Aggression is threatening or harmful behavior directed at people, cats or
animals. They almost always come from the desire to guard their territory, defend offspring and protect
themselves. It encompasses a variety of behaviors from hissing and avoidance to attacking with claws and
teeth. It is the second most common problem of feline behavior. They have five potential weapons: teeth
and four clawed paws, that can inflict bites and lacerations that can give humans cat scratch fever and
other infections. Fights between cats rarely result in fatalities, but they can lead to severe infections
and medical problems that come with considerable expenses.
As a pet owner it is important you understand the body language of your cat so that you can understand why they
are behaving the way they do. It also helps you respond more quickly to issues such as aggression. In cats,
body language is made up of body posture; things like ears, tail and whiskers. It is more subtle than dog body
language and can be harder to read, but knowing the basic postures is important in dealing with
Aggressive Cat Behavior
There are two main postures that a cat will take, offensive and defensive. Offensive cats try to make
themselves appear bigger, puffing out. Defensive cats try to make themselves smaller. The following list
includes the postures seen in each stance.
Straight-legged, upright stance
Stiff tail, lowered or held straight down to the ground
The classic arched back
Direct, unwavering stare
Upright and alert ears
Fur standing up on end all along the body
Small, narrowed pupils
They will face and possibly move toward their enemy
They may growl, howl, or yowl
Tucking the head in
Tail wrapped protectively around the body
Eyes wide with dilated pupils
Ears flat sideways or backwards
Fur or hackles up
Whiskers may be retracted or out and forward to assess the threat
Turning sideways instead of facing the opponent
Hissing or spitting
May deliver quick, defensive strikes
Other Postures (May be found in either)
Swatting or striking
Growling or shrieking
Preparing for an attack by exposing all teeth and claws
Evaluate why your cat may be aggressive. Who was the aggression directed at? What was happening at the time
they became aggressive? What happened before they became aggressive? These answers can help to clear up why
your cat may be acting in this way. Remember that a number of medical conditions can also cause a cat to become
aggressive. The first step is to take your pet to the Vet to ensure that the aggression is not related to a
treatable or serious medical condition.
Keeping your Home Comfortable and Safe for You and Your Cats
There are a number of reasons that a cat may become defensive.
It is important to begin discussions of aggression by talking about redirected aggression.
This is the most dangerous and seemingly spontaneous form of aggression that may be exhibited by your cat.
Redirected aggression is very common and is caused by your cat becoming agitated by something it can’t get
to: another cat outside a window for example. Because they cannot get to the trigger of the agitation, they
may turn and lash out at other things in the household. There can be a considerable delay, up to half an
hour in some cases, and so it often seems as though this aggression is entirely unprovoked or ‘out of the
blue’. It is important that owners realize that the cat does not go and look for someone to attack, they are
simply agitated and have not released their anger. It is a reflex, done automatically and without thought.
Common triggers for redirected aggression include:
Watching another, unknown, cat through a door or window
Stalking prey through a window or door
Smelling another cat on a family member’s clothing
High pitched noises
Being frightened or harassed by a dog
Being stopped from fighting
The most easy to understand is aggression between cats; particularly un-neutered males vying for territory.
Neutering will often fix this problem. Aggression between altered household cats is also common. Under
socialization is the leading cause of aggression between altered cats in a multi-cat household. Much like
children, cats who have not grown up around other cats will lack the social skills necessary for functioning in
a house with other cats. Newly adopted cats will need to be carefully introduced for this reason as their past
and the naturally territorial instinct of your resident cats will require some understanding. In most cases
this will resolve itself, however there are some things to keep in mind while dealing with it. Never let your
cats fight out their aggression, this only leads to a continued negative association and adds expensive vet
bills. Separate their food and water so your cats all have a place that is their own. Give them treats and
praise when they are in the same space together peacefully, and try pheromone plug-in’s such as Feliway.
Fear and defense are two essential reasons for aggression. This occurs when a cat
perceives a threat and escalates when the cat is unable to find an escape; or in the maternal case when a
mother cat is attempting to protect her kittens. The more frightening or threatening the threat, the more
aggressive the reaction will be. The best way to deal with a frightened cat is to simply avoid them or
remove the threat until they calm down.
Play aggression is the most common type of aggression directed towards owners. Sometimes a
cat simply becomes too rough and injures their owners while playing. It typically involves stalking,
chasing, ambushing, pouncing, leaping, swatting, fighting and biting. Many cats will learn to be careful
with how hard they scratch and bite as they grow by playing with one another, but if they’ve been left at
home alone and have lots of bottled up energy they may forget. You can reduce play aggression by providing
toys to play with while you are away from home and give your cats ‘time-outs’ when they are too rough. Just
get up and leave the room. Cats hate to be ignored. Do not play with them using your hands or toys that
encourage them to play with your hands. It is also important that you do not use your hands to punish.
Hitting or swatting your cat may cause them to become fearful of you and turn to true aggression when your
hands come towards them.
Being aware of the body language of your cat as well as the reasons behind the aggression.
Give your cat space and understanding, and welcome them back to you once they are calm again.
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