Aggression in cats (or ANY animal for that matter) can have many causes but if you’re dealing with an angry cat, here are some tips:
1. A veterinarian visit is crucial if your cat is beginning to show even the slightest hint of aggression or change in behavior. There may be an underlying medical cause for the behavior. The sooner you detect the behavioral change and have it checked by the veterinarian, the greater the chance of avoiding an escalation of the aggression. It could be anything from a painful abscess due to a cat fight, arthritis or hyperthyroidism, to name just a few. Don’t skip the vet exam. If your cat gets a clean bill of health then it’s time to use your “think like a cat” detective skills.
2. If you know your cat isn’t feeling well or you can tell by his body language he’s getting agitated, prefers not to interact or is getting stressed, provide a safe place for him. Be proactive and offer him a place to safely chill rather than test his tolerance.
3. If you have a multicat household where there are routine spats, have some helpful objects on-hand to block the feuding felines from each other. Keep some towels and pieces of cardboard around so you can block viewing access. Sometimes, if you can block the cats from staring each other down, it can be enough to squash the escalation of aggression. If the aggression continues or worsens, a reintroduction of the cats may be necessary.
4. Babies and pets should never be left together unsupervised. Even if you know your pet is extremely tolerant and friendly, it only takes a moment for a tail to be pulled or a fistful of fur to be yanked. Animals in pain, especially when surprised, will understandably act defensive.
5. If you have young children there should always be elevated locations available for your cat in order to get out of harm’s way. As children get old enough, make sure they understand there are certain “cat only” areas in the house that are off-limits. The ability to jump or climb to safety will almost always be a cat’s first move to avoid confrontation. Children should also know when cats need their own space such as during eating, sleeping or when using the litter box.
6. Teach children the appropriate way to interact and pet the family cat. Teach open-handed petting that always goes in the direction the hair grows. As children get older, teach them about cat body language so they can hopefully avoid approaching a cat who is giving clear signals to stay away.
7. If your cat is being reactive, give him time to himself. The best course of action is to leave him alone. Lower the lights and let him have some time to settle down. Don’t try to comfort and soothe him because your approach may just increase his agitation.
8. Never punish a cat for displaying aggression because it will only increase his fear or you and may increase the aggression level. Animals don’t display aggression just for the heck of it – they act aggressively because they perceive a situation to be threatening. Remove the threat and allow the cat to calm down and that will be a more productive, safer course of action. Remember, it’s important to figure out the underlying cause of the aggression.
9. Seek qualified, professional help for ongoing aggression problems or if you’re at all concerned about your cat’s behavior. Start with your veterinarian so an evaluation can be made and then your vet can refer you to a certified behavior expert.
Need More Information?
Contact your veterinarian if you have questions about your cat’s health or behavior so an exam can be scheduled. This article isn’t a replacement for proper veterinary care. For more information about cat behavior and training, refer to the book Think Like a Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett.
Due to Pam’s scheduling demands, we’re sorry but she is unable to respond to questions or remarks posted in the comment section. If you have a question about cat behavior, you can find many answers in the articles Pam writes for the website as well as in her best-selling books.