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Understanding Aggressive Cat Behavior

by Erin Platt April 14, 2016 0 Comments

Understanding Aggressive Cat Behavior

Okay, cat parents. Time to spill.

How many times has little Fluffy scratched you or seemed bipolar?

The answer varies from cat to cat, but the basics are the same. Your cat has an aggressive side, and here’s why:

ASPCA breaks down the different aggressive behaviors into categories that we’ll talk about to help figure out why out of the blue, Rocky went from purring in your lap to hissing at you.

As someone with furry children, I know it’s hard to think your little baby may have some of these aggressive tendencies. But if we’re being honest, like me you will probably recognize one or two. Either way, at least knowing what the different aggressive behaviors look like can mean the difference between living in harmony and having annoying scratches in all of those annoying places.

Cat versus Cat Aggression: How to Help Your Cats Get Along

Understanding Why Your Cat Gets Aggressive

If you’re like me, the typical cat-fight image that pops up in your head is of two tomcats battling it out in an alley. While it’s true that male cats that are still male in every sense of the word (ie. unneutered) will immediately size up the potential competition for a lady cat’s affections to determine if they are big enough or aggressive enough to attack, housecats are a little different.

It’s so subtle, that aggression between two cats in the same house can be easily missed. So don’t feel bad if you’ve misunderstood the war between Fluffy and Snowball as it’s almost always misunderstood. In this case, one cat is usually the aggressor, or bully, and the other is on the defensive. If your cat hides, doesn’t eat, raises his hackles, or tries to make himself look smaller, you probably have a bully in the house.

Not to worry, as this can be easy to fix. Cats have to learn to be social, so introducing Fluffy or Snowball to other cats at an early age is the easiest solution for those of you new cat parents. If your kitties are already fighting, or your furry friend is too old to make this possible, separating litter boxes, food bowls, and beds can also be a peace-making solution. 

Territorial Aggression: How to Help Your Cat Accept Change in Their Territory

Understanding Why Your Cat Gets Aggressive

Every wonder why little Whiskers went a little crazy after you got that new couch? Or why Nala wouldn’t stop peeing on Grandma’s slippers?

Turns out, cats are very territorial. They feel very strong emotions and are super protective of their people and their space. Your brand new couch encroached on his space and his hissing at your husband and rubbing up against every piece of furniture in the house are his ways of expressing extreme annoyance. Your husband may even have been out of town when you bought the new addition to your living room set, but that doesn’t matter to Whiskers. He just knows there is a change to his domain, and he’s not happy about it.

Since you can’t get necessarily get rid of Grandma when she moves in, or send your brand new couch back, you can do the next best thing. (Unless you don’t like Grandma, but then that’s on you.) Cats depend on their sense of smell more than any other sense. Unfamiliar scents trigger territorial aggression. Rub your cat’s bedding against the new piece of furniture. Place blankets from around the house in Grandma’s room. These familiar scents can help ease your fur-baby’s emotional burden.

Playful Aggression: How to Prevent Painful Cat Scratches During Playtime

Finding a dead bird on your doorstep can ruin anyone’s morning. But little Angel looks so, well, angelic and proud of herself that it’s impossible to stay mad.

Cats are predators by nature. Toys become as much prey as your new dead feathered friend. This is entirely natural. The problem comes when Angel goes too far with the aggressive behavior while playing. Those scratches only get deeper as she gets older (and why does it seem like she purposely scratches those places that sting so bad?!).

Just like with kids, cats get overexcited and need a little down time. If you put Angel in time-out when she goes too far, and keep her there until she calms down, it’ll teach her the difference between good playing from overly-rough play.

You can also get a long stick of some sort and attach her toy at the end so she can’t get close enough to scratch. You both still get to have fun without drawing blood.

Redirected Aggression: How to Handle Your Cat’s Frustration Toward Outside Distractions

Understanding Why Your Cat Gets Aggressive

Remember when Fluffy seemed to be bipolar or have multiple personalities?

This is an all-too common occurrence and gives our furry friends a bad name. The hissing, swiping, and otherwise violent reaction from your cat that seems out of the blue is actually her frustration from a few hours ago. That’s right, the two-legged members of the family aren’t the only ones in the house bottling up emotions.

Fluffy may have seen a stray cat in the yard from the window or maybe the neighbors dog got loose and was barking up a storm. Either way, Fluffy couldn’t take out her rage on the cat or the neighbors dog, so when you came into the room, you took the brunt of it. She wasn’t out looking for someone to be her punching bag, you just happened to walk in at the right moment to take the job.

If you can’t distract Fluffy with toys or a loud noise to pull her away from her spellbound gaze out the window, then the best solution is to just give her space until she calms down. Since cats can store up emotions for hours before letting it out, she may need some serious R and R in the form of playing and cuddling to avoid an episode.

Petting-Induced Aggression: How to Know When Petting Your Cat Becomes Painful

Imagine one of your favorite people rubbing your back in a very soothing manner.

For the first few minutes, it feels fantastic and you never want it to end. After ten minutes of concentrated rubbing in one area, however, you’re not just annoyed, you’re also in pain. Boots may love attention, and petting especially, but everyone has limits. He won’t hesitate to let you know when enough is enough through some well-thought out hissing, arching, and swatting. 

Who knew petting could be dangerous? Scientists believe it’s because of the repetitive rubbing in a single area. It irritates poor Boots’ skin and can cause static-electricity in his fur. Remember when you were a kid and rubbed a balloon on your head so it would stick to the wall? It’s not as much fun when you’re the balloon.

As you may imagine, the easiest solution is to just stop when Boots wants you to stop. You’ll be able to tell it’s time to give him some space when he starts twitching his tail or flattening his ears. You can also avoid the balloon scenario by petting and rubbing in different areas of the body.

Aggression from Pain and Fear: How to Help Your Cat Through Injuries and Fear

Understanding Why Your Cat Gets Aggressive

When you had the flu last year, I bet you were just full of sunshine and daisies. Except you’re human and can get seriously cranky when you have the sniffles.

Little Patches feels the same way. If he’s hurt or scared, he’s going to lash out. It’s just part of his nature. He may try to hide or make himself smaller if he’s scared. Cats go into fight or flight mode. Like you, Patches hates to be startled and is a terrible patient when it comes to feeling sick. And he won’t hold back in letting you know with a well-timed hiss or swat.

When he gets prickly and you can’t find an outside reason, you should check to see if he’s favoring a leg or grooming the same area over and over. A trip to the vet is always a safe bet if you’re not sure.

If you can’t find an injury and he’s still acting defensive, it might be because he’s scared. You brought a smell home he decides is a threat, or maybe you scared him when you turned on the light. Try some soothing sounds to calm him down. If he’s still arching and has his hackles up, you may have to give him some alone time before he settles back down to normal.

Understanding Why Your Cat Gets Aggressive

Cats are just beautiful, emotional, creatures. Understanding the source of their frustration goes a long way to living together in peace. They’re just too cute not to love.


Have you ever dealt with an aggressive cat? Share your experience with us

Erin Platt
Erin Platt

Erin has 6 years experience working directly with Cats in a Chicago based VET. Since 2014, Erin has also contributed to various pet magazines including AGE, NY times and LA weekly writing pet related articles. Her focus is mainly of health issues, pet food and housing.

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