Aggression in cats
The topic of aggression in domestic cats is something that is rarely mentioned or documented in detail. Why? Is it because felines are relatively small and unlikely to cause much harm? They don’t generally need to be taken for walks or introduced to the neighbours. Their aggression can be hidden behind closed doors, as it were. However, the activity logs provided by the Safer Pet GPS cat tracker app can be a handy tool for tracking an aggressive cat's whereabouts.
We all know that aggressive dogs, on the other hand, is an emotive subject that is widely publicised and examined. Even the terminology has been updated over the decades to explain various aspects of unruly and undesirable dog behaviour. Most people are familiar with the milder term ‘reactive’, applied to dogs who kick off after something triggers their behaviour. Then there are the problems of resource guarding and territorial behaviour, and many more issues linked to aggression.
So, what do we know about aggression when it comes to cats?
- It seems that the problem is generally taken less seriously than similar behaviour in dogs.
- It’s highly unusual for people to seek professional help.
- Aggressive feline behaviour is not uncommon.
- Many people feel it’s acceptable, even though it can pose a serious problem.
Possible causes and triggers of feline aggression
The ‘nature versus nurture’ debate can be applied to most personality traits. Is a cat aggressive because it hasn’t been taught to be gentle? Or is it a genetic predisposition inherited from its parents and relatives? There could be other reasons for a cat’s anti-social behaviour:
- Health conditions or pain. Perhaps dental problems, arthritis, broken or damaged bones and limbs or infections.
- Environmental changes that have unsettled the cat – moving house or noise such as building work going on outside, perhaps. There have been reports of cats travelling hundreds of miles in order to return to a previous home. A GPS Cat Tracker can be invaluable in these situations.
- Predatory behaviour – when a cat has an altercation with another cat, or even a dog, it will probably remain in a high state of alarm for a considerable time afterwards.
- Fear, leading to defensive behaviour. A cat’s instinct is fight or flee. After a fight, most cats tend to go to ground, in which case a GPS Cat Tracker will enable you to trace them. Cats have been known to stay away for days.
- Overload of attention or overwhelming the senses. Most cats prefer petting in small doses but many humans want longer cuddles with their pet. The result is often an explosive bite or scratch.
- A cat without access to stimulation tends to be grumpier than one who is encouraged to play.
- Check the side effects of any medications that your cat is taking. They can alter mood and affect your cat’s susceptibility to aggression.
- Even diet has been implicated as a potential contributing factor. Many commercial foods contain cereals, grains and sugars that can cause different cat behaviours.
- If a medical problem is detected, it’s important to work closely with a professional to give your cat the best chance at improving.
It’s important to be aware of subtle signs that indicate a cat is about to display aggressive behaviour. Cats are great communicators and their body language is clear to see once you know what to look for. This is especially important if there are children in the house. Kids are rarely encouraged to notice physical cues that are warning signs of aggression.
Check body posture and facial expressions that suggest high arousal or fear, including the following
- Showing teeth
- Arched back
- Puffed up fur, especially on the back
- Tail held straight upwards
- Ears pulled back
- Dilated pupils
- Attacking with claws and/or teeth
- Attacking another animal around the neck
- Marking territory by chin-rubbing and spraying with urine.
Once you see that the cat is reacting in any of the above ways it is sensible to back off and allow the feline to have a bit of quiet space until things have calmed down. You might want to provide a dark box so that the cat can hide away for a while.
Scratches and bites from cats can be both painful and potentially serious. A bite, for example, is likely to inflict a deep puncture wound. The tooth entry hole is small, however, and the skin tends to heal over – trapping the bacteria inside. This can form an abscess or even transmit disease.
How to reduce the chances of triggering cat aggression
Some of the most useful tips to bear in mind are to maintain vigilance, watch for signs in your cat and be prepared to act fast, even if that means simply stepping back.
Try to avoid direct eye to eye contact between either ‘human and cat’ or ‘cat to cat’. Cats see eye contact as a threat or a challenge and it can easily ignite cat aggression. Two cats can play happily together then a glance in each other’s eyes can cause a fight. This will often end with the submissive cat running away from the situation. If you notice this happening during play between two cats, try to place something between the two before the problem escalates. If you enjoy staring into your cat’s eyes, however, be sure to blink frequently and slowly, as this is a reassuring sign to your cat
Because cats can show signs of aggression when in pain, try not to pick them up unnecessarily when they are suffering. You might want to examine them, however, so approach them with a slow pace and gentle demeanour. They will be aware that you are ‘in-tune’ with their feelings and are more likely to trust you. When you need to catch them in order to take a trip to the vets, try enticing them into a box or carry-basket rather than manhandling them.
If a cat seems unusually nervous, it could be suffering from mental trauma. You might not have witnessed the event, but perhaps your feckless feline is being terrorised by the cat next door, for example. Minimise any aggressive tendencies by enclosing the cat in a secure, comfortable room where they feel safe. Distract with toys, or tasty treats and allow them space to recover their composure before allowing them out again.
Be aware that when you are playing with a cat using life-like toys, they might show aggression. This is quite normal and simulates natural characteristics in the wild. Be prepared to withdraw if the game gets too rough and consider wearing gloves and arm coverings to minimise scratch-risk.
Bear in mind that cats are territorial, some more so than others. If you know you are having visitors who could be bringing a dog, for example, it is kinder to shut your cat away in a safe place where it doesn’t feel threatened and is in control of a smaller space.
Probably the most common incidence of aggression occurs when a cat is being stroked or petted. This can be quite stressful, especially for a shy cat. Limit petting to just a few seconds to start with. Train them to associate this with good things happening. Maybe some tasty treats, for example. There are few cats that want to be stroked or cuddled for long periods of time, so watch for signs of unease.
How to handle an aggressive cat
Cats can be trained, and it’s never too late! Use treats to encourage calm behaviour. Praise your cat when it is behaving in an acceptable manner. Train yourself to understand why the cat has exhibited any unwanted behaviour.
Sometimes the most useful thing you can do is damage limitation. Accept the fact that some cats are more aggressive than others. Then minimise the risk by avoiding triggers.
Keep your cat safe by clipping a Safer Pet GPS Cat Tracker to its collar. It will enable you to trace your pet if it goes missing.
If you do need to handle your aggressive cat and you are somewhat afraid of the flailing claws and teeth, use a large towel. Wrap your cat up securely, taking care not to exert too much pressure. It’s easy to transport a cat in this manner and it won’t come to any harm.