Educational Resources

Feline Aggression

Understanding & Avoiding Feline Aggression

Many people have experienced stinging cat scratches or the shocking pain of a deep cat bite. Most attacks occur under circumstances that are likely to induce an aggressive response, and theoretically should be easy to avoid. When your cat is afraid, feeling vulnerable, or is in pain, acting aggressively serves as a defense mechanism. But one can become a victim in unexpected ways as well. Some cats turn on their owners or other cats in the household after observing other cats or wildlife outdoors. Redirected aggression can also be triggered by other stressful events, such as a visit to the veterinary office. In this case, the patient comes home and may attack either the owner or another cat in the home.

Play aggression is a common problem in young cats, especially those living indoors without playmates. While sometimes this behavior appears vicious, it is normal behavior for cats as they hone their predatory skills. The most disturbing form of feline aggression is intense, unprovoked attacks that occur without warning, often in cats that have been previously docile and predictable. On closer evaluation, some of these cats actually have redirected aggression or an illness causing discomfort, but a very few have "epileptic aggression." This neurological condition may require use of anti-convulsant drugs. Aggression brought on by anxiety can also be managed pharmacologically, although removal of stressful stimuli is far more effective.

To avoid feline aggression in your home:

  • Protect yourself when handling your injured or stressed cat.
  • Do not rely on sedatives. A cat's adrenaline response will usually over-ride the effect and use of more potent tranquilizers can endanger your cat's health.
  • Be aware that a cat may stay "on edge" for many hours and sometimes days after a stressful event, making you and other cats targets for redirected aggression.
  • Understand that declawing is not an effective treatment for any form of aggression.
  • Do not overstimulate your cat's vulnerable areas: excessive petting over the rump or on the belly frequently elicits defensive behavior.
  • Evaluate your cat's environment: block view of outside if necessary, address inter-cat relationship problems, treat medical disorders causing discomfort, and provide plenty of safe, comfortable beds and scratching posts for each cat in the household.

Minimize play aggression by dedicating time to interactive play every day. Never allow (train) them to attack your hands in play.

Reminder: Cat bites can be serious, always consult with your physician.

This article is from Cats Exclusive's Fall 2010 Mewsletter

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