We recently received a call for help from a very confused cat parent. It seems her cat had suddenly decided to attack everyone at random — the cat parent, the other cats, the dog … Having always been a sweet and loving kitty, this new behavior perplexed the family. After ruling out medical issues with their veterinarian, the kitty’s mom decided to book a behavior session with us at Cat Behavior Alliance.
As we asked her questions about the cat’s behavior during our Zoom meeting, the reason for the “bad” conduct became crystal clear: This was a classic case of redirected aggression. What was actually the true source of kitty’s aggression? New neighbors had moved in, and the sight of their cats outdoors in the yard drove the cat bonkers. Cats are always on guard for predators, and there was a possible predator right next door — one the cat could see but not reach. Unable to attack the true source of frustration and anguish, kitty had turned the aggression toward any being that was close enough to touch.
What is redirected aggression in cats?
Redirected aggression, also called displaced aggression, is one of the most common behavior issues in cats. Simply put, something happened that caused the cat to react in fear, and their natural survival instincts took over. It’s the old “fight or flight” reflex kicking in, the one that keeps cats safe from becoming another predator’s meal in nature.
Unable to reach the actual object of aggression, the cat may decide that fighting with another indoor cat, a dog pal or even humans, is necessary to survive. Take, for example, how we humans sometimes misdirect our anger. The man who had a bad day at the office might come home from work and yell at the kids. It’s not the kids he is really upset with, it’s his boss, but he is unable to properly direct his temper. It isn’t a conscience decision. The anxiety bubbles up and must come out! Displaced aggression in cats works exactly the same way.
So, what is my cat mad about?
What might cause misdirected aggressive behavior in your normally friendly feline? Anything that your cat may perceive as a threat to his territory or his resources may set off the aggression, and his inability to attack the true source may cause misdirection of his survival response to the threat.
A few catalysts to displaced aggression are:
- Loud noises or yelling in the house
- Outdoor cats roaming around your cat’s territory
- Other animals outside, such as squirrels, dogs, rabbits or birds
- Disagreements between indoor cats
- Mating season (even if your cat is spayed or neutered)
- Anything the cat feels is a threat to his world