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Cat agression explained: types of agression and reasons behind it

Feline aggression can be a real problem for owners and other pets in the household. Cat bites and scratches can be painful and lead to infections. Cats may display aggression for a variety of reasons, mainly because they are fearful and anxious or because they want to defend themselves and their territory.

Types of feline aggression

Kitten & Adult Aggressive Play Acting

Cats have evolved to use their claws and teeth to defend themselves and to hunt, they love to explore, stalk anything that moves, and bat and pounce on small objects that they pretend are prey. Play aggression is easy to recognize by the exaggerated postures that cats assume; they crouch, flatten their ears, their pupils dilate and their tail swishes back and forth while they stalk or pounce on the owner.

It is important not to encourage rough play, scratching and biting; you can also clap your hands or use a loud noise when you see him begin to stalk you to discourage this. Remember that any behaviour that you accept in your kitten will be behaviour you will have to live with when he is fully grown!

Territory-based Aggression

In the wild cats are solitary hunters, each with their own separate territory. They therefore find it difficult to adapt to modern living in close confinement with other animals and forcing them to do so may result in aggressive behaviour. When wounds occur they are usually on the tail and back of the more submissive cats and on the face of the aggressor. Cats in this situation often spray urine to mark the house to reassert their dominance when this type of aggression occurs.

Punishment never works in curbing aggression in cats; it simply makes the problem worse. Instead, simply withdraw your affection as soon as an incident occurs. Be sure your cat has plenty of scratching posts and toys to attack instead of yourself and the other household pets. Keeping the toe nails of your cat clipped short will limit damage to other cats and yourself.

Aggression towards Humans

Cats that are frightened assume a characteristic position. They crouch with their ears laid back, their tails curled inward and they tilt their bodies away from the perceived threat. They will likely lash out and claw or bite anything that approaches them. This behaviour often occurs when the cat is in new surroundings or being approached by a stranger.

The best time to get cats used to owners, strangers and children is when they are still kittens. Take time to get kittens used to being touched all over their bodies and introduce them to dogs and other cats while they are still young. To introduce a cat to being touched and handled by a human, begin when the cat is relaxed and content. Start off by scratching and rubbing its head.  Make no sudden moves.

Redirected Aggression

In this situation a strange person or another cat upsets the cat, however, instead of showing aggression toward this new individual the cat turns its aggression on the owner or another pet.

To avoid this behaviour, identify and remove the stimulus for the attack. For example, if the subject of the cat’s aggression is a stray cat that is visible from a window consider lowering the blinds on the window if a stray cat has approached. If the aggression is directed at you leave the cat alone until it calms down.

Aggression Due to Medical Problems

Always ensure you seek veterinary advice if you think your cat has any medical conditions. In some cats pain associated with medical conditions such as arthritis of the spine or limbs is the root cause of aggression, these cats will often growl and hiss when picked up or handled.

Non-Recognition Aggression

In multi-cat households removing a cat for a period of time can lead to aggression for the cats that remained in the household when it returns. This often occurs when the removed cat returns from the veterinarian, groomer or boarding cattery. It is thought to occur because the removed cat will have different odours still lingering on them from whichever place they are returning from.

If you do take your cats to the groomer or veterinarian take them all along for the ride in separate kennels. Place the kennels side by side until late in the evening before releasing the cats and try to release them in a neutral area. Feline pheromone spray also helps to diffuse these situations.

Biting when stroking

Sometimes cats become aggressive when a sensitive area on the body has been touched or if they are annoyed after being stroked for too long.

Some signs that you are approaching the limits of the cat’s tolerance are restlessness, tail twitching, flattened ears, twitching ears and a tendency to move its head toward your hand Release your cat at the first sign it has had enough stroking to discourage aggression.

Dominance-based Aggression

Sometimes cats attempt to dominate their owners by growling or hissing when you sit next to them or attempt to move them. Some cats will block doorways and show the typical signs of aggression such as tail switching, dilated pupils, flattened ears, and hissing and spitting. Cats do not reach social maturity until they are about two years old so sometimes this problem can be late in occurring.

The best way to handle these cats is to withhold attention and treats until the cat is mellow and relaxed; punishment only makes the problem worse. The use of pheromone diffusers, such as Feliway, around the house can be very helpful.

Maternal Aggression

All mother cats are very protective of their kittens and may react violently if they perceive a threat to them. Some queens react by moving their kittens around restlessly when they perceive a threat, others may attack people and other cats and dogs that they normally trust or ignore.

Disturb cats with young kittens as little as possible and aggressive behaviour will subside as the kittens grow older. Let your cat give birth in a low-stress environment.

Products for treating aggression