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Cat Aggression Overview

Cat Aggression Overview

Cats may live in our homes, but they are not far removed from their wild cousins. In fact, felines have been domesticated for a mere 6,000 years. Moreover, their differentiation into breed groups has only occurred relatively recently in modern civilization. This means that, as a whole, felines don't naturally have bite inhibition and can become afraid or aggressive with little notice.

Being fluent in feline communication is helpful in avoiding and solving aggression issues.

Types of Feline Aggression

Cats can easily change their mood if they believe their safety has been compromised. There are, however, specific situations that can be identified in which your feline might lash out with tooth and claw.

  • Play aggression: This is most commonly experienced with kittens and cats that have not learned to manage their rough play.
  • Petting aggression: Here, the cat becomes over-stimulated and suddenly lashes out or might have overall ambivalence about the petting experience (unsure if she really wants the attention or not).
  • Redirected aggression: Your cat is upset about something she sees or experiences but cannot confront, so she lashes out at the next closest living thing—you. This often happens when a cat sees or senses another cat outside in the yard.
  • Territorial aggression: Protecting territory from other cats or animals is ingrained. Maternal aggression can be placed in this category because the mother cat is protecting her young from intrusions of others.
  • Injury/Illness-related aggression: If a cat is injured or ill and does not wish to receive attention or physical manipulation of any sort, she might bite or scratch.

Play Aggression in Cats

While it's fun to watch kittens play roughly with each other or toys, it is not as pleasant when our hands and other body parts end up injured. Kittens are merely acting out instinctive predator behavior, and they don't realize you are to be respected and not eaten.

Even older cats can get carried away when they play and, with stronger jaw power and stronger claws than kittens, you can receive bad injuries.

It's tough to teach kittens to stop the rough stuff when playing, but through consistent redirection and presenting your kitten with interactive toys you both can enjoy, she will eventually get the message.

Great Types of Cat Toys That Help You Avoid Being Injured:

  • Dangling or wand toys, where you can hold one end and your killer kitten can attack the other end.
  • Automatic interactive toys such as the Frolicat Cheese Toy allow cats to hunt and pounce on "prey."
  • Gloves that have long finger ends with pompoms or feathers.
  • Food dispensing toys provide cats with the ability to stalk their food.

There are also great ways to redirect your kitten away from being over-exuberant when playing with you. The main one is to stop the game and ignore her when she gets mouthy. Another is to hiss like a cat. The hiss is a verbal warning between cats of worse things to come should it not be heeded. You can use your cat's innate understanding of what the hiss means to your advantage.

A trained kitten is far easier to redirect into appropriate behavior than one who has not learned how to earn rewards. Therefore, begin training your kitten the very day she arrives in your home.

Learn more here: "Play Aggression in Cats."

Petting Aggression in Cats

While there are some cats that want nothing more than to be stroked and cuddled, there are others that are ambivalent about it. They may want some petting but not much. The amount of attention tolerance varies from cat to cat.

There are signs that your kitty has had enough petting and will lash out if you continue. Not heeding these signs can destroy your relationship with your cat because you will become afraid of giving her any attention, and she will not appreciate you not respecting her boundaries. If this has ever happened while cuddling with your kitty, be aware of these warning behaviors:

  • Tail twitching or pounding
  • Restlessness, shifting of her body
  • Stiffening body
  • Ears turning back
  • Moving her head toward your hand
  • Vocalizations such as a low growl, hiss, or sharp meow
  • Some cats will touch you lightly with their teeth

If your cat displays any of these behaviors, immediately stop petting her and remove your hand. If she wishes to remain on your lap, do not return to touching her; respect her desire to be left alone.

You can teach your cat to become more tolerant of being touched through training. When she is near you, give her food rewards and soft praise. With each session, gradually add a few more seconds of time prior to stopping the stroking and offering her a reward. This will build up her tolerance to being touched and increase her trust in you.

Should petting aggression from your cat begin suddenly, it would be a good idea to have your veterinarian do a thorough check-up in case your kitty has a health problem. Cats might suddenly become aggressive if they are in pain or discomfort.

Learn more: "Petting Induced Aggression in Cats."

Redirected Aggression in Cats

This type of aggression is usually partially territorial. It is often caused by an outside influence such as a cat or other animal she has seen through the window or by another pet living in the home that she does not like. The behavior is like a blind fury as your kitty gets so aroused that she lashes out at the first thing she sees.

Many cats can easily become fixated on something outside of the window that can cause the arousal, such as a bird, rodent, dog, cat, or even leaves blowing about. Once triggered, she is unaware of everything else around her, including your presence.

Here are a few ways to recognize when your cat may be in this state of arousal:

  • Staring hard out the window, twitching her tail.
  • Vocalizing in specific ways, depending on what is causing the stimulation. For example, seeing another cat might cause a growl or hiss. A bird might cause her to chirp or teeth chattering as she prepares to stalk prey. If she sees something or someone she wants to get to, she might meow loudly.
  • Flattening her ears and lowering herself, displaying anger.

When you see these behaviors, either totally avoid your cat or clap your hands loudly to disrupt her mood. Throw a toy or two away from yourself. Never approach her.

Redirected aggression in cats can also occur if you attempt to break up a cat fight. If you have several cats that are not friendly with each other or there's a spat between them, do not try to break it up by using your hands. Generally, a loud noise or a pillow or toy tossed between the cats will do the trick. This is usually enough to distract the cats and stop the fight without getting injuring yourself in the process.

Learn more here: "Redirected Aggression in Cats."

Territorial Aggression in Cats

Cats can be very territorial with other cats, though there are some that take this a step further and display territorial aggression to dogs and sometimes even to people.

Here are a few common behaviors of a territorial cat:

  • Stationing herself in a doorway and growling at you (or other animal/guest) when you come near.
  • Lashing out at the interloper as he/she nears.
  • Stalking and attacking her perceived interloper.

There are several ways to handle a territorial cat. The first is training. A trained cat will defer territorial matters to you, as she will be striving to earn rewards. A trained cat is more relaxed and in tune with the entire household.

Secondly, introduce all new people and animals to your cat in a positive manner. Knowing your feline is territorial, offer a positive association with the newcomer. For example, have the new person offer treats to your cat. Or acclimate your cat to a new pet by offering treats when she displays friendly behavior and put her in a quiet room when she is not being friendly.

While negative reinforcement such as a squirt of water or a "time out" can be somewhat effective in the short term, they can increase stress and damage the relationship between the two of you. You will be more successful in solving this problem by offering an alternative to the inappropriate behavior and praising your cat for doing that instead. Training your cat is the ultimate problem-solver.

Learn more here: "Territorial Aggression in Cats."

Injury or Illness-Related Aggression in Cats

When cats are not feeling well, they have a tendency to either hide in a small dark area or lash out when you least expect it. Often, there will be other signs of illness as well, but felines are very good at hiding their state of health.

Look for these behaviors:

  • An overall hunched look, a greasy appearance to her coat.
  • Lack of desire for attention.
  • Hiding in a small, dark area.
  • Not eating or drinking water.
  • Messing outside the cat box.
  • Aggressive toward other household pets and family members.
  • Yowling or constant meowing.

Any combination of these behaviors is cause to take your cat to her veterinarian immediately. The most common cause of sudden onset of aggression is a physical malady.

You can learn more here: "Injury or Illness-Related Aggression in Cats."

Should your kitty get the all clear from your veterinarian, you should consult with a feline behaviorist. Stress of some sort is a common reason that cats become aggressive, and a professional behaviorist can discover the source of the stress and give you the tools needed to solve the problem.

You May Also Like the following articles:

Petting Induced Aggression in Cats

Human-directed Aggression in Cats

Play Aggression in Cats

Territorial Aggression in Cats

Redirected Aggression in Cats

Injury or Illness-Related Aggression in Cats

Stress in Cats

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