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How To Deal With Aggression in Cats

October 30, 2020

Do you know of or live with an aggressive cat? Have you wondered why they are behaving that way? More often than not, aggression in cats has more than one underlying reason. Once we understand why it happens and how to stop it, we can have happier pet cats and safer homes.

Aggression is a type of violent behavior that is used to dominate or intimidate another animal of the same or different species. It is one of the most common behavioral problems in cats. However, here's the problem - the way this behavior manifests in cats is complex and challenging and hence, finding strategies to eliminate it is hard. The outcomes of feline aggression can start from people sustaining minor injuries to abandonment. Hence, you must understand the cause of your pet's aggressive behavior and develop a plan to intervene successfully.

The most common signs of aggression are dilated pupils, ears flattened backwards, tail erect, hair raised, and an arched back. Fear manifests signs that are very similar to that of aggression - dilated pupils, ears flattened and held outward, whiskers flattened or pressed down onto the face, tail tucked under the body, and head in the air lying chest up back down. Cats usually display a combination of one or more types of signs at a time.

To get to the bottom of this, we must first understand the root cause. So the million dollar question is: what causes aggressive behavior? For that, we must delve into the different types of aggression that you might have witnessed/should be aware of:

  • Aggression from play: stems from play, occurs in pet cats that are not socialized properly.
  • Fear-based aggression: arises from unfamiliar stimuli
  • Petting-induced aggression: seen in pet cats when they are overstimulated—for example, excessive petting or touching where they may not feel comfortable.
  • Pain-induced aggression: arises when they are in pain or certain discomfort.
  • Status-induced aggression: relatively common and stems from people trying to assert social dominance.
  • Territorial aggression: seen in cats that assert territorial dominance.

Now that you know the different types of aggressive behaviors, you will be able to identify them better. Let's go on to see what you can do about them:

  • The first step is to ensure that there is no underlying medical reason. Pain-induced aggression must be ruled out. Cornell's Feline Health Center has listed diseases such as hyperthyroidism, osteoarthritis, dental disease, FeLV (feline leukemia), FIV (feline immunodeficiency) and FIP (feline infectious peritonitis, a viral disease) and central nervous system problems to cause aggression in cats. It is crucial, therefore, to consult a veterinarian before attempting to correct aggressive behavior through other means. Once you and your veterinarian have ruled out the possibility of a medical condition, aggression can be helped through a correction in the cat's behavior, your behavior and the external environment.
  • When it comes to aggression, the earlier you intervene and help, the better. Physical punishment, in no way, helps reduce aggression. Cats are independent thinkers and don't take well to signs of dominance or harsh correction (and rightly so!). Physical punishments solely escalate the situation and can increase their fear or anxiety. If you find yourself in a situation of aggressive behavior, instead of using physical punishment, startle an aggressive cat without physical contact. This is done by making a shrill noise or sharp whistling. However, it is best to avoid situations that you know for sure are going to make them aggressive.
  • Another useful trick to curb aggression is to use treats as positive behavior enforcers. Every time your cat does something that you appreciate, reward him or her with a yummy treat. Your cat is more likely to keep doing the same actions because she knows that she is getting rewarded for it.
  • Aggressive cats can be a danger to others and often to themselves too. If two or more cats are fighting, make a loud, shrill noise or create another distraction that will separate them. If your cat is fearful, you'll be tempted to pet or console them, but they may perceive this as a threat. Therefore, please don't attempt to approach or touch them until they're ready. And, they will let you know when.
  • When they are playing aggressively, walk away instead of trying to correct the behavior physically. This should teach them that inappropriate aggressive play results in no play at all. It is hard to believe, but aggression also stems for lack of playtime. Cats and kittens don't know how to use their time and energy and resort to aggression out of boredom. Using interactive toys and scheduling fun playtime takes away boredom and lowers the level of possible aggression. Interactive toys can spark interest and encourage confidence in fearful cats. It is important to create a routine that has a specific time for play - that way your cat will look forward to that time of the day, and it becomes a part of their daily expectations.
  • If you live with cats of the same sex or are experiencing cat-on-cat aggression, neutering, or spaying might help. This is done before their first birthday.

These are some of the practices that you can put into action so you don’t turn into a cat scratch pole. However, cats with behavior trouble require effort, patience, consistency and love and do not change from aggressive to well-behaved overnight.

Remember that aggression is not a diagnosis, but an outcome of an emotional state. Now that you know how to understand your cat's behavior and turn combative into calm, you can enjoy their love and share a lifetime of happiness.

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