Cats are mostly cute and cuddly, but they also have an aggressive side. According to the ASPCA, aggressive cat behavior is the second most common problem cat behaviorists see. Identifying the behaviors and the motivations are key to solving the problem.
7 Types of Aggressive Cat Behavior
An aggressive cat’s behavior can be categorized by the motivation for the the behavior. However, keep in mind that aggression is a very complex subject and more than one type of aggression can be displayed at the same time.
- Territorial Aggression
An aggressive cat motivated could be motivated to keep unwanted guests out of their territory (or to remove them if they are already there). This is most commonly seen between unneutered males, but can occur between any two cats.
- Redirected Aggression
This type of aggression occurs when a cat is aggressively aroused by something, but when unable to release that aggression upon that something, releases it on the closest person or animal. For example, a cat is sitting in a window and sees another cat “in its territory.” Unable to jump through the window, the cat turns and attacks another cat who was sitting near the window. Redirected aggression can be very difficult to confirm as a motive because the aggressive reaction my be delayed for hours after the stimulus occurred.
- Play Aggression
According to the ASPCA, play aggression is the most common form of aggression toward the cat’s owners. This sort of rough play is common for kittens under the age of 2 years because they are still learning how to control their own behavior.
- Petting Induced Aggression
Some cats love to be petted and others do not. If a cat does not want to be petted, it can quickly become an aggressive cat. Heeding signs of agitation like a twitching tail or moving away from your hand can keep you from being the subject of your cat’s aggression.
A kitty that is sick or hurt could easily become aggressive. This is a type of aggression that even very friendly cats may have. You may notice that the cat becomes aggressive when it is touched a certain way or on a certain part of it’s body.
- Maternal Aggression
Understandably, a mother cat is protective of her kittens. It may be best not to handle newborn kittens for a few days after they are born.
- Idiopathic Aggression
In very rare cases it may be impossible to determine a motivation for the cat’s aggression. If all other possibilities can be ruled out, it is considered idiopathic aggression.
Is there a pill for that?
The very first thing that you should do if you are having a problem with an aggressive cat is take that cat to the veterinarian. It is very important that your veterinarian rule out any medical causes for the behavior such as : dental disease, abscesses, arthritis, hyperthyroidism, sensory decline, cognitive dysfunction, epilepsy, toxoplasmosis, trauma, and rabies. Resolving the illness or injury could stop the aggressive behavior. Your veterinarian may also have other medication options to help with aggression in cats that do not have a medical cause for their behavior, but these medications are only effective when coupled with behavioral therapy.
Knowing the Signs of Aggression
Aggressive cat behavior is communicating something to you and other people or animals. Understanding your cat’s way of communicating rising aggression can help you pin point the motivation behind the aggressive behavior and thus begin resolving the problem. Your cat’s body language will give you a lot of clues.
Aggression can be offensive or defensive. An aggressive cat that is acting offensively will attempt to make itself look larger. It will directly face it’s opponent with a constant stare and stiff posture (rear end up high with tail straight down). Piloerection (hair standing up on the shoulders, back and tail) may also be present. The ears will remain upright, but the backs of the ears may be slightly rotated forward. The cat may growl or howl.
An aggressive cat that is acting defensively will attempt to make itself smaller. These cats feel that they are being threatened and want nothing more than to have the threat go away. A defensively aggressive cat may crouch down holding it’s head and tail in towards its body. You may also see piloerection in these cases, but instead of facing the opponent directly, they will turn to the side. The ears will be flattened to the sides or back of the head. Their eyes will be wide open with pupils dialated. Hissing, spitting, and quick strikes with the front claws may occur.
Tips for Mediating Aggressive Cat Behavior
- Never use punishment (even gentle punishments like taps on the nose) as a means of modifying aggressive behavior. This will only result in more fear and agitation. Instead, reward the cat when they are displaying the behaviors you want to see.
- Ignore aggressive behavior whenever possible. If you respond the way the cat wants you to respond, it enforces the behavior and tells the cat that aggression will work on you. Attempting to console the cat will also be perceived as a reward for their aggressive behavior.
- Early intervention is best. Begin consulting your veterinarian and implementing a behavior modification plan as early as you can.
- Try not to put your cat in situations that you know will make them aggressive.
- Record instances of aggression to help find a pattern of behavior. Think about all of the circumstances leading up to the aggressive cat behavior and what the cat was aggressive toward.
What types of aggressive behavior have you seen in cats?
Quick note: I will likely do posts in the future going into more detail about individual types of aggression and how they are solved. If there is one you would like to see, please let me know.