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Understanding Cat Aggression

When it comes to having an actual physical altercation, cats do everything they can to try to avoid it. The cat who feels backed in a corner with no other option is the one who will engage in a tooth and nail battle. In general, a cat’s first choice is to take the escape route.

Books by Pam Johnson-Bennett

The Cat’s Body Posture

Cats use body posture to look as big and bad as possible as a way of scaring off a potential opponent. The familiar Halloween cat posture you’ve seen in so many pictures where the cat is standing on tip toes, back arched and the hair on the back and tail is on end, is actually a defensive posture. The cat is trying to look bigger than he actually is as a way of convincing an opponent not to mess with him.

A cat may display aggressive behavior in particular circumstances but that doesn’t mean he’s an aggressive cat. People are often too quick to label a cat as “aggressive” when in reality, the cat may merely be feeling as if all escape has been cut off or body posture signals have failed. Very often, the reason human family members get bitten by the family cat is because they either misinterpreted the cat’s body language or chose to ignore the clear signals being sent out.

The aggressive behavior a cat displays is usually due to fear and the fact that he feels threatened. It may be that he’s afraid he’s going to get hurt or restrained, or maybe he thinks his resources are in danger (such as his food). He may feel a territorial threat by an unfamiliar cat or a stranger in the environment. In the case of maternal aggression, the mother cat feels there’s a threat to her kittens.

How to Deal With Cat Aggression

The best way to deal with the aggression is to change the circumstances as best as you can so the cat doesn’t feel threatened. Since aggression can be scary for cat parents to deal with, and can be dangerous to both humans and cats, make sure you have your cat examined by the veterinarian whenever there is a change in behavior. Aggression can be the result of an underlying medical problem. If kitty gets a clean bill of health your veterinarian may offer a referral to a certified behavior expert. If you do decide to seek professional help, be sure you choose someone who is certified in cat behavior. There are many people on the internet who claim to be behavior experts but if they aren’t certified, you have no way of knowing if the information they provide will be helpful or harmful. When it comes to dealing with an aggression problem, the wrong advice can have disastrous consequences.

Be aware of behavior triggers or cues that cause your cat to become reactive. If possible, alter the circumstances to allow your cat to feel less threatened. Never punish your cat for aggressive displays as that will only heighten his fear and will be counter-productive to any training attempts.

Need More Help?

You can find more specific information in any of Pam’s books.

Note: The information in this article is not intended as a medical diagnosis. If your cat is displaying a change in behavior, contact your veterinarian.

Books by Pam Johnson-Bennett