Cats With Attitude: Interpreting Aggression

For owners of cats with attitude, interpreting and treating their pet's aggression can be a frustrating and sometimes painful experience. There are numerous reasons why a cat may display assertive and potentially harmful behavior toward humans and other animals. Despite centuries of domestication, house cats have retained natural instincts to hunt and attack prey and defend their territory. In some cases, natural tendencies can lead to overly aggressive activity in kittens and cats.

Aggression Resulting From Environmental Factors

Environmental factors can significantly influence cat behavior. Social patterns are established during kittenhood, so cats with a challenging or traumatic early history may act out due to feelings of fear and insecurity. Here is summary on interpreting such types of aggression and a few cat training tips that may help correct disruptive and unwanted feline behavior.

Play-based Aggression

While domestic cats do not need to rely on natural hunting instincts to obtain food, these tendencies are often expressed during playtime activities like stalking, pouncing and batting. Kittens frequently display play hunting behaviors during important phases of learning and development. For many cats, this behavior continues well into adulthood. Play-based aggression is expressed through a crouched posture, swishing tail, dilated pupils and flattened ears. These signs of stalking often precede a cat pouncing onto a toy or playmate. Overly aggressive play behavior, including biting and scratching, is most common when boundaries are not enforced. This can occur when a kitten is removed from its littermates before learning appropriate levels of play. It may also be unintentionally reinforced by owners who may not recognize the immediate need to set limits during playtime.

Anti-Social and Redirected Aggression

Other times, aggression can result from poor socialization. Kittens are thought to be most open to socialization from four to fourteen weeks. During this period, they learn how to interact with other animals and humans. Kittens with limited social contact or those that experienced trauma or abuse may grow to become aggressive when faced with unfamiliar people, animals or situations. This kind of aggression can cause a cat to attack the source of their anxiety and insecurity, or to redirect its fear onto its owner or other members of its household. Fearful cats will crouch down, curl their tails toward their bodies and flatten their ears. They may also hiss, bare their teeth and strike at an approaching animal, human or object.

Territorial Aggression

Cats are also territorial and may become very assertive while defending their space. Territory-based aggression is seen frequently in multi-cat households, particularly when new cats or family members are introduced into the environment. A cat motivated to protect its favorite window perch or piece of furniture may growl, hiss, spit or attempt to attack the lower back of an approaching housemate. Territorial instincts are also common among mother cats, especially after the birth of their kittens. Aggressive feline behavior can also be attributed to illness, injury and age. On occasion, a cat may strike out when she is tired of being pet or playing with her owner.

Dealing with Aggressive Play

When it comes to dealing with rough play, owners should attempt to set boundaries as soon as possible, preferably during kittenhood. One simple tip is to stop interacting with your pet when she beings biting, scratching or pouncing. This will help teach her that such behavior is unwanted and unrewarded. Withholding attention and affection is also more effective than punishing your cat for her undesirable actions. Yelling, scaring or striking can generate fear and anxiety, especially in kittens.

Addressing Fear-Based Aggression

Treating fear-based aggression often requires persistence and patience. Kittens who experience numerous positive encounters with people and other animals are less likely to react aggressively or fearfully to unfamiliar situations. With fearful adult cats, try offering a favorite food or treat in the presence of a visitor. However, do not force your pet to interact with a newcomer. With time and encouragement, your cat may become less nervous and distrusting of a new person in the house.

Addressing Other Causes of Aggression

For territory-based aggression, holistic-based pheromone supplements like Feliway, catnip toys, or veterinarian-prescribed medication like Valium may help ease tension in anxious cats. Aggression that appears suddenly can also signal an underlying health problem that requires medical attention. Older cats may be especially susceptible to aggression due to pain from arthritis or other conditions.

Although often unpleasant, aggressive cat behavior is often treatable. Studying your cat's body language and behavior patterns is an important step in identifying the source of her aggressive actions. Through appropriate behavior correction, holistic therapies, or medical treatments, owners can address their cat's aggression and work toward a more relaxing and peaceful household.