Behavior
A black cat hissing, claws out, being aggressive.
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How to Detect and Prevent a Cat Attack

Why do cats attack, and how can you tell if a cat is about to bite or scratch before it happens? Here’s what to know about handling a cat attack.

Denise LeBeau  |  Dec 7th 2017


Most of us see our cats as our adorable little furry friends. The idea that they could be dangerous to people seems laughable. But, for anyone who has endured a cat attack, the threat of bodily harm from a cat is real. While most cat guardians will never encounter an attacking cat, there are others who will. It’s important for every pet parent to know why cats attack, how to avoid it, and what to do if you are attacked by a cat. By exploring the anatomy of a cat attack, you can minimize the damage by modifying cat aggression before it leads to injury!

Reasons for a cat attack

A fluffy gray cat hissing.

Why do cats attack? Photography ©cynoclub | Thinkstock.

According to the ASPCA, cat aggression is the second most popular reason guardians hire cat behaviorists. Many folks in animal welfare are subjected to every type of cat behavior, including attacking cats. Donna Baldridge, TNR expert, has been rescuing cats for two decades. She’s had plenty of experience with angry, confused and threatened cats. “Have you seen the lions on National Geographic?” asks Baldridge. “Your cat attacks for the same reason they do!”

Baldridge breaks down the main reasons cats attack: 

  1. Reacting to a perceived threat. Are you going to hurt me?
  2. Territory. Their domain is crucial to their survival ­­— so intruders beware.
  3. Fearful that someone is taking their food away. Cats who have had to fight for survival can be plagued with the anxiety of being without sustenance.
  4. Redirected aggression. Your cat sees another cat outside the window and because he can’t attack that cat, he attacks you.

What is your cat’s body language telling you?

Cats can be quite elusive, so it’s important to pay attention to any cat in distress. “There are a few certain signals that all cat handlers need to watch for,” Baldridge warns. “Paying attention to the whole cat can save a lot of pain and suffering.”

Signs a cat is going to attack:

  1. Ears back
  2. Tail swishing
  3. Growling and hissing
  4. Big eyes

Interpreting a cat’s body language is the best way to determine next steps.

Preventing a cat attack in the first place

When it comes to cat attacks, an ounce of prevention is worth many tons of cure! Baldridge recommends distraction as one of the best methods to avoid a cat attack. “Using a cat toy can usually alter a cat’s demeanor. He will go from focusing on the perceived threat and focus on the toy instead.” Play therapy is a great way to help diffuse the situation.

Another helpful tip is to back off of an agitated cat. Widening the cat’s personal space can alleviate his anxiety and prevent a cat attack. It is critical to not close in on, or try to touch, a cat who is displaying any signs of aggression.

Also, fixing your cat can go a long way toward quelling aggression.

Training your cat

It takes a multi-pronged approach to live more peaceably with a cat who is prone to attack. Making a list of all the triggers that lead up to a cat attack is a good first step. Include as many details as possible whenever there’s an attack. Listing the triggers makes it easier to manage unwanted behavior. Don’t push your cat’s buttons. If he doesn’t like belly rubs, don’t rub his belly! Be mindful of the things he doesn’t like, and don’t do them.

Take a holistic approach to his environment. High cat trees, tunnels and window perches are great in giving your cat plenty of places to hide and seek! Remember, cats in the wild would spend their days hunting, playing and looking for a mate. Boredom leads to frustration, and frustration leads to attacks.

There are also calming tinctures that help. Pheromone products, like Feliway sprays, can change your cat’s demeanor. There’s also Bach’s Rescue Remedy, which you can add to his water. A lot of aggression is born out of fear — so only use positive reinforcement when training a cat.

And of course, if the situation is escalating, contact a feline behaviorist.

What to do if you’re attacked by a cat

A man with a cat scratch on his hand from an orange cat.

Treating cat bites is a bit more serious than treating cat scratches. Photography ©DjelicS | Thinkstock.

The first thing to do if you’re attacked by a cat is not to panic. “Wash the wound thoroughly with antiseptic,” Baldridge recommends. “Scratches are less worrisome, but cat bites need to be carefully examined.” If your wound isn’t profusely bleeding, keeping it clean should be sufficient. But, if it’s not starting to heal after 24 hours, a trip to the doctor or hospital is best. “Use your own judgment, but don’t ignore any warning signs.” Treating cat bites is a serious matter.

Working on the right solution with patience and perseverance for a cat who attacks can prevent cat attacks before they happen and ensure a happier cat!

Thumbnail: Photography ©Robert Redelowski | Thinkstock.

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