In the human world, aggression is considered a completely inappropriate response to most circumstances. But it’s different for cats. For them, aggression is a natural, healthy behavior. Consider the fact that cats are very small creatures and if they didn’t use aggression they probably wouldn’t have survived to become the sweet companions we love today.
Behaviorists have identified 10 types of cat aggression, but the most common types you will see in your pet are defensive or fear aggression, offensive or status aggression, redirected aggression, and petting aggression.
In defensive aggression, a cat attacks because he’s frightened: perhaps he’s been backed into a corner by a dog or another cat and sees no escape except to lash out. In status aggression, a cat tries to move up the feline social ladder by using force or intimidation to assert his position as the higher-ranking individual.
In redirected aggression, the cat can’t get to the object of his anger, so he lashes out at an “innocent bystander” such as a cat friend or a person.
The first thing to do if your pet suddenly begins acting aggressive is to see the vet in order to rule out underlying injury or disease. If your cat or kitten doesn’t have any medical problems, his aggression is probably being caused by stress, so it’s up to you to minimize his anxiety level.
Watch your cat for signs of anxiety like a twitching or lashing tail, growling, staring with narrowed eyes, or other tense body language. When you see the tension starting to build up, distract him and help to discharge the energy with a good play session. This is especially important if the aggression is happening between two cats, because they need to learn to associate time together with happiness rather than anxiety.
If your cat does become aggressive with another cat, interrupt the aggression with a loud noise such as clapping your hands or shaking a can full of coins. Do this in an emotionally neutral state because your cat will pick up on your own tension and it may escalate the situation.
If your pet tends to lash out when you’re petting him, be sure to watch his body language for signs that he’s had enough. You want to stop petting while your cat is still enjoying it; leave him wanting more because it feels good rather than biting and running away because it doesn’t. Be careful where you touch your cat; the majority of cats don’t like having their tummies rubbed, for example. If he does clamp down with claws and/or teeth, don’t pull your hand away because that will only make him latch on harder. Instead, push your hand toward your pet’s body, which will confuse him and cause him to loosen his grip.
And finally, if you’ve tried all the tips above and your cat is still suffering from aggression problems, talk to your vet about the possibility of drug therapy. A short course of treatment with an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medicine can help desensitize your cat to whatever triggered his problems.