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.
4 KINDS OF CAT AGGRESSION
Health issues including pain or hyperthyroidism can cause aggression. Any sudden personality change demands a veterinary exam. But cats don’t aggress because they’re mean—they always have a good reason, whether or not it makes sense to humans. Recognize these 4 common types of cat aggression and learn how to keep the peace.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
- Next, allow one cat out while the other stays confined, so they can meet with paw-pats and smells under the door.
- Feed both cats on opposite sides of the door so they associate good things with each other’s presence.
- After a few days of no growls, hisses, or airplane ears, allow supervised interaction.
- Separate immediately and start reintroduction again if the cats aggress.
- 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.
- 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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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!