An angry cat with flattened ears.
An angry cat with flattened ears.

Dealing With an Aggressive Cat? 7 Reasons Why Cats Become Aggressive

Cats don't get aggressive out of nowhere. An aggressive cat is usually behaving that way for a good reason. Here are seven reasons why cats become aggressive — plus the warning signs and how to handle each.
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Even the most experienced cat caretakers can find themselves charged up on adrenalin when having to face a cat in the midst of a fit of aggression. But encountering a hissing, growling, screaming, and possibly even scratching and biting cat can strike terror into the hearts of people who don’t know how to handle an aggressive cat.

Related: Do You Have an Aggressive Cat — or Just a Brat?!

But cats don’t just suddenly go crazy: There are almost always warning signs and there’s almost always a good reason for cat aggression. Here are seven reasons why cats become aggressive and how to handle an aggressive cat.

An angry cat growling, hissing or hiding.
An aggressive cat might be responding to pain. Photography ©points | Thinkstock.

1. Cats Become Aggressive Because They’re in Pain

Cats who are in pain will respond with hisses and swats when sensitive areas are touched. My cat, Siouxsie, does this if I accidentally put pressure on her sore hips. A hard yank on the tail, for example, can be quite painful. Ignore the warning signs and a scratch and possibly even a bite may follow. This is especially true if the pain is a result of physical abuse such as being kicked or hit.

2. Fear Can Cause Cat Aggression

A terrified cat will respond with body language that’s obvious to an experienced cat caretaker: She will turn sideways and puff up her tail and fur in order to look larger. Her ears will flatten backwards, she will hiss and her pupils will dilate. Attempting to approach a cat in this state is risking an aggressive reaction, not because the cat dislikes you but because she’s in the middle of a panic reaction.

3. Hormones May Cause a Cat to Become Aggressive

A cat who is not spayed or neutered is much more likely to be aggressive. Male cats in particular are biologically wired to fight with other male cats when females in heat are present. If you see two cats fighting, do not physically intervene because you will almost certainly become the target of the cats’ aggression.

4. Cats Can Get Aggressive Due to Frustration

“Redirected aggression” is the term for violent acts carried out by cats because they can’t reach the object of their predatory passion. For example, an indoor cat who sees another cat walking by or marking his territory in “his” turf may get into a highly reactive state. At that point, anyone unfortunate enough to be nearby, whether that’s another cat, a dog or a person, may end up on the receiving end of the cat’s aggression.

A kitten hissing with his ears flattened back.
An aggressive cat may be responding to stress within your home. Photography ©Ornitolog82 | Thinkstock.

5. Cat Aggression Happens Due to Stress

If a cat lives in a highly stressful environment — for example, a home in which people are fighting or a home with too many cats — it’s quite possible for that cat to be quick to respond aggressively. Like children who live in homes with a lot of verbal and physical violence, or a lot of unspoken anger, cats often act out the dynamics of their human families.

6. An Aggressive Cat Might Be Responding to Trauma

Don’t laugh: Cats can suffer from post-traumatic stress. Their brains are wired similarly to ours, and the effects of chronic anxiety from past human violence or struggling to survive on the streets can lead cats to become aggressive. In order to resolve this issue, a short course of anti-anxiety medication (prescribed by a vet, of course; don’t give your cat your antidepressants, please), homeopathic remedies or flower essences can help make a cat less reactive to triggers.

7. Chemical Imbalances Can Cause Cat Aggression

This is by far the rarest reason for cats to become aggressive. But like humans, some cats simply have biochemical imbalances that affect behavior. For these cats, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications can be a lifesaver.

The bottom line on handling an aggressive cat

No matter what the cause of the aggression, there are almost always warning signs. If you understand feline body language, you’ll be able to see that your furry friend is getting wound up before the situation escalates to a crisis point. If you have a highly reactive cat and you want to help him or her, be aware that it will take time and patience — but take it from a person who has rehabilitated traumatized cats: The reward is so worth the effort!

Tell us: How about you? Have you had an aggressive cat? Were you able to help your kitty feel better and become less reactive? What did you do to help her? Have you ever been unable to help an aggressive cat? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Featured photograph: Photography by elwynn / Shutterstock.

Read Next: Feline Non-Recognition Aggression: 4 Tips for Reintroducing Your Cats After One Returns From the Vet

205 thoughts on “Dealing With an Aggressive Cat? 7 Reasons Why Cats Become Aggressive”

    1. I have a three-year-old male cat that's been fixed for roughly a year now a year now I've noticed in the last 4 to 5 months hes getting more aggressive when I walk by him he'll swing at me for no reason he'll grow at me for no reason he was really loving and caring This kitten before he got fixed I don't know what to do and I'm starting to feel out of control any suggestions

  1. My cat recently has this aggressive behavior where every night while i sleep she would grab a part of my body, claws out, and starts biting me. She never did this before, buts its been happening for 3 days straight now and it has gotten worse. She wouldn’t stop biting even when i try to get her off me, she would dig her claws deeper to grab me and continue to bite. She only does this at night while sleep, but she would be her normal cute self in the morning. I would greatly appreciate if anyone has advice on how to help me and my cat .

    1. My cat has recently done the same to me in the middle of the night and left some pretty bad scratches and a bite mark. If you get a response as to why they do this please post it. I would like to know why she does this on occasion.

  2. Normally docile cat turned into a hissing growling madman toward my son who is my caregiver as I recuperate from major surgery. He knows my son from previous visits and previously enjoyed his attention. Cat
    is currently confined to one room where he has food, water, litter, blanky and toys. We just plugged in a feliway in that room to hopefully calm him down. I think cat is upset that I’m laid up. Son is now his feeder so hopefully cat will realize that he’s not the enemy. How long is this behavior likely to last?

  3. Hi, I am after some advice before I reluctantly give my cat up to another home.

    We bought our first cat January 2020 and have had no problems whatsoever. She is a Bengal breed, 6 years old and spayed.
    We decided to get another cat later in the year, and in November 2020 we picked up a general tabby housecat. We were under the impression however that the cat we collected was approximately a year old. We wanted a very young cat after following the advice from our vet and from reading about it on the internet. When we took the new cat to the vets we discovered she is in fact 4-5 years old.

    To cut a very long story short, the two cats still absolutely hate each other and will meow loudly, hiss and even fight each other whenever near. We have a large enough house to be able to put their food bowls, litter trays, cat trees etc in different areas of the house so there is no competition over any of these necessities.

    The second cat spends most of the day upstairs, almost claiming the whole floor as her territory. Whenever our first cat goes up the stairs there will inevitably be some sort of confrontation. Vice versa when the second cat comes downstairs for her food. The second cat has also started to hiss at my two children whenever they try and comfort her or stroke her. She also does this odd thing with me, whenever I reach out a hand to her, she will lift her paw up, give me a gentle bite and then run away. When we first had her she wouldn’t leave me alone and would always be rubbing herself against me and purring. She still does that but not as frequently as before.

    Before we give her away, is there anything else you may suggest we try, or is it simply a case that these two cats will never get along?

    I thank you in advance for any response,

    James

  4. I have two adult cats and while they were never great friends they tolerated each other. I have since moved to Florida where they enjoy the autonomy and independence (escape) of a cat door leading to my pool/patio area. I gave them a few months to adjust to their new environment, but their fighting has only escalated. I have been very attentive to ensure they both get equal amounts of love. However, tonight they got into such a fight that clapping and shouting did not help. I had to personally intervene for the first time and was bitten and scratched badly. They have always had issues, nut neither has ever turned on me personally. One of the cats has been a problem ever since I got him, peeing on furniture and carpets whenever or wherever I was out of site. He seems to be instigators. Now with a swollen and bloody arm I wonder if I should say his time up. Any Feedback would be greatly appreciated.

  5. I’m so sad. After looking for me missing kitty of 10 years, I was so alarmed by the volume of cats and condition, I decided to adopt two kitties. In the interim, I found a cat I thought was mine. I promised the person who found the cat, if they caught it, I would make sure it was taken care of. It was in bad shape. It was not my Isabella. He was an older cat (older than mine) that ended up being diabetic, heart murmur and declawed front paws. Also, he was angry… physically angry and aggressive at me and my adopted younger cat. My heart breaks to understand what t do. I’m home now due to COVID, but will be returning to work… I hope soon. In the meantime, I need to decide what to do? ‘Kitty’ as I call him since I understand if you’re 15 years or more old, ‘Kitty’ is a name you’ll understand. I just separated him from his extreme aggression literally over the kitten 13 years younger. She so loves him…:(. I don’t know what to do. I’ve never had this extreme cat aggression and worry when I go back to work … what will happen?

    1. I’m sorry that you are dealing with this and bless your kind heart for taking in the stray. I run a cat rescue in Tampa, FL. If the cat is declawed and over 10 years he most likely has pain in his hips and arthritis in his front feet.
      Do you have a place to buy some CBD Oil? I would get some and add it to his wet food. This will help with discomfort and possible aggression. Veterinarians can also compound a subdermal cream that is for anxiety and you rub it in the ear lobe instead of having to pill your kitty. Kitty Prozac, Alprazolam etc can be compounded and applied this way.
      Pet Wellbeing is also and amazing Holistic Company that offers a variety of liquid supplements for all cat and dog ailments. I absolutely love their products and most can be purchased on Amazon

  6. I’m confused. Your article title says you will cover “what to do about it” for each potential reason for aggression but you only describe the aggressions. No tips.

  7. My 4 year old male Oliver has lived with these same cats in my household his whole life when I found him at 4 weeks except 3 that he’s lived with for 1 year and 1/2. 2 months ago he started growling at one of my male cats and now he’s growling and going after all but 2 of my cats. He’s always been great with all cats and cuddled wih most.Started shortly after he found a way to escape from our cat proof fencing in the backyard by climbing up the screens onto the roof. He doesn’t seem content to be inside anymore. The aggression comes and goes. Make him be indoor outdoor or could something be wrong. No injuries I could see.

  8. Help! I started feeding a stray cat. He’s very aggressively friendly. The big problem is, when I put a hand down low near him, even to feed him, he grabs it hard and aggressively, hurting me. He got a claw deep into me one evening and blood was pouring out. A couple of times he’s also clawed a leg but not hard. I don’t know exactly why he does it, but more importantly, I don’t know how to stop it. He keeps trying to come inside, which I am not allowing, and a couple of times he got in at the old mobile home where we have one cat living, and attacked her. He hasn’t been neutered, and I’m wondering how much difference neutering will make. (I will get him neutered but was kind of waiting to see if (a) he really didn’t have a home and (b) he was going to stay.

  9. This is the second cat I have the first one his name is minouch we had him since was 8 weeks we neutred and had all vaccines he was fine happy to have him does fuuny things make us laugh but 3years later he started to became aggressive badly and I didn’t know how to deal with it so we decided to give it to cat protection for him to be rehomed so we did it after 11 years we had a new female she was only 7 weeks she so cute we all in the family happy to have her I took her to vet she had all the necessary vaccinted had a good treatment from the vet and after 2 times of vet check up I didn’t take anymore she is indoor never go out even with the first one never go out stayed indoors so my questions why when they reach 4 years they became aggressive now I need to make difference I don’t won’t to take her a way even my family keep saying they don’t need her anymore she didn’t got me even I was next to her when she attacked a members of the home ???? they keep saying I am the next one who will atrack me I don’t want this happen again I want her I want her to get babies maybe she will get better what is the solution please need help

    1. Having babies won’t help her be less aggressive. Get a vet check-up to make sure there isn’t a medical problem. (Also please get her spayed unless you would keep all the kittens. There is a serious overpopulation of cats and many get killed for that reason.)

    2. I hate to ask because it sounds like blaming, but….
      You’re telling a story of TWO cats who were fine in your home for several years before becoming agressive. Can you review in your mind what may be changing in how you relate to your cats after the “honeymoon period” of the first 3 or 4 years?
      Do you stop playing with them when they get out of the “cute kitten” stage and become staid older cats? Do you stop providing toys and enrichment for them? Are they looking for attention? Just a couple of points to think about (from another cat owner wracking her brain to solve the problem of an agressive 8 month old!)

  10. My beautiful cat Lakota is a less than 5 lbs. of pure love until, she loses her mine!! She usually waits till I go to bed, and if I don’t pull the covers up fast enough I’m in big trouble! She decides I don’t bleed enough, and she knows she’s not suppose too attack, because when she does she takes off. She doesn’t like anyone but me, the scares on my body gives you the idea just how much, just like my kids!!! She doesn’t like anyone living in the home, plus the dog and the other cat. She acts like a 50 lb. cat in a 4 1/2 lb. pitbull cat!!!

  11. Velvet nightwalker

    Hi. I need some help. My cat,moon( yes it’s his real name) kneads on my hand whenever i pet him and it causes swollen itchy spots on my hand(Although he isnt attacking me) but i was had a one year old cat(fiona) who did the same thing but caused no swelling. Any ideas???

    1. One thing that I have noticed, with owning (Ha!) a variety of cats over the years, some cats produce more saliva than other ones. Since cats are always grooming their paws, etc. their saliva is spread all over the area. Whatever substances that are in that saliva (especially when they are excessive spit makers) can cause the reaction you are talking about. It’s similar to a cat scratch reaction. Hope this helps.

  12. My male cat is now 3 1/2 years old . I am retired and pretty much stay at home mostly . Last year I was at a doctors appointment and was gone around 3 hours . When I came home , my cat greeted me as always , then after a few minutes when I tried to pet him he reared back , hissing and snarling . I stepped back , but then he attacked , full on claws and teeth . Hit my leg and I was bleeding from half a dozen wounds . None requiring stitches thank goodness . He wouldn’t interact with me the rest of the day . Next morning he’s back to normal . Every time I left the house for more than an hour he goes into that angry mode now . Usually I will ignore him when I get home and let him calm down . Usually that works but I’ve picked up a few more scars along the way . The vet says it’s because I’m home so much and he misses me and gets mad at me for leaving him alone . Recently I adopted a second cat to keep him company . The 2nd day she was here she started to pee on the carpet and so I picked her up to show her where her litter box was . My boy went nuts and attacked me , not once but 5 times in quick order . I was bleeding from both legs my hip and my arm . He is very protective of her I guess . Yes he is fixed and an indoor cat with lots of toys .But he is a rescue cat , saved from being killed by a pack of dogs when he was about 3 to 4 weeks old that killed his mother and litter mates . He does not like dogs and I’m very careful around people with dogs so I don’t get their scent on me .

  13. The article recommends homeopathic remedies and flower essences. Neither will do a cat or any other creature any good because they are based on pseudo science and near magical
    theories. Tests have shown these remedies often contain harmful ingredients, and most are simply water in a fancy bottle.
    Please do not use quack remedies on your cat. Find a good vet.

    1. Jacqueline Silbiger

      Please do not spread this malicious nonsense that is so insulting to people’s intelligence. I have healed myself, family and cats with homeopathy for years. I was actually cured of a threatening disease with homeopathy, allopathic medicine made it worse. How dare you caste dispersions on this healing system. It is outrageous that people like you are not aware of the power of alternative healing. You are so rigid and limited so full of anger and dislike for what you do not understand.

  14. I have one of the strangest cats that I have ever owned. My mom found him outdoors close to evening at her home & begged me to take him in. Since I have other kitties, He had his own room at first (it actually took a year & a half to get him to semi-accept my other 2 kitties). He seemed friendly enough at first, so we named him Tigger. Wrong name for this one! First vet visit, we were informed that he is part Bobcat. Believe me, he has the screech call that is true to bobcats. We also found out that he had been stuck in a beartrap, but thankfully go free without injury, except for some deep bruising on his back leg & hip area. Now on to the aggressive behavior…this cat will rub up against you & meow sweetly….but if you go to pet him, it’s a full on attack. We’re talking a lunge followed by teeth & all 4 legs, if he can swing it before you get away. His back legs are very strong & double jointed (I’ve never seen such movement out of any other cat I’ve owned–hence the bobcat genes I guess). It is very concerning since visitors (many times without us knowing that they are coming) are often here & this cat greets everyone at the door so sweetly. Help would greatly be appreciated on how to deal with this.

    1. Some cats just dont like to be petted; wild cats especially. He probably doesn’t understand it, when a cat reaches a paw out to something it’s pretty much never a friendly gesture.

    2. I am online looking for help due to a similar problem. I started feeding a stray cat, unneutered male, and he’s very friendly (aggressively so) but if I put a hand down near him (EVEN to put food down for him) , he grabs it hard with his claws. It is not playful, it’s very aggressive, and he got one claw into my hand and really made it bleed! I am going to get him neutered, hoping that helps. Is yours neutered? I am also going to get some thick gloves and pet him to see if he can get used to it. I want him to stay with me but I hate having a cat that terrifies me!

  15. I need help with my Meow! (Yes, that is her name.)
    Although lately we refer to more by her nickname, P.I.T.A (Pain In The… well you get the picture).

    (Brief Background)
    She adopted me about 5 years ago. I lived in a house house where each room was rented out individually, and one of the other tenants brought her to the house. She was hardly ever home, and then she moved out about two months later. Meow who was Gypsy back then was left behind. One night I was in my room and the cat literally came knocking on my door, she was hungry, lonely, and sad.
    I shared my dinner with her, the next day went and bought her the biggest bag of cat food I could find. She came to visit my room everyday. She had a tiny almost silent meow, it was the cutest thing, which is how she got her name.
    We have been through everything together since then, I saved her when she was stolen from me, she stuck by me through a really hard relationship. We were homeless together and lived in a tent in the woods. She’s always been a bit wild, but never aggressive towards me.
    That is until a little over two months ago. It’s not just me that she’s been attacking, but she never used to attack me.
    Now, it seems like no matter what I do, from trying to feed her, play with her, help her, or even absolutely do nothing, she attacks, scratches, and sometimes even bites me pretty much every single day.
    She is fairly spoiled, she knows all she has to do is turn her back on something she doesn’t like and I will drop everything to try to make things right for her. But I figure she deserve it.
    I just don’t know what to do about her aggressive behavior, it really hurts my feelings, not to mention it’s painful, and I’m starting to look like I’ve had a mashap with Freddy Krueger.
    I love this cat so much, but don’t know how to help her through whatever this is. Please help…!

  16. A 2 female cat hone. Both spayed. 7 yr old and youngest becomes aggressive toward me. She’s my favorite. Indoor but screened patio.

    Aggression comes on suddenly…hissing, swatting…???

  17. Cat victim that won

    My cat attacked me when I was about 12 years old because he wanted some food and when I went to give him some it was all gone. I went from the kitchen two rooms away and yelled to my mom was there was any more cat food. She said no. The cat was watching me from a seated position and then ran toward me and jumped on my digging his claws in my chest and legs. I had to fight him off of me. After I won the fight he never attacked me again. Suffice to say I don’t like cats at all.

  18. my sister has a cat that will suddenly attack her. she could be on the computer or just sitting doing nothing and he will attack. she has sent me pictures of a swollen lip and scratches on her arms from him. she has had him for about 3 or 4 years now and this is suddenly happening. I am trying to research for her in order to help her. suggestions??

    1. Can you let me know if you found a solution? My cat is the same and it’s miserable always having cuts and scars due to random attacks

  19. Richard Tincher

    I have two female cats and they’ve been together for many years but all of a sudden my older cat Bella he is being aggressive towards the younger cat I have PB is her name and aggressive to me histon pack me one time I was trying to calm her I don’t know what to do so I took her to the vet to vet gets her anti-depressants I would like for her to be drugged up but I don’t know what to do it’s sad I missed and sometimes the older cat chewed sweet as can be but there’s times that she’s just like evil what should I do PeaceHealth

  20. Hi
    We have a 2 years old regdoll. She is very friendly and kind with children.
    She gave birth a month ago. We never had any issues with her till today. So the problem is my 4 years old live her and play all the time with her.
    Today my 4 years old was watching TV while the cat was sleeping, he screamed and the cat got very aggressive and attacked him badly. Thanks God I wasn’t far to run and help my son. I took my son upstairs because he was scared and bleeding. So after one hour I can downstairs with my son and the cat ran again to attack my son. But because I was there I kicked the cat out of the room.
    I really can’t understand her behaviour how can she be suddenly so aggressive. We love her and for us she is part of our family. Do you think she will attack again? I am very worried about the situation. My son is very scared of her. I am trying to put them in different rooms. And see if the cat is going to be normal otherwise I don’t have Any other options then giving her away, I love her but my son before everything. The other thing that bothers me is about may be she attacks again.
    suggestions please. Can anyone help me to understand this change in her behaviour?
    What should I do?
    Thanks

    1. Where are her kittens? Mother cats are very, very protective of their babies. If you have separated them, or given babies away already, Mommy gonna be very unhappy.

  21. We have 2 cats that are 3 years old and we rescued a kitten things went pretty well. They are all females and all have been spayed. One cat will sleep with the kitten all is fine the other wants nothing to do with her. Times has moved the Kitten is now 1 1/2 years old. The cat that wanted nothing to do with her is now attacking her all the time. She will sit or lay down in an area so the little one can not go to that area without being attacked. The older cat will stare at the young one so that she slinks about the house hoping not to be caught. It is getting hard on us. The young one hissing back at the old one and screaming when she get it by the old cat. We do not know what to do!!!

  22. I don’t know what to do. My husband threw out our second oldest cat, Casper last night. He’s always behaved aggressively when other cats stray onto his territory and has attacked me when I’ve tried to intervene. Two years ago I found a five day old kitten and raised it. Bilbo is a sweet and gentle animal. I intended getting him adopted because we already had three cats and we lived overseas. However, the African country we found Bilbo in has many strays and no one wanted to adopt him. In addition, another kitten needed a home so I took in her. When Bilbo neared two years old a few months ago, Casper suddenly found him a threat and started attacking him. Bilbo is terrified now. We were evacuated back to the US about six weeks ago and the attacks have increased. I woke one morning hearing Bilbo growling by my head. As I lifted my head, Casper leapt up and bit my ear. However, Casper squeezes his eyes closed when I look at him, so I know he doesn’t really mean ME harm. Last night, Casper attacked Bilbo again, my husband got into a rage and terrified Casper. He chased him all over the house, searching him out when he hid. Eventually, at midnight, he opened the door and Casper ran outside. He hasn’t come back- no surprise- but I put out food. When he saw the food, my husband took it back in saying Casper wasn’t coming back. He says he’s not going to allow Bilbo to be terrified all the time. I don’t know what to do. All Casper wants is to be an only cat. He snuggles up on our bed. I’m so upset with the whole thing. Advice please?

    1. Sounds like cats are in a constant state of fear. You may want to rehome both. Your husband is abusive. The cats are being victimized (and maybe you too). Cats have no control or defense. You do.

      1. Agree with this. If your husband is going to be mean to the cats you shouldn’t have them. My husband doesn’t like cats but he isn’t mean to them.

    2. Your husband did not handle the situation well at all. The first thing you should have done was to call your vet & explain the situation. Your cat may do will with pheromones for cats. They plug into the wall & help keep cats calmer. It works. Throwing out an animal is a terrible thing to do. You could have kept the aggressive cat separate until you worked out the problem. Maybe your husband should get tossed out because he has bad behavior.

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