Does your feline have a bad cat-itude? (Sorry.)
Aggression in cats is one of the most common complaints made to our veterinarians. Why is my cat behaving this way? Does she hate me? How can I make her less…grumpy?
Dealing with an aggressive cat is all about patience. It’s important to remember that aggression isn’t something your cat wants to be experiencing. Happy, calm cats are rarely aggressive. If you can bear with it long enough to identify your cat’s triggers you can usually make some headway.
The Causes of Feline Aggression
The root cause of feline aggression is stress. Chronic stress, like the kind that comes from living in fear of another animal (or handsy toddler), or acute stress, like the kind that comes from a recent move or a painful illness. Knowing what your cat is stressed about is the first step in getting rid of that stressor which is the least you can do for your furriest friend.
Sometimes it’s hard to figure out the root of your cat’s stress. She’s well-fed! She’s loved! You even got her that new scratching post she wanted! If you can’t determine what’s causing your cat’s stress, at least try to identify when she’s stressed. What are the signs you can look for, like a tensed body or a low, guttural moan?
Your first order of business is helping your cat live a happier, less-stressed life. If that doesn’t seem possible, the next thing to focusing on is at least curbing her aggressive behavior to make her more tolerable to live with.
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How to Deal With Aggression
If you know what the source of stress is that’s causing your cat’s aggression, you can work on getting rid of that stress for her. Here are a few of the most common sources of feline stress and what you can do about them.
Feeling Threatened or Defensive: The most common source of stress for cats is fear. Cats feel fear for reasons that are valid (Bigger, angrier cat!) and for reasons that are not so valid (Washing machine makes a scary noise.) If you can, remove the thing your cat is afraid of! If you can’t limit her exposure, try limiting your exposure to your cat when the fear-inducing thing is present. If you think your cat seems to be living a lot of her life in fear, it’s time to make an appointment with the vet. You have options when it comes to therapies and anxiety medications for your cat.
Disliking Touching: Some cats just get super stressed out by touch. It’s important to respect this. If you knew a person who doesn’t like to be touched you wouldn’t just run up and give them a hug. Don’t try to touch, stroke, or rub a cat who doesn’t like to be touched. And who knows – once she learns you’ll respect her space? She might start making herself more amenable to touches.
Becoming Territorial: Cats are animals at the end of the day and animals are fiercely protective of their territories. Both male and female cats can be territorial, but males are generally more aggressive about it. This can be a particular problem in multi-animal households. Make sure your cat has her own space set aside in your home and that she’s left alone when she’s in her space. If you have a very territorial male cat, neutering him can help.
Playing Too Roughly: Sometimes cats become aggressive when play becomes a bit too rough. This is part of their nature – cats are naturally predisposed to working predatory behaviors into their play with both people and animals. Cats who were orphaned or weaned too early never learned to temper their play aggression. What helps? Bored cats are more likely to release pent up aggression during play, as are cats that don’t socialize often often.
Feeling Pain: Physical pain is a surefire trigger for aggression. It’s a normal reaction for a cat in pain to lash out…when your cat’s in pain she feels vulnerable, so she’s using every ounce of strength she has to “protect” herself against any perceived threat. Cats with unexplained aggression should always be examined by a vet to check for underlying issues. Problems like arthritis, infection, and even cancer can exhibit no symptoms but be causing your stoic cat to feel a lot of pain and thus, acting aggressively.
How to Live With an Aggressive Cat
What can you do on a regular basis to help deescalate your cat’s aggression?
- Learn her warning signs (noises, temperament, body language) and give her space when aggression is likely
- Reward your cat for displaying calm behavior with whatever motivates her; don’t punish her for aggression as this could just escalate the problem
- If her aggression is fear-based, give her treats when the fear-inducer is unavoidable, such as when loud noises strike or there’s a dog outside
- Discuss your options for calming supplements and/or pheromones with your vet
It is possible to live with a cat who has aggression issues. That said, you should never allow an aggressive cat to make you or your family members, particularly children, feel afraid for their safety. If nothing seems to be working, talk to your vet about all your options including medication, specialized training, and re-homing if necessary.