A very common behavioral problem that feline pet parents face is aggression. Here are some causes, helpful definitions and how to get out of a tricky situation with an aggravated cat:
Causes of Aggressive Behavior
Aggression has many causes, the most common of which are pain and fear. Cats that are in pain may react aggressively to people or animals that attempt to come near them. This is a coping mechanism as well as an evolutionary strategy that keeps the cat safe from further harm and gives her time to heal.
The second most common cause of aggression is fear. Cats who are afraid of people or other cats will often react aggressively - typically snarling, hissing and clawing in order to send a clear “back off” message. This is quite common in feral or stray cats. Most often, these cats need a safe place to hide and further socialization.
If you have a cat that is acting aggressively, approach the cat cautiously and be sure to properly restrain the cat before transporting the animal to a veterinarian for a health check.
Types of Aggression
Although there are two primary reasons cats become aggressive, there are many different classifications of aggressive behavior.
Cat-to-Cat Aggression: This is a common form of aggression that happens when two cats do not get along. The cats may display this aggression by avoiding one another or by fighting outright. Typically, there is a stimulus (such as food or human attention) that triggers the aggression and pet parents can often avoid it by separating the cats and ensuring that the stimulus is avoided. If this is a problem that occurs in your household, check out What to Do if Your Cats Don’t Get Along.
Redirected Aggression: Redirected aggression is a form of stress-induced aggression and often arises when the cat sees something that she cannot access. For example, an indoor cat may display redirected aggression when she spies an outdoor cat strolling through the yard. Cats prone to redirected aggression may take it out on other pets or humans.
Aggression While Petting: Have you ever petted a cat only to have her turn around and bite you suddenly? Then you have experienced petting-induced aggression. Although this form of aggression may seem random, cats often do offer warning beforehand. Cats may thump or lash their tails or twitch their skin before becoming aggressive, so be on the lookout for these signs.
Other reasons cats can become aggressive include protecting their babies or territory and during normal play.
Aggressive Body Language
Cats who are about to become aggressive in certain settings can exhibit offensive or defensive body language. Defensive body language is a sign that the cat is trying to protect herself by seeming smaller. Defensive body language often includes the following:
- Tucked head
- Crouching position
- Tail tucked protectively around the body
- Ears laid back on the head or ears flat and facing sideways
- Hissing or spatting
- Striking with the front paws and claws
Offensive body language, on the other hand, is meant to make the cat look large and frightening and includes the following:
- Growling, yowling or other vocalizations
- Moving directly toward opponent
- Hackles up on tail and back
- Stiff, lowered tail and head held low to the ground
- Directly staring at opponent
Although feline aggression can be upsetting, pet parents can help mitigate issues by knowing the causes and signs of aggressive behavior.