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5 Reasons Your Cat Might Be Acting Aggressive

He could be bored or in pain, or he never really learned how to play. Here's how to identify and treat aggression in cats.

 |  Oct 23rd 2012  |   16 Contributions


I can’t tell you how many times readers have written letters to my cat blog, Paws and Effect, begging for advice on how to deal with cat aggression. As far as they can tell, the outbursts don’t seem to have any basis, so they don’t know what to do. Although true random aggression does happen, primarily due to brain damage or chemical imbalances, this is rare. Here are some more likely reasons for your cat’s outbursts.

1. There’s an intruder in his territory

The most common behavioral reason for cats to act out against one another is because of territorial insecurity, either because a new cat wasn’t introduced properly or because he sees a feline trespasser outside. In order to relieve aggression due to improper introduction, you’ll have to re-introduce the cats using the time-honored and effective method described here. For outdoor intruders, you’ll have to block your cat's view using paper or cardboard in the lower half of the windows where he spots his rival, or use humane outdoor-critter deterrent methods like a motion-activated water sprayer.

Using your fingers as a toy is a sure-fire way to ensure that your cat will bite and swat whenever you get an appendage near him. Woman playing with cat by Shutterstock

2. He’s bored

When a cat doesn’t have a chance to exercise his natural hunting instinct, he gets bored and frustrated. He may react to this by lying in wait under your furniture and ambushing your feet. You can solve this problem very easily by providing your cat with at least two vigorous play sessions a day using a teaser toy. These games should last at least 10 minutes or until your cat starts panting. Another benefit of regular play is that it’s a huge help if your cat needs to lose weight.

3. He’s in pain

A cat in pain will use aggression to keep others from touching the area that hurts. If your cat snaps at you when you touch his hips or near his mouth, for example, he may be telling you that he’s hurting.

Kittens learn limits and boundaries by play-fighting with their littermates. Cats wrestling by Shutterstock

4. He hasn’t learned his boundaries

Cats that are not well-socialized -- particularly bottle-fed orphan kittens -- don’t learn how to limit their aggressive tendencies as they would if they’d been able to grow up with littermates. Kittens learn boundaries by play-fighting with their brothers and sisters, and if he didn’t get this vital lesson when he was a baby, you’re going to have to teach him appropriate limits. The way to do this is by using a method like “ow, and down” if your cat chomps or claws you when you’re sitting peacefully together.

Aggressive black cat by Shutterstock.com.

5. He’s been taught improper behavior

If your cat lived with people who used their hands or feet as toys when he was a kitten, he’s learned the wrong lessons about how to play with people. It may have been cute to see him trying to bite and claw you when he was a tiny baby, but now that he’s a full-grown cat, that behavior is very painful. You’re going to have to help him unlearn those behaviors by playing with proper toys and stopping any positive attention when he acts out.

You should discuss behavior issues with your veterinarian, especially if the behavior has begun recently, in order to rule out disease as a cause for your cat’s aggression. If you need more help, your vet will be able to help you find a behaviorist to unravel the issue. After all, love shouldn’t hurt.

Do you have a cat who had or has aggression? What did you do to try to solve the problem, and how did it work? Please share your stories in the comments!

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