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Cat Aggression

Feline aggression is a serious behaviour which requires treatment.  It comes in several forms including:

  • Predatory aggression.
  • Fear aggression.
  • Petting-induced aggression.
  • Play aggression.
  • Redirected aggression.
  • Territorial aggression.
  • Inter-male aggression.

It is important to properly diagnose the cause of the aggression so proper treatment and behaviour modification can be put into place.

Whatever type of aggression your cat is displaying, it is important to address the situation, your first stop should always be your veterinarian to rule out a medical cause.

Predatory aggression:

This may be directed towards humans, other cats or other animals. The cat will crouch down low and slowly move towards his prey until lunging forward and attacking.

Cats learn predatory behaviour from their mother and practice on littermates.

Predatory aggression can be dangerous to humans (for example, if you are walking down some stairs and suddenly pounced on), unfair on other pets and cruel on the wildlife, and sometimes fatal to the cat if he chooses the wrong prey, such as a snake.

Cats should be either kept indoors or confined to an enclosure so they can't hunt the wildlife.

The best way to deal with this type of aggression is to redirect it towards a more appropriate source such as cat toys. Ensure you provide your cat with adequate toys in which to explore his predatory behaviours such as wand type toys (on a rod with a feather at the end of some string) to chase and soft toys to attack.

Spend 30-60 minutes per day actively playing with your cat, this provides an outlet for excess energy and you can direct the play fighting towards appropriate toys.

Fear/defensive aggression:

As the name suggests, fear aggression occurs when a cat is put in a situation it interprets as dangerous. It may be a visit to the vet fear of unfamiliar people or an encounter with another cat which leads to fear aggression. Most animals would rather avoid confrontation in fearful situations, but will attack if they have no option to escape. Body language displayed during fear aggression is the cat hunched down low, ears back, legs and tail tucked into the body, body on an angle.

Fear aggression may also be seen in cases where the cat is sick or injured. Always be careful when approaching a sick/injured cat you don't know and be careful when handling your own cat who may be in pain as he could lash out.

If possible, such as with veterinarians, accustom your cat to visits which don't involve examinations. In her book Twisted Whiskers, Pam Johnson-Bennett recommends bringing your cat in for brief periods of time, just to be petted. Slowly building up your cat's confidence that the vet's office isn't a place to be feared.

Obviously, if possible the way to address this is to avoid fearful situations, veterinary visits are inevitable, but if other situations may be best avoided. If this is not possible, then slowly helping your cat adjust is the best course of action. This may involve offering food treats if the cat is fearful of humans, slowly introducing the cat to other pets etc.

Petting-Induced Aggression:

This is a common problem cat owners encounter. You are enjoying some time petting your cat and all of a sudden he turns around, takes a swipe and then runs off and hides.

The cause of this behaviour is unknown although it is theorised that some cats can only accept a certain amount of petting before becoming uncomfortable.

Being aware of your cat's body language will help prevent these attacks. We have one cat who will attack if petted too long but he does give off warning signs first. His tail will begin to twitch, his pupils will dilate and he will begin to look around (presumably preparing for his escape), as soon as we notice these behaviours, we stop petting him.

Play Aggression:

Play aggression is usually seen in kittens and young active cats under 2 years of age. As frustrating as it can be towards their human companions, play aggression is quite normal in kittens. This type of aggression is predatory in nature and is commonly seen among littermates, and not only does it provide exercise for the kittens but also serves as a way to practice and learn predatory behaviour which in the wild is necessary to hunt down and kill prey. While a kitten's littermates are happy to engage in this type of behaviour with one another, it is not so enjoyable to us humans or older cats. The good news is that play aggression does taper off as the cat reaches adulthood.

As with predatory aggression, the best way to deal with this type of aggression is to redirect it towards a more appropriate source such as cat toys. Ensure you provide your cat with adequate toys in which to explore his predatory behaviours such as wand type toys (on a rod with a feather at the end of some string) to chase and soft toys to attack.

Spend 30-60 minutes per day actively playing with your cat, this provides an outlet for excess energy and you can direct the play fighting towards appropriate toys.

Never use physical punishment on a kitten or cat. This will not discourage play aggression, in fact, it could make the situation worse. It also serves to make your cat fearful of you.

Redirected Aggression:

This type of aggression occurs when the cat attacks a person or other animal as a result of arousal from an external stimulus such as a neighbourhood cat in the garden, a bird etc.

If the aggression is a result of a household cat, you will have to work on re-introducing them slowly. If it is an external factor, such as a neighbourhood cat, taking steps to discourage the cat from entering your garden, see here for tips on how to do this. Ultimately, the best method is to be aware of the body language your cat is displaying, and if he seems to be worked up, avoid petting him until he's calmer.

Territorial Aggression:

By nature, cats are not pack animals the way dogs are. Often you will have cats who are close companions, but many cats enjoy their own company and don't seek out companionship from other cats. Territorial aggression occurs when another cat enters your cat's territory. It may also occur when a new cat is introduced to the household.

If it is an intruding cat causing the trouble, then discouraging the cat from entering your garden is your best bet. If the territorial aggression is occurring between two cats in the same household then re-introducing them slowly should be tried. If this fails, trying to provide each cat with their own areas may be of help.

Be aware that redirected aggression may occur in the case of a neighbourhood cat entering your garden, so be careful.

If your cat isn't desexed, do so. This can reduce the amount of territorial fighting which occurs.

Inter-Male Aggression:

Inter-male aggression is a common form of aggression in cats, occurring as the male reaches sexual maturity, around 2 years of age. It can also become worse during mating season when males vie for females in heat.

If your cat isn't already desexed, do so.

Medical causes of aggression:

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, sometimes aggression occurs as a result of a medical condition.

Diseases including:

Painful conditions including:

Other:

Summary:

Always seek veterinary advice for any cat displaying aggression.

If you are bitten or scratched, it is a good idea to have it checked out by your doctor because cat bites/scratches can easily become infected.

Never use physical punishment on a kitten or cat. This will not discourage play aggression, in fact, it could make the situation worse. It also serves to make your cat fearful of you.