Battling aggression in cats is an uphill battle if you're unaware of the reasons for this behavior. Scratches hurt, and bites resulting in puncture wounds have the potential to become bacterial infections. Whether you recently adopted a cat, or a longtime family feline exhibits unusual behavior, aggressiveness can be fixed provided you don't let it develop into a habit.
First Thing's First
Never use physical violence to combat a cat's aggressiveness. She'll only learn to fear you. An otherwise sweet kitty who acts out aggressively may be hiding illness or injury; her instinct is to hide her weakness from other predators, even you. Look for signs of illness such as lethargy, decreased appetite, diarrhea or a runny nose, or injury by limping, licking a wound or the inability to jump and walk properly. Take her to a veterinarian immediately for a physical evaluation and diagnostic tests.
Kittens play to learn to hunt for prey. She may crouch down to hide, twitch her ears and step her back feet, wiggling her behind before attacking. A kitten learns how to play, without inflicting pain, from her mother and siblings. When a kitten is removed from this environment too early, she won't understand she must retract claws and bite softly when playing with human friends. Likewise, you also must not play rough with her. If she plays too aggressively, use a firm "no" and redirect her attention to a toy that will keep your hands safe, such as a fishing pole or throwing toys. Should the kitten remain aggressive, she might be overstimulated. Cease playing until she calms down.
Recognize the Signs
Many people recognize a cat's hiss or growl as a sign of discontent, however, much of her communication is nonverbal. An agitated cat displays a tense posture and dilated pupils. She rapidly swishes her tail, lays her ears flat and raises her hackles. These are all warnings that the cat is unhappy with the situation and about to attack. Cats are individuals and you'll need to be attuned to the particular behaviors of your kitty when she is acting aggressive.
Your Contributions to Aggression
Some cats simply don't want to be touched in certain areas, like the belly, or can tolerate being petted or held for a certain amount of time. Pet or hold your cat only when she seeks your attention, by rubbing against your legs for example, and never chase her. Hold out your hand with fingers curled under like a paw and let her sniff it. Pet her a little bit at a time, primarily on the forehead, cheeks and chin. Take breaks to look for that twitching tail, moving ears or a head turned towards your hand. When she wiggles to be put down, do not restrain her from leaving, but immediately set her gently on the floor. She may be hungry, have to use the litter box or is frightened from some noise.
Observe your cat before approaching her. An excited feline watching a bird out of her reach or a neighborhood cat encroaching on her territory can startle easily. Call her name or clap to interrupt her concentration. Should she ignore you, let her calm down on her own. Do not pet a cat when she is eating or sleeping. If she is aggressive toward human visitors, have them stand firm. Reward her with treats and praise only when she is calm. This shows that visitors will not just go away when she displays aggression. Understand that early interactions with humans also influence your cat's current behavior. Her aggression may stem from early mistreatment. It will take time to build trust and reassure her you are not going to hurt her.
Make sure your cat is spayed or neutered to curb aggressive tendencies. Clip your cat's claws and have appropriate scratching posts to help keep them filed. Reward good behavior, and entice her to your lap, with treats. Don't console an aggressive cat with sweet words as that praises the bad behavior, nor with petting which only agitates her further. Cats who become aggressive as a way to demand food or attention should be ignored.
- The Humane Society: What to Do if Your Cat is Aggressive with People
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Feline Behavior Problems: Aggression
- PAM Johnson-Bennett: Nine Tips for Calming an Out-of-Control Cat
- Cat Be Good: Dealing With Aggressive Cats
- International Cat Care: Aggression to Humans
Pam Smith has been writing since 2005. In addition to her work for Demand Media, her articles have been published online at CBS Local. She also wrote for the Pennsylvania Center for the Book's Literary Map while earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at the Pennsylvania State University. She is currently an editorial assistant for Circulation Research.