Aggression in Cats: Causes & Symptoms
Even the mildest mannered of cats are known to get a little aggressive from time to time. Often, this will display itself in the stance which your cat adopts or some hissing, spitting, or yowling noises. Sometimes, it will manifest itself in behavior like scratching or biting – and you could easily find yourself on the wrong end of it.
If you understand a bit more about the causes and symptoms of aggression in cats, you will be better placed to deal with it effectively. The last thing that you want is for it to spiral into a bigger problem that affects your entire household. So, this article is all about aggression in cats to help you gain a better understanding of exactly what is going on so you can take action to help your cat live a calmer life.
Symptoms of Aggression in Cats
First of all, we need to know what is classified as aggression. Essentially, it refers to any threatening or harmful behavior targeted at humans, fellow cats, or other animals. Even though our cats are fully domesticated, their natural instincts cannot be curbed altogether, and signs of aggression are still likely to emerge from time to time. Feline aggression displays itself in different ways. You can tell if your cat is feeling aggressive through their behavior, body language, and other visual and emotional clues.
As previously mentioned, biting and scratching are two common symptoms, but these are usually prewarned by other behavior. If you know your cat well, you should be able to tell the difference between playful aggression and real aggression. The latter is likely to hurt a lot more!
When cats are feeling aggressive, they will sometimes adopt an offensive posture. Their stance is likely to be stiff and upright. Their bottom may be up in the air with their back sloped downwards, and they may be shooing you with a direct stare with constricted pupils. All of this is designed to intimidate the opponent, so other behaviours could include howling, yowling, or hissing. Alternatively, they may adopt a defensive posture instead. They will probably be trying to make themselves appear smaller with a tucked in tail and limbs. Their ears will be flattened against their head and they are less likely to face their opponent head on.
At its final stage, you have the overt signs of aggression like swatting or striking with the paws, biting, scratching, growling, and shrieking. They could expose all weapons that they have at their disposal including teeth and claws. If you are close enough, your cat may try to grab your hand and bring it close to their mouth for biting.
Common Causes of Cat Aggression
Now that you know what the symptoms of aggression are, you now need to know more about the common causes. By having this information, you put yourself in a much better position to deal with this issue effectively. There are a whole host of different causes out there, but we will just run through a few of the most common of feline aggression.
- Medical Conditions
Your cat may be getting aggressive because they are suffering from some sort of underlying medical condition. This could be a mental issue like anxiety, or it could be a physical problem. Some of the medical issues which could lead to aggression include liver disorders, hyperthyroidism, nervous system disorders, infections (fungal or bacterial), or hormonal or metabolic problems. Essentially, if you are not sure, it is always better to have your cat checked by a trained veterinary professional to see if you can get the issue diagnosed and treated.
If your cat is in pain, this could also cause them to become aggressive – particularly when the sensitive area is touched or prodded. It may be a long-lasting condition like arthritis or something which is temporary. You may identify an issue which has so far been overlooked, and this presents a good opportunity to get it dealt with by a trained professional. Once you identify where the problem is located, you should make a special effort not to touch the affected area. Otherwise, you could exacerbate the issue and trigger the aggressive behavior that you were trying to prevent in the first place.
- Getting a New Pet
As you probably already know, cats are creatures of habit. Therefore, changing their environment can end up having an impact on their behavior, and may lead to aggression. One of the biggest changes that you can confront them with is introducing a new pet into the household. While you may think that your cat is lonely and needs the company of another kitty, they won’t necessarily agree with you. Cats are also very territorial creatures, so they may not appreciate having their space invaded. Any new animals have the potential to be threatening. Generally, it is the older cats who are more set in their ways and less likely to accept company. If you are going to introduce a new kitty into your household, you should do so slowly, rather than expecting your current cat to suddenly adjust to such a huge transformation in their living situation. Otherwise, this could lead to a lot of fighting between your pets, which could lead to injuries.
- Poor Handling
While most owners like to pick their cat up from time to time, if you do so in the wrong way, it is more likely that this could lead to some aggressive behavior. Often, it could be a young child or guest who is not used to handling animals who will come into your household and make a big handling mistake. You need to make sure that your cat feels supported, and you should pay attention to any struggling that means the situation is not entirely comfortable for them. Try to teach your kids from a young age how to handle your cat to ensure that they treat them with the gentleness and care that they deserve.
- Past Treatment/Fear
If you have a new cat who has been treated poorly in the past, they are more likely to show aggression in an effort to protect themselves from harmful situations. These cats have been through a lot, so you are going to need to take things slowly and you should not try to push your cat into a situation that they are not entirely comfortable with. It may take time before you build up a relationship with your cat that makes them feel safe and secure in your care. Take small steps and don’t expect that everything is going to come quickly and naturally.
Even cats who haven’t been mistreated in the past can experience fear, so you should pay attention to environmental triggers which could cause this reaction in them. Also, you should pay attention to what your cat’s body language is telling you about how they are feeling. Often, they will puff up their fur and tail to appear larger in an intimidation tactic. Their ears will flatten backwards, and they are likely to hiss or spit. Back off and let your cat go through this aggressive fit. If you try to approach them in this condition, they are much more likely to attack, and you could find yourself with a painful bite or scratch injury.
- Environmental Changes
The next cause which could lead to aggression in your cat is a complete change to their environment. The most common of these is that you are moving to a new home entirely. Alternatively, you could be going through a home renovation. All that noise and disruption is unlikely to be calming for your kitty. Often, the problems manifest themselves as anxiety, but as we have already mentioned, this is only one step away from aggression.
- Hormonal Issues
Another factor which may be causing an issue in your cat is hormones. Broadly speaking, cats who have not been spayed or neutered are much more likely to display aggressive tendencies. Male cats are hardwired to show aggression and fight other males – particularly when they are competing over females. You should try to avoid intervening too closely if you see two cats fighting as you could easily find yourself becoming the target of their aggression. In rarer cases, aggression in cats can be the result of biochemical imbalances in their body. In some cases, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication may need to be prescribed in order to put things right once again.
Cats who are feeling stressed are likely to respond in an aggressive manner. The causes of this stress are myriad and varied. Perhaps you live in a particularly loud environment. Maybe there are other bullying cats in your local area who are threatening your feline. If you can, you should try to tackle the cause of your cat’s stress at its root cause in an effort to help them live a calmer and happier life.
- Rough Play
Sometimes, what started off as an innocent playtime can quickly transform and manifest itself into aggressive behavior. While it is encouraged to play with your cat to give them plenty of mental and physical stimulation, you shouldn’t take this too far. Kittens and young cats often learn to not bite hard or keep their claws in when they are swatting around at things. However, some cats who were orphaned or weaned early may not have learnt to inhibit their aggressive behavior.
Battling Feline Aggression
Obviously, every cat is different, and the causes of aggression are bound to vary. However, there are some general tactics that you can use to deal with this behavior – whether it is occasional or more ingrained.
It helps a lot if you can identify what is causing the problem in the first place. For example, if their regular routine has suddenly been shaken up in some way, it is likely that an environmental issue may be at play. But if there are no discernable changes to their day to day life, there may be some underlying medical issue here. If it is the latter issue, you should seek the help of a vet as soon as possible.
As for environmental issues, it depends which one is causing the problem. If you have young kids who are stressing your cat out, you should try to teach them the proper way of picking them up and handling them. Otherwise, you will need to supervise them more closely. Moving to a new house is always going to be trickier, but you can help your cat to feel at ease by giving them their own quiet space, toys, a cat bed etc.
If you notice that your cat is starting to behave aggressively, you should back off and leave them alone for a while. Sometimes, they simply need a cooling off period and will be back to normal after some alone time.
Don’t be afraid to schedule an appointment with your vet is the problem stays the same or worsens. The sooner you act, the more likely it is that you will tackle the issue quickly and help your cat in the long run.
There is no doubt that aggressive behavior in cats can be upsetting and scary for pet owners, but if you understand a bit better what is going on and try to help, you will create a better situation for both you and your little ball of fluff. The sooner that you deal with the aggressive behavior, the less likely it is to become an ingrained problem which becomes very difficult to deal with. This could involve visiting your vet to detect any medical issues and potentially have them diagnosed and treated. Sometimes, it is something as simple as change in diet or routine which can have an impact on your cat’s behavior. There are also behavioral specialists out there who can help treat issues. Essentially, you should explore all the avenues which are available to you.