How to Stop Aggression in Cats

how to stop aggression in cats

How to Stop aggression in cats? That’s precisely the question I asked myself when my cat was giving me some trouble. She wouldn’t let any stranger inside the house. So I did some research and got the answer;

It can be done, and it is not as difficult as you might think. Granted, it can be tedious and you do need some patience. Some forms of feline aggression can be solved with clicker training others might need a different approach such as Pheromones. But I’ll go into detail with this later in this article.

If you’re a cat owner, then you’ve probably had to deal with cat aggression at least a couple of times. In fact, aggression in cats is one of the most common issues pet owners have. 

Quite often, cat aggressive behavior is overlooked or not taken as seriously as aggression in dogs. This could be explained by the size difference: dogs tend to be much bigger than cats. Additionally, dogs, when aggressive, tend to pursue people in order to bite them. Not something a cat would typically do, although they can run after people to scratch them if they try to protect their kittens.

This doesn’t mean that you should take the issue lightly. A cat can, if provoked sufficiently, cause a great deal of harm. They have four clawed paws and a mouth with spiky teeth. They are really fast and can jump on your face, in an instant, if they so wish to. If a cat bites or scratches you, you will most likely initially feel pain, but besides that, you can easily get infected, since a cat will quite often have residues of fecal matter embedded in its claws.

So let’s find out what’s the different types of cat aggression, what signs to look out for, what the triggers are, and finally how to stop the aggression in the cat.

What Is Considered an Aggressive Behavior in a Cat?

Aggressive behavior is threatening or hurting another person or pet. All animals can exhibit aggressive behaviors to guard their territories, to protect themselves, or their offsprings.

Sometimes aggressive behaviors can be merely a reflex or an instinct, not something the cat can control. Other times it can be the result of growing up without getting sufficient training or being taken away from his mother and litter too early.

The behavior of an aggressive cat can range from hissing and hiding to biting and scratching.

What Are the Different Types of Cat Aggression?

There are a few different types of aggression. It is important to know the difference between each type because they all need to be resolved in their own manner. I’m going to list the most common ones here below and further down the page we will go over how to handle each type of aggression.

Fear-Related Aggression

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One of the most common causes of cat aggression is fear-related aggression. A portion of cats simply inherit this gene and will act in an aggressive manner every time they are frightened.

It can have a multitude of triggers. It could be an umbrella opening-up, it could be a man wearing a jacket, a woman, or really any kind of inanimate objects, such as cucumbers like you probably seen in the viral clips.

Fear-related aggression can escalate if the cat is feeling trapped with no apparent way to escape. 

Injury or Pain-Related Aggression

Just like us humans, if we’re in pain we tend to become easily aggressive. Cats are no different, well except that they get physically aggressive, since they can’t really curse you out (if they could they would). 

One instance of pain-related aggression could be if you accidentally stepped on one of your poor cat’s paws. That hurts both you emotionally and your cat physically. This would usually also make your cat aggressive, and would not be in the mood to listen to you trying to explain how sorry you are.

An instance of Injury-related aggression could be if your cat has a hidden wound under the fur and you accidentally put pressure on it while trying to stroke his back. Your cat would feel pain, get aggressive, might try to scratch you, and then run away.

It is recommended to get your cat examined by your vet if he is exhibiting injury or pain-related aggression.

Petting Induced Aggression

Some cats like being petted more than others, some cats hate it when you pet them in certain areas, and almost all cats will bite you if you pet them on their belly. Cats do not like to expose their bellies, it is a very vulnerable spot.

Usually, when you’re petting your cat too much he will get tired of it, and eventually, it will annoy him. Petting your cat behind the ears or around the head area and on the back is usually fine for a long time but at some point, your cat will have enough of it and get aggressive if he can’t make an easy escape. Giving your cat attention is a good thing but always with moderation.

Territorial Aggression

Territorial aggression is most common in non-sterilized male cats. But females and sterilized cats can also exhibit territorial aggression. The territory can be anything that the cat deems his, ranging from your house and its surrounding area down to the litterbox, with in-between things such as the couch in the living room or perhaps even you.

The triggers that can cause territorial aggression are for the most part:

  • A new cat (or dog) in the house.
  • A kitten reaching maturity
  • Moving houses
  • Other cats in the neighborhood invading its territory

Redirected Aggression

This is perhaps the scariest form of feline Aggression because very often it seemingly happens out of the blue. One moment your cat is fine the next he is completely different.

Redirected Aggression is, as the name would suggest, a type of aggression that is redirected towards another person or pet when the cat can’t reach the primary source of the aggression.

It could happen if for example your cat is looking out the window and sees another cat walking by on his territory. It will irritate your cat quite a bit and since he is separated by the window, he can’t take his anger out on the cat outside. Instead, your cat will redirect the aggression towards either you or your other pets.

Other scenarios that can cause redirected aggression could be:

  • Loud unusual noise coming from the outside or from the neighbors
  • Being frightened by a dog
  • A bird nearby the cat on the other side of the window
  • Smelling a foreign cats scent
  • Interfering in a catfight

On the bright side with this type of aggression, your cat will usually calm down on his own, and will not go looking for someone to take his aggression out on. It can happen if you get close to the cat, and even then if he lashes out at you he usually doesn’t do it on purpose, or with ill intent. That could be considered as a sort of reflex, that he will just do automatically without being able to stop himself – Thus why you should never interfere in a catfight.

That is perhaps one of the hardest forms of aggression to prevent or foresee, but it is possible. Your pet will exhibit signs such as; 

  • Ears pulled back
  • High pitched noises
  • Dilated pupils
  • Agitated tail

Playful Aggression

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Might be misunderstood by many and not considered as a form of feline aggression – It is. When there is rough play the cat bites and scratches you excessively to a point that it hurts and leaves traces on your skin.

Playful Aggression is usually something that the cat will learn to not do whilst still a kitten. When playing with his brothers and sisters in the same litter they will learn from each other that biting hurts if it’s too hard and will know just how hard is ok to bite.

If the cat didn’t have the opportunity to grow up with his litter and was taken away too early, it is possible that he might not have learned these boundaries yet.

That’s also why you should generally not play with your cat and kitten using your hands, always use toys. If the cat is used to play with your fingers or any other body part he will start thinking that your fingers are prey for pouncing. 

Predatory Aggression

A cat is a predator, it is in the cat’s blood to hunt, therefore many experts won’t consider this behavior a type of aggression.

I’m adding it because it shares a lot of the same aspects with other forms of feline aggression. So it could help us understand the behavior better.

When a cat sets eyes on a potential prey he will enter hunting mode, and begin his predatory sequence – silently approaching the prey and stalking it. His tail might twitch and his butt might wobble from side to side. When the moment feels right he will strike and deliver a bite to the neck of the prey that will if successful, paralyze or kill it.

Cats are great hunters they have perfect vision in the dark and sensitivity to high-pitched sounds that they use to locate their prey. They can approach their prey in complete silence and can be lightning-fast when they strike.

Maternal Aggression

This is a form of aggression common with most mother cats. All Mother cats have instincts that tell them to protect their litter at all costs. A Mother will rarely let anybody approach her kittens, and she will attack anybody who attempts to do so. It is better to avoid interfering as much as possible in the first few days after the mother delivered a new litter.

What Signs To Look Out For?

Fortunately, there are signs and they are easily recognizable once you know them. The body language of the cat is universal and very intuitive. As for aggressive behavior, these are the signs you will notice:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Piloerection (when the fur is hackled up)
  • The tail can be stiff or put between the legs o
  • Ears pulled back
  • Crouching and butt wiggling
  • Direct stare
  • Hissing

How to Stop the Aggression in the Cat?

Fortunately, there are a lot of very efficient ways of stopping aggression in cats. We will go over them one by one;

Stopping Territorial Related Aggression

Pheromones can effectively and quickly resolve territorial related aggression in cats.

What are Pheromones for Cats? 

Pheromones are chemicals, they act just like hormones with the exception that they are meant to be on the outside of the cat. They are a safe non-drug alternative to use with no side effects for stressed cats and kittens (study).

Pheromones are a form of scent cats are using to communicate with each other. It’s like a universal language for cats. They are not detectable to humans to the smell won’t bother you. Different kinds of pheromones release have a different meaning and influence different behaviors. 

A cat has pheromone glands at various places on the body, most of them being around the head.

These places are:

  • On the chin
  • Lower ears
  • Forehead
  • Cheeks
  • Around the mouth
  • Paw pads
  • Nipples (for female cats only)
  • Urine

So when your cat wants to send a message to all other cats he will do the following:

  • Scratch Items 
  • Rub the body on objects
  • Rub their head on objects (or you)
  • Bump heads with you or other animals
  • Spray urine to mark territory

Each one of them sends a different message to other cats (some good and some bad). But we don’t need to go too deep into details here. The essential thing to know is that the kind of pheromones we want to use is sending a good message to the cat. It will be used to reduce stress-induced behavior in the cat. We recommend you give Feliway Classic Spray or diffuser a try it’s what seems to work the best at the moment.

How to Use the Cat Pheromones?

You can spray anywhere as long as it’s not directly on the cat, here are a few recommendations:

  • If you opt for the Feliway Classic diffuser simply place it in a room your cat has displayed aggressive behavior within or stressful behavior, or in a room where your cat will spend a lot of time.
  • If your cat is fighting are the food bowl when it’s dinner time give that area a spray.
  • You can spray his favorite sleeping spot.
  • By the window, if your cat likes to sit and lookout.
  • You could also spray nearby the litterbox.
  • Your cats favorite hiding spots
  • Some of his toys or favorite pillows to sleep on.

When to Use Pheromones?

Pheromones are generally used when a cat is displaying stress-related aggressive behaviors, like when you would adopt a new cat or trying to get the cat to the vet, here’s a few examples of when your cat could display stress-related aggressive behaviors:

  • Moving in or moving out.
  • Before and after a party.
  • Remodeling.
  • Adopting a new cat
  • Vet trips
  • Car rides
  • Another kitten in the household reaches the age of maturity.

Stopping Fear Related Aggressive Behaviors.

You firstly need to identify the triggers. A cat will often become aggressive when scared. They have learned that responding in an aggressive way towards fear triggers have quite often gotten rid of the scary object, person, or animal. It’s hard to get rid of an old habit for cats as well.

Ideally, the best way to stop fear-related aggression is to change the association to the fear trigger. In order to slowly encourage your cat to let go of the fear.

Once you’ve identified the fear trigger, let’s say it’s an umbrella. Start by placing it 10 feet away from the cat. If he shows no signs of fear slowly work your way closer and closer to the cat. Let this process take a long time as necessary and do not forget to always reward your cat each time he makes progress with a treat. Showing your cat that there’s no reason at all to be scared.

Create safe spaces meant only for your cat all around the house. Where your cat should always be able to run and hide inside. Safe spaces could be anything such as; boxes, the top of the shelf (don’t forget to remove anything that can break), or behind the couch. Safe Spaces will make your cat feel more secure.

How to Stop Petting Induced Aggression

To stop petting-induced aggression, if your pet really doesn’t like being petted. I would always recommend clicker training.

Clicker training is, as the name would suggest, training your cat with the help of a device that makes a clicking sound. Every time you make a clicking noise, it means that your cat did the right thing then reward your cat with a treat. Soon your cat will associate the clicking sound with positive reinforcement.

Start petting your cat a little bit and perhaps after 2 strokes without any kind of aggressive behaviors from your cat make the clicking sound, and reward your cat with a treat. Repeat this process but increase the number of strokes each time. It is a very effective and humane way of quickly training your cat.

Should your cat decide to show aggressive behaviors during the training process, and bite or lash out at you –  do not yell, simply leave the room and ignore your cat completely for a moment. This is to mimic the behavior a mother cat is doing to its kittens when a kitten is biting her too hard.

How to stop Playful Aggression?

To stop playful aggression the best way is to make your cat play with toys and not with your body parts. Again it can be cute and fun to play with a kitten using your hands but later on, when the kitten turns into a cat his biting and scratching will hurt you. Always give your cat a lot of playtimes each day and use a variety of toys to play with.

I recommend using a faux fur pompom attached to a leather string when playing. It’s a great toy for your cat, he can chase the faux fur pompom and bite the leather string.

Contrarily some cats will get aggressive if they don’t get enough playtime. This is especially happening if your cat is the only pet in the household. Usually, when there are two or more cats they will play with each other.

get used to tossing a toy for your cat whenever you see him. Have cat toys all around the house so there’s always something new and exciting to play within reach. 

Contact Your Local Veterinarian

Some cats will exhibit aggressive behaviors because of a medical condition or injury or even a change in diet. Additionally, medication your cat is currently taking could result in aggressive behaviors. If you’re unsure as to why your cat is suddenly acting in an aggressive manner check with your veterinarian.

Aggression is never easy to diagnose it is complex and has many aspects to it. It can be dangerous, even a veterinarian or a professional cat trainer will get bitten from time to time. Do not hesitate to contact a pet trainer in your area.

Wish you the best of luck with your little angry kitty.

“A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”― Ernest Hemingway

Read more about cat behaviors here.

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