While the occasional bad mood in a cat is normal, persistent aggressiveness is a problem. It is thus necessary to determine the cause of the aggressive behavior and figure out a way to stop it.
The first step is to take the cat to a veterinarian, for abnormal behavior often indicates illness or injury. Various medical conditions, like unusually high thyroid levels, can increase a cat’s aggressiveness. Pain can also make a cat lash out.
Types of aggression
If the vet gives the cat a clean bill of health, it is time to consider possible behavioral or environmental issues. Feline aggression falls into four broad categories: 1) play-related aggression, 2) fear-based aggression, 3) redirected aggression, and 4) territorial aggression.
Play-related aggression is basically the feline equivalent of roughhousing. The cat is playing by stalking or pouncing and is simply being a bit too rough. The classic example is the cat that likes to pounce on its owner’s feet or another pet’s tail.
In fear-based aggression, the cat is lashing out at a perceived threat. This can include loud noises like the vacuum cleaner or invasion of the cat’s space when someone suddenly grabs them and picks them up.
Redirected aggression occurs when the cat is already upset by something else. For example, it might be looking out the window and see another cat in their yard. If somebody approaches the cat while it is yowling its objections about the intruder, the cat may consider the new arrival a threat and react accordingly.
Territorial aggression is always directed toward other cats. It can develop after a new cat moves into the home or even the neighborhood, and it can develop even if two cats have been living in the same home for a long time.
Resource issues are a common cause of territorial aggression. If two or more cats have to share a single food dish or litter pan, they will often squabble over those resources.
How do you handle aggression in cats?
The first step is to identify the type of aggression and its likely cause. For example, are the cats always fighting each other, or do they go after people or other pets? Is the cat aggressive only under certain conditions? For example, does it react aggressively only if someone tries to pick it up? Identifying the trigger will enable the owner to make needed changes, like getting more food dishes so every cat has its own.
Learning a cat’s body language and vocalizations will help its owner to gauge its mood. A well-known example of feline body language is the arched back with raised fur that indicates fear. Cats also lash their tails when irritated.
It’s important to remember that a cat’s body language differs from that of a dog. Lying on the back with the belly exposed is a show of trust – not a request for belly rubs. Most cats, in fact, find being touched on the stomach threatening and will consequently lash out.
Enrichment also helps a cat. A climbing tree with multiple perches and hidey-holes can provide a safe place to watch the world, and it can be a refuge for a cat being bullied.
Toys, catios, and play sessions can help cats burn off energy and thus calm down. Some cats even enjoy being walked on a leash.
There are thus many ways to handle feline aggression. The owner will have to consider their cat’s personality and environment to choose the best solution.