? (6 Ways To Limit Shedding):  Click Here.
  • Do Tabby Cats Have Black Paws? (Clear Answers): Click Here.

Here are some of my favorite cat products

In addition to checking out some other More Meows articles, I hope you’ll check out some of my favorite cat products as well.  These are affiliate links, so if you end up using them, I’ll get a commission at no extra cost to you.  These are the products I really do find most helpful.

Litter Box:  I started out with normal, traditional litter boxes for my cat.  Then, I tried this automatic litter box on Amazon (affiliate link), which helped reduce the litter upkeep.  Finally, I am now a believer in the Litter-Robot 3 Connect on Amazon (affiliate link).  This robotic litter box is not for everyone based on the price tag, but for me the benefits (very little upkeep, works efficiently, clean, mobile app) far outweighed the cost. 

My Cat’s Litter-Robot 3 Connect (with night light on) – See the link above the photo!

Cat Tree:  I have purchased a couple of this Amazon Basics Cat Tree on Amazon (affiliate link).  My cat spends a lot of time on and around this cat tree, which I position near my sofa.  She uses the scratching posts on this cat tree multiple times a day, which means she is not scratching the sofa instead.

Cat Water Fountain:  I love this cat water fountain on Amazon (affiliate link).  There are three main benefits to having a water fountain like this for your cat.  The first benefit is that it keeps water running so that your cat doesn’t need to drink still water.  The second benefit is that it filters the water.  The third benefit is that it will keep your cat hydrated!

Christopher Carlson

I have an Domestic Shorthair Tabby named Charlotte. She is full of energy when she isn't sleeping most of the day. I share what I learn about cats on this site.

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