My cat is being aggressive and reactive; what should I do?
Sometimes it is hard to read how your cat is feeling. Aggression in cats can show itself in biting, scratching and even attacking. If your cat is being aggressive, it can be stressful as you might not know why this behavior is happening or how to deter it.
Biting in cats can be explained by multiple reasons, from affection to fear to them trying to groom you as they would groom themselves. No matter the reason, aggression and biting can be behaviors you want to stop. If you have kids at home, are having guests over, or just worried about them injuring you, it is good to know ways to discourage aggressive behavior.
Reasons your cat might be exhibiting aggression
Cats use biting and scratching to show various emotions or even to explore the world around them. It is crucial to notice what might be causing your cat to be reactive and aggressive. There are multiple factors and things that can trigger your feline to bite or lash out. Getting to the root of why your cat reacts this way can help you change their behavior.
Let’s briefly talk about some of the different types of aggression in cats.
- Defensive – If your cat is afraid or perceives a threat, they might react aggressively to protect themselves. Fearful body language will typically accompany this type of aggression, such as tucking their tail, dilated pupils, crouching down, flattening their ears, or hissing. In this case, your cat is probably just scared and naturally reacting.
- Territorial – Cats are territorial animals. If they perceive another animal or person entering their territory, they may retaliate to protect their space. Certain things may trigger this, such as introducing a new animal or person into your home. Your cat may be growing older and starting to feel more protective over their perceived territory.
- Play – Sometimes aggression is triggered by an excited cat trying to play. This play can turn rough and harmful as your cat might use scratching or biting as a way to interact with you. Overly excited cats might become aggressive as they are predatory animals. These instincts might lead them to attack.
- Irritable – If your cat is experiencing pain or is frustrated, it might react with aggression. If you accidentally pet a sore area on your cat, they might get reactive. It is crucial in this case to pay attention to whether your cat is injured so you can get them medical attention.
- Redirected – If your cat sees something it wants to attack or recognizes a threat it cannot reach, it may be indirectly aggressive toward you or others. Because your cat cannot reach what they need to attack, it will direct this aggression to whatever is near them.
- Idiopathic – This type of aggression is not easily explained, as it does not have a specific cause. Cats who experience idiopathic aggression may be violent for no reason. This type of aggression can be confused with redirected aggression, so it is essential to note whether something has triggered this aroused state or if it is unexplainable. This type of aggression can be hard to avoid as some cats are simply more prone to being aggressive. In this case, it is important to be aware that your cat is often overly aggressive to protect yourself and others.
How can I deter or stop aggression?
Knowing why your cat is being aggressive is the first step, but how can you change this behavior? Any aggression can be worrying as it can result in injury for you, other people or other animals. There are a few ways you can work with your cat to mitigate this aggression and improve their reactiveness.
- Consider possible medical issues – If you notice a sudden shift in the aggression levels of your feline, it could be because they are experiencing an injury or illness. Determining if there is an underlying medical issue is a good place to start when fixing your cat’s behavior. Behavioral changes are one of the signs that your cat is sick. Cats will react to pain with aggression; it is good to look for other symptoms. Consult your vet if you think your cat needs medical attention; treating the issue can help reduce reactive behavior.
- Give them space – Certain types of aggression in your cat will resolve themselves as they calm down. If they are scared or agitated, it is best to leave them alone. While cats are in heightened states, it is natural for them to lash out. Let your cat decompress to avoid them taking this aggression out on you. Redirected aggression specifically can lead to your cat causing you or others harm after it is triggered. If your cat is trying to attack, remove yourself and other animals until their aroused state has subsided.
- Don’t approach them – If you notice your cat is showing signs of agitation, you may want to comfort them. Similar to the point above, do not approach an aroused cat. If you do, you may be placing yourself in harm’s way as your cat’s reaction is often unpredictable when they are scared.
- Seek professional advice – Repeated unexplained aggression in your cat can be frustrating. If they aren’t specific triggers that are making your cat bite or scratch, you can ask a behavioral expert about how to mitigate these behaviors. You can create a specific strategy for your cat and work to improve their behavior.
- Recognize their triggers – If specific things are consistently making your cat aggressive, you can work to help desensitize them. Also, knowing what might make your cat bite or attack means, you can avoid them. For example, if you know that guests entering your home makes your cat reactive, it might be best to work with them to make them more comfortable in these situations and show them there is nothing to be afraid of. Take baby steps and use positive reinforcements in anxiety-inducing situations to help them feel more comfortable. You can also avoid these things entirely, such as closing your blinds if you know seeing people and animals walk by will make your cat redirect their aggression.
- Positive reinforcement – When dealing with a consistently aggressive cat, you can reward good behavior to teach them what is acceptable. If your cat exhibits non-aggressive behavior, give them a treat and praise. Just as you might reprimand your cat by walking away or yelling “ow!” if they bite you, show them that good behavior will be rewarded.
Cats will often exhibit aggression for many reasons; it is an instinctual response. Recognize what might be causing your cat to react this way and rule out any medical issues with your vet. If your vet doesn’t find any underlying medical problems, consulting a behavioral expert might be in your best interest.
With accident & illness cat insurance plans provided by Spot, eligible treatments for behavioral problems are covered! Keeping your cat happy and healthy will help with aggression and make life better for you and your feline family member.
Feline Behavioral Problems: Aggression | (vet.cornell.edu)
My Cat Is Being Aggressive Towards Me, What Should I Do? | (rspca.org.au)
Causes of Sudden Aggression in Cats | (petmd.com)