Animal behaviorists state that aggression is the second most widespread feline behavior-related problem. Cat aggression tends to not be viewed as seriously as dog aggression, either because dogs tend to be generally larger than cats and cats don’t run after people. Nonetheless, cats when aggressive are formidable, as they are equipped with 2 potential weapons (claws and teeth), while a dog only has its mouth.
Cats can meter out severe lacerations and bite. These can be painful and can then become infected. These can also cause cat scratch fever, which is a typically benign yet potentially dangerous infectious disease with symptoms similar to that of flu. Catfights rarely end in fatalities, however, they can cause infections that could result in large veterinary bills for cat owners. Aggressive cats can also become a health risk to keep at home, as they can pose a danger to visitors and family.
What Is Aggression?
Aggression can be defined as harmful or threatening behavior focused on either a person, a cat, or any other animal. Almost all wild animals show aggression in a bid to protect their territories, defend their young, and protect their selves in the case of an attack. Aggression in this stead referred to a large array of multifaceted behaviors that happen for varying reasons under different circumstances. Aggressive behavior in pet cats can vary from cats hissing and then avoiding cats who choose to attack.
Understanding Cat Body Language
Getting to grips with the communication cats make via their body language is important for cat owners, as it helps them to accurately know their cats and understand their motivations and feelings behind the things they do. Additionally, it helps owners respond more effectively to behavioral issues such as aggression.
Body language consists of a cat’s facial expression, body posture, and the location and placement of some body parts such as whiskers, tail, and ears. The body language of a cat is a bit more subtle than that of a dog which makes it harder to read.
Aggression and threats can either be defensive or offensive. An aggressive cat on the offensive tries to make itself appear larger, whereas a defensive one takes on a more protective posture by making itself smaller. Below are general postures associated with feline aggression. It is imperative not to attempt to touch, punish, or reassure cats when they are in the postures below.
Some offensive postures:
- A straight-legged stiff upright stance
- Hardened rear legs, with the rear raised in a downward slope towards the head.
- Stiff tail
- Direct stare
- Upright ears
- Constricted pupils
- Howling, growling, or yowling
Some defensive postures:
- Head tucked in
- The tail is tucked in or curved around the body
- Piloerection (hackles up)
- Sideways or backward flattened ears on the head
- Sideways posture towards the opponent
- Spitting or hissing
- Quick paw strikes with claws out.
Classification of Aggressive Behavior
If your cat has become aggressive or was aggressive, it is best to slowly and properly evaluate each scenario that caused it to act in that manner. Who was the aggression focused on? Where and when did it occur? Was there something that happened at least 30 minutes before the aggression? Finding out the answers to the questions asked can help you understand the circumstances that triggered the aggressive behavior in your cat, while also providing insight as to why this is occurring.
It is important to bear in mind that various medical conditions can create or increase a cat’s aggressive behavior. Some of these conditions are hyperthyroidism, toxoplasmosis, epilepsy, arthritis, abscesses, dental disease, trauma, rabies, and cognitive dysfunction typically seen in older cats. The initial step is to have a full veterinarian examination carried out on your pet to ascertain its physical health.
Aggressive behavior in cats can be categorized in varied ways. A good method to help understand the underlying cause of your cat’s aggressive behavior is to focus on the purpose and function of said aggression.
The most easily understood and obvious kind of aggressive feline behavior happens amongst unneutered males. When males get to adulthood, they begin to challenge others for territories and mates. Roaming tom cats usually get into actual fights as well as threatening standoffs. They stand or sit stifle with their hackles raised and begin to stare each other down. Their ears go backward, and they might hiss, growl, or howl loudly.
Household cats typically have aggressive behavior that is more complex and subtle than conflicts between 2 outdoor males. It is sometimes so subtle that cat owners aren’t often aware of it. The aggressor cat may posture, which then causes the recipient to try to appear smaller and leave to avoid any confrontation. Aggression in this manner can happen between females or even males and females. It is sometimes related to physical activity or size, with large or more energetic cats intimidating the less active smaller ones. It could also be down to a dearth of happy social experiences.
Defensive or Fearful
Fear aggression happens when a cat senses a threat, which then escalates as it is unable to flee. The more threatening the animal, person, sound, or object is to the cat, the more intensified its fear reaction becomes. Characteristic body postures linked with defensive or fearful aggression can be several defensive signs like crouching, tail tucking, ear flattening, leaning away, pupil dilation, and rolling to the side. These aggressive signals become displayed especially if it is unable to escape the stressor. The best way to deal with a defensively aggressive cat is to avoid it until it calms down.
Many species of animals, cats included tend to keep out or expel others from their marked territory. Both females and males are territorial, however, males typically defend a larger territory than females. The territorial aggression of cats is typically focused on other cats, however, it could also be directed toward people and dogs. A cat could direct territorial aggression towards certain family members and not to others. Felines typically mark their territory by spraying urine, chin rubbing, and patrolling. They sometimes stalk, ambush, or chase an intruder all the while showing body posture that is offensive like growling, swatting, and hissing. Some of the more widespread situations in which territoriality is triggered are:
- A household kitten reaches sexual maturity
- A new cat is brought into the household and the family
- New and drastic changes in the household such as moving or a new family member are introduced.
- Roaming or stray cats entering the cat’s territory
Rough play is natural and common amongst kittens and cats younger than 2 years of age. Notwithstanding, a cat’s playful intentions, such play when directed towards people could become overly rowdy which could then cause injury or damage to items in the house. Play aggression is typically directed by cats to their owners.
It usually involves play and predatory behaviors such as chasing, stalking attacking, ambushing, running, leaping, swatting, fighting, biting, and grasping. It is believed that via play with other cats, kittens can learn to impede their rough play in a way that those orphaned or weaned before an appropriate time could not learn. Some other factors that contribute to aggression during play are long solitary hours without any opportunities to play and when a pet owner encourages them to attack their hands and feet while playing.
Redirected aggression can be described as the most dangerous form of cat aggression as the bites are not inhibited and the attacks could be damaging or frightening. Unfortunately, it’s an extremely common form of feline aggression. It typically happens when a cat becomes aggressively aroused or agitated by a person or an animal, it is unable to get to, as, there is a window in between them. Since the cat is unable to get to the agitation’s trigger, it then turns around to lash out at who or whatever is close by (a dog, a cat, or a person. This is typically where cat owners sometimes refer to this form of aggression as surprising or unprovoked. Cat owners are typically not even aware of the primary trigger. A redirected attack happens only when the agitated feline is approached or if someone is close by. The cat does not venture out searching for someone or something to attack. This form of attack is neither intentional nor malicious. It can be likened to a reflex, something that is done autonomously without thinking. This is why it isn’t a great idea to intervene in a fight between cats or come close to a cat that is agitated and showing offensive or defensive aggression postures.
A couple of known redirected aggression triggers are:
- seeing another cat via a window or door
- Stalking or watching squirrels, birds, or any other prey items
- Catching the scent of another on a piece of clothing, visitors
- Hearing high-pitched sounds
- Being harassed or frightened by a dog
- The intervention of a person in a catfight
Certain cats relish being held, petted, carried, and hugged. Others merely endure activities like these from their owners, and they prefer to not be petted rather than carried. A couple does not like to be petted at all. Aggression induced by petting happens when the cat becomes irritated by the petting and then nips at the person petting it only to jump off and run. This form of aggression is not easily understood, however, behaviorists believe that physical contact can rapidly become unpleasant if it is constantly repeated. Repetitive contact could induce arousal, pain, and excitement. This form of aggression is commonly found in males rather than females. It is best to stop petting your cat when it signals you to stop.
With the vigilant observation of the communication signals of the cat, you should see warning signals like:
- The rapid turning of the head in the direction of the offending hand
- Flipping or twitching of the tail
- Ear flattening or rotation of the ears backward and forwards
- Dilating pupils
Pain-induced and Irritable
Irritable and pain-induced aggression is triggered by frustration, deprivation, or pain and it can be focused on objects, animals, and people. Any animal, humans included can lash out when in considerable pain, so it should be no surprise when a fully socialized and typically docile animal lashes out when hurt, in pain, or when someone attempts to touch a part of it that is painful. Felines with aggression issues should be checked for any underlying physiological or medical issues, especially painful diseases like dental pain, arthritis, and abscesses incurred from fighting. Punishing the cat is not only futile in changing the behavior of a cat, but it could also prompt pain-induced aggression while worsening other forms of aggression such as territorial and fear aggression.
Every mother, no matter the species has an instinct to protect her young from any potential danger. This form of aggression typically happens when a mother cat with kittens is advanced to animals or people she views as a threat. Maternal aggression is more than often directed at other cats, however, it can sometimes be focused on people as well. Mother cats, known as queens can become aggressive when protecting their young. This is typically seen in the first couple of days after birth. It is best to not handle kittens in the initial days after their birth.
Idiopathic aggression can be described to include any form of aggression of which the cause cannot be ascertained or elucidated via either a medical examination or detailed behavioral history. Felines with this form of aggression can violently attack their owners. They could repeatedly bite and remain in a state of arousal for a prolonged period. Redirected aggression must be closely deliberated and eradicated as a conceivable cause before the diagnosis of idiopathic aggression is delivered.
Cat owners must understand various cat behaviors. This article aims to show cat owners why these pets exhibit various behaviors and how exactly to pinpoint them.