Do You Understand Why Cats Become Aggressive?
The reasons for a cat’s aggression can be complicated. An aggressive cat can be dangerous towards humans, but particularly children who may not recognise the physical cues that the cat is about to display aggressive behaviour. Children also tend to be louder and more boisterous than adults and also smaller, so the cat may think they are less of an opponent than an adult human.
We have talked about the different types of aggression above, but they are not mutually exclusive. For example, a cat may be displaying maternal aggression when the family dog walks by, but then when the owner comes in to pet the kitten, the Queen attacks their owner. So there is overlap between the different causes and types of aggression.
However, there are some general principles that apply to all types of aggression –
Try to respond quickly to the first events of aggression, before the aggressive behaviour becomes a habit
Physical punishment can increase the cat’s fear and anxiety and therefore they may become more aggressive
Certain medications can help but in conjunction with changes to the environment and behaviour modification
It is important to recognise the signs of aggression. It is not good to start touching an aggressive cat, you could end up on the receiving end of redirected anger, so move away from an aggressive cat (if possible – this might not be possible if the cat is about to attack another person/child)
Avoid situations that increase your cat’s aggression if possible – for example, give the cat things to play with, avoid long periods alone etc
Offer rewards for non-aggressive behaviour
So when dealing with an aggressive cat when the aggression has started recently –
1. Ensure there are no underlying medical conditions, pain or injury – this can cause the cat to be aggressive, when it is not their usual personality.
2. If a cat is growling or hissing because it is ill and you need to touch them for some reason, for example, to give an injection or tablet, ensure that you are protected. Wear gloves if necessary. Give pet treats after they have had their medication to reward them. Be careful not to be consoling or reward the aggressive behaviour itself though, as this will increase it. It is best to reward the tablet or medication by immediately giving the treat, so the cat is aware that the treat is for having the tablet, not for the aggression.
3. Is the cat playing? If it is a young cat, it can be the aggression is playful. If the cat is too rough in play with humans, move away from the cat when it is aggressive and avoid contact. Then when it has calmed down, approach the cat again slowly and calmly. Give the cat things to play with such as balls, scratch posts, toy mice, things that move and can be chased. If the cat stalks you during play, put a bell around their neck so you can hear them coming. If they choose a certain place to hide when they are ready to attack, deny them access to that particular space. It is about breaking the habit.
4. Cats do not like loud noises, so noise deterrents can be used to reduce aggression. The intent is to startle, not to scare the cat (which could actually increase their aggression). So a human hiss can startle them.
5. Physical pain or punishment can increase aggression. The cat will simply learn to fear and avoid their owner.
6. Walk away when the cat is aggressive. Do not touch it as you may be on the receiving end of their aggression.
7. A cat that attacks after a change in their environment (for example, a new home) may need time to get used to their new environment. A way to deal with this is a gradual desensitisation programme, where the cat is exposed to stimuli in a safe way for a short period. For example, when moving to a new home, keep the cat in one room for a short time, then allow them access to the remainder of the house when it is calm. It is a good idea not to take the cat to the new house on the day you are moving where there will be a lot of noise and disruption.
8. When a cat starts to attack due to a particular reason, for example, they start to attack men; it could be because a man has scared them. So they might need to go through a period of getting used to men. A man should approach carefully, talking calmly and build up to stroking the cat. This can take quite a long period of time and may require more than one session. Once the cat has allowed this, it may then be necessary to get other men to do the same.
9. But bear in mind that scent can cause issues. If a cat smells another cat on a person’s clothing, this can result in the person being attacked, not because of the person themselves, but because of other animals they have mixed with.
10. With any inappropriate behaviour with visitors or humans, do not console or talk kindly to the cat, this is rewarding their behaviour.
11. Encourage visitors not to show fear or retreat from the cat, as this also teaches the cat that their behaviour can make unwanted visitors go away.
12. Ignoring them is the best strategy.
13. If a cat demonstrates redirected aggression, then watch for the physical cues and ignore the cat when it is angry.
14. If a cat appears distressed when being petted, stop petting the cat. Let him return when he is ready. If a cat behaves like this, ensure that you watch when the cat is with young children, as they may not recognise the signs of aggression.
15. If a cat displays aggression when displaying appropriate behaviour, for example, he/she wants to sleep on your bed and you do not want him to, but when you try to get him off, he hisses. Ignore the behaviour. Keep your bedroom door shut so he cannot get on the bed. Bar his entry to your room. If you do not want him on your bed, but think it is ok for him to come into your room, put bedding in the room for the cat. Give him treats when he goes to the bedding.
16. With mother cats (Queens) avoid touching the kittens unless absolutely necessary.
Before any of this, try to determine the reasons for the cat’s aggression.
Is it redirected?
Is it due to pain?
Is it Maternal Aggression?
Is it Fear?
Has something just happened to the cat?
Then try to determine how to deal with the cat’s behaviour.