Causes of and Solutions for Cat Aggression

Cat aggression is a serious problem that can result in injury to other animals and people, as well as cause disease. The following causes and solutions are a starting point for addressing aggression. A cat with inappropriate behavior should always see a vet for a health check. Should your cat receive a clean bill of health, please consider contacting a cat behavior consultant. Many behavior modification techniques have detrimental effects if misapplied. A qualified professional will take a complete behavior history, develop an intervention plan customized for your cat, and guide you through its implementation.

Lack of Socialization: Adult cats that were not handled during the prime socialization period of 2 to 14 weeks of age tend to be more fearful and aggressive.

Start with brief handling sessions and reinforce with treats to develop a positive association. Later, include handling that mimics basic health care procedures, including checking eyes and ears, clipping claws, and brushing teeth.

Invite a cat-loving friend to hang out. Give your friend treats to give to your cat Instruct your friend to allow your cat to initiate contact, and when it does to praise and treat.

Fear: Cats may react defensively out of fear when they perceive a threat, and this may escalate to aggression if they can’t escape.

Learn your cat’s triggers. To help your cat deal with fears, you must first understand what caused those feelings. Possible causes are changes in routines, lack of resources, new people or animals, or punishment. Once you’ve identified the trigger, you’ll need to work to eliminate it, which might require the support of a cat behavior consultant.

Pain: A cat might have a lower tolerance for uncomfortable situations because of preexisting pain or may attack a person who unintentionally causes pain (e.g., a person brushes an arthritic shoulder or touches a sore paw).

See a veterinarian if you suspect your cat is in pain.

Play: As part of the prey sequence, cats may engage in the postures associated with hunting, such as stalking, pouncing, and biting a person’s feet or hands.

Carry toys in your pocket so you can toss them away from you to redirect your cat towards acceptable play objects.

Never use your feet or hands as toys.

If your cat bites you don’t pull away, as this is what prey does. Instead, gently push towards your cat and this will cause your cat to loosen its hold. When your cat lets go, stop all motion and ignore your cat.

Petting: Some cats become less tolerant of petting as they mature. These cats may seem to want attention but will bite if petted beyond their threshold of tolerance.

Determine your cat’s petting threshold. Stop petting before you reach it.

Desensitize your cat to petting by interacting with your cat just short of the petting threshold and then reinforcing with a treat. Gradually increase the length of these sessions.

Redirected: If a cat is frightened by a stimulus such as sudden movement, loud noise, or an outdoor animal, the cat may redirect that aggression toward a nearby animal or person.

Never attempt to handle a cat in this aroused state; serious injury may result.

Use large pieces of flat board or soft objects such as large pillows or towels to separate the upset cat and the victim. Safely direct the cat into a safe room and close the door.

Allow the cat to cool off. Turn off the lights and close the curtain to allow the attacking cat to recover.

After the cat has recovered, have the cat spend a few minutes with the attacked animal or person and use positive reinforcements to reward calm behavior.

Predatory: Cats are hunters by nature and will go after prey even if they aren’t hungry.

Supervise cats whenever they have access to potential prey.

Keep cats indoors, confine them to outdoor cat enclosures, or leash-walk them.

Record the time and location of when prey attacks occur. This can help identify a pattern, which you can then work to avoid.

Status-Induced: Cats may occasionally show signs of aggression toward people or other animals when they want to establish social dominance.

List the situations in which the cat attacks and then avoid them.

Ignore the offending cat and remove oneself from the situation.

Praise and reinforce relaxed behavior. A relaxed cat has normal sized pupils, ears held upright, and loose tail posture.

Tips that Appy to Multiple Situations

Learn the signs of irritation or arousal. These include a tense body, dilated pupils, flattened ears, rippling back, and twitching tail.

Increase the number of quiet areas, hiding places, and high spots to your home. These will help your cat feel more secure and might help reduce competition with other cats. High spots will allow your cat to get used to sights and sounds at their own pace without withdrawing from new experiences.

Develop a play and training routine. Wand toys allow your cat to have fun with you but at a safe distance. Toys should be rotated to maintain interest. Training your cat to do tricks will increase their confidence and strengthen the bond you share. Sessions should be around five to fifteen minutes.

Provide more environmental enrichment, including food puzzles. Food puzzles provide a bonus playtime with a food reward, which is natural concept for a hunter.

Reintroduce your cats.


Need help with cat behavior? I offer cat behavior consultations, training in manners and agility, and support for basic care and enrichment. Contact me at Allison Helps Cats.

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