Cat Aggression

Jun 27, 2019   Tracey Aston   Behavior

According to animal behaviorists, feline aggression is the second most common feline behavior problem seen. Aggressive cats are very formidable! Aggressive cats will not only attack with their teeth but with all 4 paws equipped with razor sharp claws!  In addition to the severe lacerations a cat can inflict, cat scratches have a high rate of infection and could even possibly lead to cat scratch fever. Not only can cats cause immediate damage their attacks can have lasting effects! 

Cats have their own body language, and pet parents may even have a better understanding of their own cat's individual body language. Most cats won't attack out of nowhere with little warning. Understanding a cat's aggressive body language and postures can help avoid an attack. Almost everyone knows cats will hiss when aggravated but cats have many body and facial expressions and use certain body parts, like ears, tail and even whiskers to convey their emotions. Unlike dogs, cat body language can be vague, subtle and even harder to detect. 

There are several types of aggression in cats. Feline aggression can be offensive, defensive, territorial or redirected. A cat displaying offensively aggressive tendencies will make themselves look bigger and a cat adopting a defensive posture will try to look smaller. Whether offense or defensive, cats are trying to communicate with these postures. 

Offensive postures – postures showing when a cat is ready to attack - can include, making the body - especially the legs - appear stiff, crouching down, a tail that is stiff or fluffed as if the hairs are standing on end, upright ears, hackles up, and hissing or yowling. 

Defensive postures can occur when a cat feels threatened or cornered.  Defensive postures can include having the head tucked in towards the body, a tail tucked in between their legs, ears held back onto the head and whiskers feathered out from the face. 

Territorial aggression can occur when a cat feels their “space” is being threatened. Territorial aggression usually accompanies a new family member, whether human, canine or feline. A new neighborhood stray or an outside cat spraying around the house could also cause territorial aggression. A cat displaying territorial aggression could bite, hiss, scratch, and bat at an object or person with their claws out. Some cats will even latch on to a person with either their teeth or their claws. 

The triggers for a cat displaying redirected aggression can be harder to pinpoint, as it depends on what the cat is seeing that causes them to lash out at someone nearby. A cat could be happily looking out the sliding glass door one minute and see another animal in the yard and attack the next minute. Since the cat can't get to the object that is causing stress, a cat will often turn and attack whoever is closest, whether a human or furry family member. Never approach a cat displaying offensive postures while noticing another animal or human out of their reach. If you have an easily agitated cat or a cat with a history of redirected aggression, it would benefit you and the cat to find other forms of mental stimulation that don't revolve around window seats. 

Regardless of the type of aggression a cat is displaying, an aggressive cat must always be approached with caution! Unless the cat is in immediate danger of bodily harm, never attempt to corner or pick up or catch an aggressive cat.  Cats may be smaller in stature than dogs but their teeth and claws can cause serious bites and lacerations. As well as the initial injury, a laceration from a cat could easily become infected.  It's important to remember that cats displaying these postures or actions are actually attempting to communicate in the only way they know how. It's up to pet parents and family members to recognize the signs. If a cat's aggression becomes frequent or the pet is causing serious injuries to other members of the family, it may be time to consult a professional behaviorist to address the aggression and needs of the cat. 

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