Dealing with Cat Aggression

Cat hissing at camera

Cat aggression can be a real problem for some pet owners. From scratching up furniture to nipping at hands, feline aggression takes many forms. If your cat has been lashing out at other pets in the home or the humans who live there, you might want to investigate the cause to make life with your cat calmer and more relaxed.

Cats know that their natural place is at the top of the food chain, and aggression is a normal part of hunting and defending their territory. Aggression becomes problematic when it's misplaced. If your cat starts showing aggression toward other members of your household or puts herself in danger while trying to scare off neighbourhood competitors, it's probably time for an intervention.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to learn more about cat aggression and ways to help your cat turn back into the friendly, affectionate feline you know and love.

Why Is My Cat Aggressive?

Thinking about your cat's natural behaviours can help you determine why your cat is being aggressive. Sometimes, aggression is a reaction to stress, so consider whether your pet might be fearful or anxious about anything.

Pain is another common cause of aggression in cats, so schedule a checkup with your vet in case an underlying injury or illness might be making your pet act out.

Watch how your cat behaves to figure out the source of aggression. If your cat is simply playing too excitedly, the aggression may be unintentional. Predator-style behaviours, such as pursuing you as though you are prey, may be part of play.

In some cases, aggression is temporary. Your cat might have spotted a new cat in the neighbourhood from the window and want to defend their territory. Kittens who didn't receive much socialization and handling while young may grow up unable to control aggressive behaviours.

What to Do If Your Cat Bites You

Remain calm if your aggressive cat bites or scratches you. Moving suddenly or lashing out can scare your cat and make her more aggressive or fearful in the future.

Wash the injured area in warm, soapy water and put antiseptic cream on the scratch or bite to ward off germs. Call your veterinarian if the area gets infected or if you experience symptoms such as a headache, fever or swollen lymph glands.

Inappropriate Predatory Targets

Cats often act out predatory behaviours during play, and this can put your hands or ankles in the position of prey if you aren't careful. Avoid using your bare hands to play with your cat if she tends to get aggressive when excited. You can use a fishing-rod-style toy or remote-controlled toy to help your cat stay active and play safely without getting too close.

Indoor cats often direct their predatory hunting behaviour at others who live with them. You might notice your cat hiding behind a door ready to jump out at your feet when you pass. If this type of play aggression in cats becomes problematic, you should simply stand still and not react when your ankles get attacked so your cat will lose interest in this type of predatory game. If you notice your cat getting ready to pounce or attack, distract her with a ball rolled across the room to redirect their energy.

Cats with visual access to the outdoors might get fixated on something outside, such as a neighbourhood cat or a bird in the yard. If you touch or disturb your cat while in predator mode, she might attack you instead. To avoid this, talk to your cat in a reassuring voice or roll a small toy or ball of paper past her before you approach.

Inter-Cat Aggression in Your Home

Households with more than one cat might notice fighting behaviours between the feline residents. While many cats get along just fine with other feline family members, a cramped living area can cause problems.

Cat aggression toward other cats in the same household tends to be rare because most cats prefer to run and hide instead of lashing out. Providing plenty of places to escape makes territorial aggression less likely, so give your cats lots of high places to go. Cat activity centres and wide windowsills are favourite retreats for many cats.

In some cases, two cats simply take a dislike to each other. A cat behaviourist might be able to help you find ways to help your feline family members live together in harmony. Sometimes, re-homing one of the cats is the safest option for everyone involved if they truly can't get along.

If you're introducing a new cat to the household, go slowly to get your existing felines used to your new furry family member. Avoid punishing your cat for not being more welcoming, and give your cat the time and space necessary to adapt to the new household arrangement.

Aggression Towards Neighbourhood Cats

Cats who spend time outdoors might become territorial and competitive with other cats in the neighbourhood. This type of behaviour is most common in unneutered male cats, so neutering might help solve the problem.

To reduce problems between your cat and other local felines, talk to your neighbours about scheduling when you each let your cats outside so they are not in the same space at the same time. Letting your cat out after feeding time is another way to help ensure a calmer outdoor experience since cats become more lethargic and contented — and less likely to fight — when they are full.

To find more tips on caring for and bonding with your cat, check out our pet care archives.

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