Aggressive Behavior in Cats | Causes & Prevention
An aggressive cat can be scary to live with. Some cats can turn on a dime, switching from relaxed to aggressive in a single second. A cat’s aggressive behavior can be curbed with work, patience, and a bit of understanding.
Causes of Aggression in Cats
Underlying Medical Condition
If an adult cat has gone from being extremely docile to extremely aggressive and nothing has changed in his living situation, his diet, or his environment, there could be an underlying medical reason for his behavior. Cats are notorious for their ability to hide pain, and the pet could be suffering from severe discomfort due to injury, illness, infection, or even tumors. Before attempting behavior modifications, make an appointment with your veterinarian to discover any possible medial reasons for the cat’s sudden change in temperament.
How Stress Affects a Cat’s Home Life
Once this system is on full alarm, the feline species does not return to baseline (normal) for an extended period of time afterward. Veterinarians have seen cases of cats attacking owners following high stimulation encounters because the indoor cat is still on full alert and the owner is in the wrong place at the right time; the cat is provoked by the internal emotional state to strike out at the closest moving object. Housemates (cats or dogs) are equally at risk for this inappropriate (but natural) response. The cat may appear to have calmed down, but will suddenly exhibit aggressive behavior, sometimes hours following the inciting event.
Have Your Cat Spayed or Neutered
Intact male cats are far more likely to become aggressive as adults than those who have been spayed or neutered. This is especially true if there are intact female cats in the home or nearby. Even neutered males can become aggressive in the presence of a female cat in heat. In order to maintain harmony in the home, be sure to spay and neuter all cats when they are old enough to have the procedures.
If you have reservations about spaying and neutering, talk them out with your veterinarian. The benefits of the procedure far outweigh any risks or discomfort that the cat may feel. The recovery time is very short, and most cats are up and playing again in 24 hours.
The Importance of Proper Play
Owners often think of cats as eternal sleepers. While adult cats do sleep quite a bit, all cats need daily stimulation and play in order to maintain physical and mental fitness. Most veterinarians recommend five minutes of active play each day, three times per day. If a cat becomes bored, frustration can develop, which will eventually lead to aggression. When playing with a cat, owners should never use their fingers or toes. Instead, toss balls, use rope-based toys, or laser pointers. When owners teach kittens that biting and scratching are playful activities, it can promote aggressive behavior in adulthood. It is especially important to educate children on the proper way to play with and handle cats. If they are rough, the cat will reciprocate with rough behavior.
Aggressive Behavior Towards Other Pets
Sometimes cats turn their aggression towards other pets in the home. Cats can experience emotions, and if your pet feels as though your attention is too divided, he may turn on the other animals. Owners of multiple pets should try to ensure each animal receives lots of one-on-one time each day. Owners should also watch out for aggressive play between animals in the home. Some older cats don’t enjoy the rough, rolling play of younger cats, and they can quickly turn from playmate to aggressor. When playtime between pets get too rough, owners should separate the cats and put each one in a room alone for five minutes, giving the cats time to cool down.
Understanding Your Rescue Cat
Cats can become aggressive if they are not properly socialized as kittens. Animals that haven’t spent much time with humans can develop a deep-rooted fear of people. When adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue organization, take time to learn the cat’s story, if possible. Always be patient with rescued pets, and take care not to do anything to worsen their fears. To build a relationship with an aggressive rescue, try playing with the cat using light pens, ropes or balls, to help create a bond while maintaining a safe distance. As the cat becomes more relaxed, a relationship can develop between owner and pet. The important thing is to not give up on a fearful cat.
Aggressive Tendencies in Older Cats
Cats who have reached old age often become a bit grumpy. They may not want to be picked up the way they used to, and they may prefer to spend most of their time alone. Sometimes this results in hissing or growling when owners come near. This change in behavior can be startling to pet owners, but if the cat has recently seen the vet and gotten a clean bill of health, it’s ok to ignore grouchiness in an elderly cat.
Working to Curb Aggressive Behavior in Cats
If a cat suddenly develops aggressive behavior, the first thing pet owners need to do is take the cat to a veterinarian for a complete physical check up. Painful conditions, bacterial infections, viral infections, and parasitic infections can cause aggressive behavioral changes, and so it is important to make sure a health condition is not causing this behavior. Once a cat has been physically cleared, pet owners need to look at the cat’s environment, and spay or neuter condition. Cats living in a non-stimulating environment, or who have not been spayed or neutered can develop aggressive behaviors due to boredom and hormonal changes.
If a cat is an inside only pet, then pet owners need to make sure the cat has plenty of scratching posts, climbing trees, toys, and catnip items. If a cat has not been spayed or neutered, and becomes extremely aggressive, this surgery may stop the problem.
The wrong type of interactions between people and cats will also cause aggression in cats. Cats that are played with roughly, or treated roughly, can quickly develop a poor temperament. Children in households need to be taught how to treat the cat gently and respectfully, and pet owners should never use any part of their body, especially their hands, to play with their cat.
Sometimes cats behave aggressively towards other pets in the household. If this is the case, a system of rewards and punishments may help to change the cat’s behavior. When the cat behaves aggressively it should be completely ignored or placed in a quiet room by itself for awhile; cats should never be given attention, whether positive or negative, for bad behavior.