Most people imagine that cats are sweet, friendly, and incredibly docile (if not a little judgey). But considering the myriad ways that the wild ancestors of today’s domesticated felines survived so well, it’s no surprise that they can get a little, well, freaky.
If you’ve ever come face to face with an angry, aggressive cat you know it’s a deeply uncomfortable, unpredictable and even frightening place to be.
Know the Score
Aside from litter box issues, aggression is the most common feline behavioral problem facing owners today. It is an important defense mechanism that is hardwired into their DNA, but if it’s left unchecked aggression can create problems at home.
Cats benefit from close owner involvement. To that end, we encourage all cat owners to closely observe behavioral patterns and note when they do something that’s out of character.
The Look of an Aggressive Cat
Depending on what (or who) triggers aggression, a cat may do any of the following:
- Swipe or scratch
- Fluff up their fur to appear larger
- Stare at perceived threat
- Stiffened body posture
- Crouched low to the ground
- Tuck their tail or whip it back and forth
- Pinned-back ears
When a cat displays any of the above behaviors, give them a big space bubble or prepare to get swiped at, scratched or bitten.
Some cats resort to aggression during otherwise innocent, fun-filled play. This is a signal that they’ve had enough and it’s time to put away the toys.
Petting-induced aggression occurs when a cat has reached their stroking maximum. This typically takes an owner by surprise, but there are usually signs. They might be subtle at first, but observe cat body language closely for clues.
An uncharacteristically aggressive cat may be struggling with health problems, such as arthritis, dental pain, or an injury that causes distress. They may be trying really hard to hide their pain, and act combative when you try to touch them or pick them up. At this point, we recommend scheduling a pet wellness check to rule out possible medical conditions that are making your cat grumpy.
Aggression can also be explained by:
- A move, a new baby or new roomate
- Another pet in the house
- An unfamiliar scent in their territory
- Maternal instinct
- Separation anxiety
There are ways you can curb the behaviors of an aggressive cat. Always provide them with an engaging environment with opportunities for exercise. Being able to use their predatory instincts during play is essential to their well being.
Distractions go a long way with an aggressive cat. Do not continue to engage with your cat when they behave aggressively. Give them time and space to calm down. Calming pheromone sprays or diffusers can help cats feel safe and secure.
A cat that fights with other animals in the home, or acts aggressively toward people, may need help from a qualified behavioral expert. Taking into account their unique needs and preferences, a treatment plan can begin to soothe any bumps in the road.
An aggressive cat needs a little extra help, but with patience, dedication and trust, they can become the pet you want them to be. If efforts remain to be in vain, it may be time to have a conversation about whether this lifestyle is the best option for both you and your cat. There may be humane options like barn programs or working “mousers” at businesses, warehouses, etc.