Managing Aggression in Cats

House cats can easily become defensive, seemingly without cause. Given their small size, they are often targeted by other animals. Most cat owners intuitively understand their cat's need for help from outside threats, particularly when they're out and about. So, cats, like many animals, are equipped with behaviors that help them appear aggressive when threatened. However, these aggressive behaviors can surface because of anxiety, health issues, inherited genetic problems, a change in the cat's environment or when it feels called upon to protect its territory. These "over aggressive" behaviors can turn a beloved pet into a potential nightmare.

Recognizing Feline Aggressive Behavior. 

Cats may play fight but can sometimes turn to aggression

Feline aggressive behavior is comprised of some easily understood body language: A fearful facial expression, cringing body position combined with dilated pupils, arched back, raised back hair, hissing and/or a straightened tail, all while appearing somewhat submissive. The cat may behave as if it's cornered or fearful of anticipated pain or punishment. Spraying is another sign of undue aggression. When a cat has sprayed in your house or facility, consider using Spalding Labs Bye Bye Odor to eliminate any nasty odors.

If your cat is acting in a predatory manner against other pets in your home, it may need to be separated out and kept in a less favorable part of the house. This kind of normal predatory hostility usually appears between 5 and 7 weeks of age. By 14 weeks, the mother cat may have taught her offspring to become very good hunters. In order to discourage these behaviors, domesticated cats and kittens should be kept reasonably well fed. Well-fed cats are less inclined to stalk and hunt and may limit their predatory activities to merely killing and beheading prey, rather than actually eating them.

Predatory cat body language is characterized by behaviors such as slinking, stealth, head lowering, tail twitching and pounce ready postures. After springing or lunging at prey, they typically clutch their victims in their teeth and claws. It's probably not smart to introduce a new male cat into your home when your female cat is nursing kittens. This new male's instincts may compel it to kill your kittens to encourage your female cat to come into heat. Cats may also view feet, hands and infants as potential prey.


What Prompts Inappropriate Feline Aggression?

A number of factors can drive unwanted or inappropriate aggression in cats. The cat may inherit an aggressive personality from its parents. Cats who have not interacted with humans prior to reaching 3 months of age may also prove inappropriately aggressive. And, if a cat only experiences human contact and has no interplay with any brothers or sisters, it may also behave inappropriately with other cats.

Cats who share a home with other felines may behave aggressively as a means of asserting dominance within the group. This may become especially noticeable as the cat reaches the 2 to 4 year mark, known as the age of social maturity. While kittens tend to display predatory behavior starting between ten to twelve weeks of age, it typically becomes muted when the cat is socialized correctly by its owner.

Cats who have been traumatized by an unfriendly environment can become excessively aggressive due to fear. Cats that have been abused or kept in poorly maintained catteries, shelters or cages are known to aggressively lash out. In some instances, children may have caused the cat to become excessively aggressive by playing with the cat too roughly. Cats who have been abused by children may remain fearful of them throughout their lives.

Please note that it is normal for mother cats to behave defensively on behalf of their kittens, it is instinctive for queens to protect their offspring at all costs. The mother cat may stake out the territory surrounding her kittens, acting defensively towards anyone who invades it.

If you have failed to determine the issues driving your cat's aggression, consider taking your cat to the veterinarian. Some feline aggression is caused by pain. A cat experiencing pain may fear being touched and may lash out in defense.

Diagnosing the Source of Your Cat's Aggressive Behavior.

After eliminating social conflict and/or feline dominance issues as the source of your cat's unwelcomed aggression, your veterinarian will be able to look for medical issues that may be the problem. He/she will probably look to rule out feline ailments such as: Lead poisoning, thyroid disorder, seizures, rabies, epilepsy, brain diseases or kidney or adrenal disorders.

Next Steps When No Medical Issue is Found.

Should your vet diagnose a medical issue, treating it will be your first priority. However, should your cat prove to have a clean bill of health, it's time to look at retraining your cat. Now that you know your cat is not reacting out of pain or health problems, you'll have to determine the appropriate behavior modification techniques to use. You may find that part of the problem is how you interact with your cat, which means that you'll also have to adjust your attitude accordingly. Remember, you are the dominant member of this relationship, not your cat.


Modification Training Techniques Worth Considering.

  • Keep your cat away from frightening situations.
  • Don't instigate or provoke aggressive behaviors
  • Learn to read your cat's body language so you can readily identify what provokes aggressive behaviors.
  • Don’t try to interact with the cat when it's behaving aggressively
  • Pet and treat your cat when it behaves in a calm and friendly manner.
  • Look into using leashes and harnesses to desensitize your cat
  • Learn how to utilize clicker training

 Don't get with carried away with lengthy training sessions. As soon as the cat shows the desired behavior, praise her and let her go back to doing her own thing. You can increase training session lengths as she demonstrates more understanding and better behavior. However, when it comes to successfully training an animal, brevity is encouraged.

When to Consider Using Drug Therapy

If your cat's personality remains aggressive regardless of your efforts, you may want to consider using one of the mood enhancing drugs available through your veterinarian. Be sure to consult with your vet about all possible side effects before starting a new drug therapy.