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4 Kinds of Cat Aggression, and How To Keep the Peace

by | May 10, 2017 | Cat Behavior & Care | 6 comments

Cat aggression? Yikes! When a snuggle-puss turns into a snarling ball of claws, owners are at a loss to understand or deal with cat aggression. You wonder, why does my cat bite me? Besides hurt feelings, cat aggression can cause injuries or cause the cat to lose a loving home. Learn more about cat fights here.

cat aggression

4 KINDS OF CAT AGGRESSION

Aggression can be caused by health issues including pain or hyperthyroidism. Any sudden personality change demands a veterinary exam. But cats don’t aggress because they’re mean—they always have a good reason, whether it makes sense to humans or not. Recognize these 4 common types of cat aggression and learn how to keep the peace.

Petting Aggression

Your cat begs for attention, but then he bites you! Karma does this–ouch! “Why does my cat bite me?”

Some cats simply can’t tolerate more than two or three strokes and use the “leave-me-alone-bite” to stop the petting. The bite does stop the owner’s touch, which trains the cat that biting works so he repeats the behavior.

Instead, confine petting to back of kitty’s neck rather than whole-body strokes that some cats find offensive. Stop petting before he asks—his ears will turn sideways or flatten, and tail gets active right before he nails you. Don’t touch him, just stand up and dump the cat off your lap.

Some cats, though, love petting so much they drool when petted. Learn more here.

cat aggression

Play Aggression

Kittens don’t know how to inhibit bites and claws during play, and “only kittens” target owners in painful play-attacks that mimic hunting behavior. Luckily, kittens are made so cute we usually forgive them—and most outgrow the behavior by six to nine months or so.

This is one of the few behavior problems that can be fixed by adding another kitten to the household.  Yes, I’m giving you permission (like you need that!) to go out and adopt another cute baby. That way the babies play-attack each other, and learn to pull their punches. At my house, it’s been helpful because Karma likes to play with Magical-Dawg, and Magic enjoys the games, too.

scared cat fear aggression

Scared cats crouch and may hide under the bed, or lash out with aggression when they feel threatened.

Fear Aggression

Most cat aggression arises from fear. The “fight or flight” instinct means if a frightened cat feels she can’t escape, she’ll attack. Cats also naturally fear strangers, and consider anything unknown and familiar a potential threat. That’s why it takes many cats a long time to accept new people or new cats. Fearful cats hide, slink close to the ground, turn ears sideways like little airplane wings, and hiss which means “stay away.” Growls are a step up and are a serious warning to stay away or risk an attack.

Give fearful cats space, extra hiding spots like cardboard boxes or cat tunnels, and elevated perches to help them feel safe. In multicat homes, provide a house of plenty with multiple toys, litter boxes, cat trees and resources so cats don’t have to compete for them. Direct stares intimidate cats and increase fear, so avoid making eye contact. Sit on the floor with an interactive toy like a fishing pole or feather lure, and tempt the scaredy-cat to approach. You’re less frightening when on the cat’s level.

cat aggression

Redirected Aggression

Redirected aggression happens when the cat can’t reach the intended victim, like a critter outside the window. Instead, kitty takes out upset feelings on the nearest pet or the owner. It’s like being mad at your boss—you can’t chew him out so instead lose your temper with a spouse. Redirected aggression is tough to solve because each cat fight “practices” aggressive behavior until it can become a habit. Use these steps to mend fences.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT CAT-TO-CAT REDIRECTED AGGRESSION

  1. Immediately separate the cats for two or three days. Begin an introduction protocol, as if the cats are total strangers (they ARE!), so they can learn to be friends again.
  2. Next, allow one cat out while the other stays confined, so they can meet with paw-pats and smells under the door.
  3. Feed both cats on opposite sides of the door so they associate good things with each other’s presence.
  4. After a few days of no growls, hisses, or airplane ears, allow supervised interaction.
  5. Separate immediately and start reintroduction again if the cats aggress.
  6. Be sure to cover windows and block sight of the evil squirrel that created the angst. If you see your cat window watching, avoid petting until his tail talk calms down.
  7. For more specific tips, check out my ComPETability/Cats book!

Learn where to find professional pet behavior help in this post.

What about your cats? Some cat aggression is normal but–do you have cat aggression issues with your furry wonders? How do you manage the angst? Do tell!

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6 Comments

  1. Johnny

    Great article! Definitely learned more about types of cat aggression.

    Reply
  2. Louis Reginato Jr

    Thanks for the great advice.First time cat owner

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Thanks for visiting, and hope the information helps!

      Reply
  3. Daniel

    My female cat is about 9 or 10 months old.
    She will not let me pet her anywhere below her shoulders, I can rub and scratch around her cheeks and ears a little bit but that’s it, anywhere else and she starts growling, then deep growling, then hisses and if I continue beyond the all that she’ll try to push me away with what ever foot reaches my hands, with claws out and she even bites, very hard and actually punctures the skin on my hand and arm.
    And forget ever stroking her tail or rear hips area, youd be asking for everything i mentioned above but all at the same time within 3 seconds!

    What is wrong with her? Is she just nuts?
    Is there any way I can help her like being petted and touched like a normal cat?
    Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I have NEVER heard her purr, EVER.
    And I’ve had her since she was barely 6 or 7 weeks old.

    If anyone has any clues as to what’s going on here please get back to me!
    My email address is: @gmail.com with the single word SOUTHOKANAGAN preceeding the @ symbol.
    (I typed my email address like to thwart spam crawler bots that crawl websites like this one).
    To make contacting me easy because I’m at my witts end with this cat, I can also be reached by any time by TEXT MESSAGING at: 7x7x8xx6x5x0x6x9x0x0.
    *Just remove the letter x’s & that’s my number!*

    Thankyou so much for your time & I look forward to your response!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Hi Daniel, As the blog post describes, your cat appears to prefer pets only in certain areas and displays “petting aggression” if you ignore her. Look on this as if it is YOU receiving the unwelcome attention. Someone you know and love pats you on the shoulder — and that’s okay. But then they start rubbing and unwelcome touching other places and you say ‘PLEASE STOP’ (pushing hands away, growling and muttering) and they STILL won’t stop. You’d be likely to run away or if pressed, tell ’em to BACK OFF NOW or risk a punch in the nose.

      Please listen to your cat. This is NORMAL cat behavior for this individual cat. Respect the kitty and the kitty will be more likely to accept the petting that you want.

      Reply
  4. Amy Shojai

    I’m confused–you’ve asked on a cat blog post but your homeandfamily website only has dog information and advertisements. So I don’t really see an example of what you’re asking to do.

    Reply

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