Aggression is a very common feline behavioural problem. It’s often dismissed as “she’s just being a cat”. But aggression is one way your cat is trying to communicate to you that they are unhappy about something! Because they can’t talk, we paw-parents have to be SUPER attentive.

It’s not aggression if the hooman deserved it.

How can I tell my cat is being aggressive?

Obvious signs of cat aggression are:
– rolling on their back and exposing their teeth and claws
– swatting, striking, and scratching
– biting
– growling, hissing, and spitting

But there are more subtle body language:
– ear positioning
– movement of the tail
– prolonged eye contact
– whisker angles
– pupil dilation

Understanding Aggression

Understanding different types of aggression helps us help them. By understanding the root cause of aggression,

1) Pain induced aggression

Even the most loving cat will become aggressive when in pain. Cat struggling with anger management should always have a thorough medical examination. There is a long list of medical conditions that can cause this type of aggression including; thyroid disease, abscesses, ear infections, arthritis and the list goes on! This should be ruled out FIRST before jumping to any conclusions.

He’s not too happy about his surgery. Pain induced aggression is more common that you think.

2) Petting induced

Some cats love kisses and cuddles while others just tolerate it! This type of aggression is poorly understood, but usually occurs when your cat becomes fed-up with being petted and gives you a light nibble, then hops down and runs away. Petting-induced aggression is usually not too dangerous, you just need to learn your furbaby’s warning signs and understand his/her threshold. For this, you need to be attentive to more subtle body language before the warning turns into biting.

Once you are aware of your cat’s attempts to communicate with you, it’s best just to leave her be! Try holding or petting your cat only when they seek you out; avoid uninvited touching, physical punishment, or picking up your cat when they are eating. To encourage good behaviour, convince your cat to sit on your lap with a treat, pet them and then return them to the ground followed by another treat, before they become agitated.

Some cats also have particular dislike towards being cradled like a baby. If they are struggling, it’s their way of saying “no thank you!”

Chairman Mao clearly not too happy about this cuddle.

3) Play induced

Play aggression is the most common type of aggression directed towards paw-parents! This aggression is seen in young cats and is relatively benign in origin, as it usually focuses around exploration, investigation and predatory behaviour. However, if they don’t learn to bite lightly and sheathe their claws, they can cause damage! (I have the scratches to prove it!) This type of aggression is more common in kittens that have been weaned early or in cats who have been raised alone. Due to a lack of socialisation, they have few opportunities to learn what is too much.

When managing this kind of aggression it helps to keep a diary of when this behaviour occurs. Once you are aware of the pattern of occurrence, you can preempt it by encouraging play with toys! Keep your hands and feet at a distance during play, so your kitty isn’t tempted to bite or scratch you.At the first signs of play aggression, you can also make a noise such as a clap to distract her. You may also need to limit access to the area in which this behaviour occurs.

Make sure not to punish your cat by flicking them on the nose or ear though! This can make your cat’s aggression worse!

Seven having a bit of a play fight, clearly Chu doesn’t really care!

4) Fearful aggression

Fearful or defensive aggression occurs when your furbaby feels threatened. The more threatening a stimulus, the worse the reaction, and if they can’t escape all hell can break loose! Some of the common signs of this type of aggression include: crouching, tucking of the tail, flattening the ears, hissing, and spitting.

It’s best to keep a record of the situations in which your cat becomes aggressive to understand what’s causing the fearful situation; this can help you understand what to avoid. You can also try to desensitise your kitty to the threat, by exposing them to the fearful stimuli in small controlled amounts and rewarding non-aggressive behaviour with treats. Avoid rewarding unwanted behaviour with attention.

5) Territorial aggression

Cats can be very territorial towards other cats, dogs and even towards people. One of the most common causes of territorial aggression is a new cat in the household or changes in the environment, i.e., your new roommate.

To help avoid this, your cat should be introduced to the stranger at his/her own pace (this can take weeks to months!). It is particularly important in the early stages of meeting, that they are able to smell and hear each other without any physical contact. Give your cat room to escape, so the “intruder” feels less threatening. Rewarding your cat with food during this period will help him/her to associate the “intruder” with a positive experience.

Don’t you just LOVE Chu, Mao?

6) Redirected aggression

This is one of the most common types of aggression in cats and can be one of the most dangerous. Redirected aggression occurs when your cat’s natural aggression is triggered, but they can’t get to the source. This may be due to a bird passing outside or the scent of a different cat on your clothes. This may not happen straight away! In fact, a few hours may pass before your kitty starts to react.

If you attempt to interact with them while they’re still riled up, you could become the target and any attention, including punishment, may reinforce this behavior. Encouraging your cat to move a quiet, dark room can help. If you have to pick them up, use a thick, folded blanket. Periodically, check up on your cat,  if they are still showing signs of aggressive behaviour, turn the light off and leave. When they become calm, pet and praise your furbaby. If possible, it can be helpful to install blinds to avoid contact with anything that might upset your kitty – keep things out of sight and out of mind.

7) Idiopathic aggression

Idiopathic aggression occurs when there is so explainable cause for your furbaby’s aggressive attacks. These type of attacks can be very dangerous. Other causes of aggression must be ruled out before this diagnosis can be made.

Does your kitty play rough? What has worked for you? Let us know in comments!

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