Understanding a cat’s body language during “normal” circumstances can help you identify when they are acting out of character. It enables cat parents to “read” their cats and understand their feelings and motivations for doing what they do. Knowing cat postures and what they mean can help owners deal with issues more effectively.
Young cats can be prone to playing vigorously, but when the play is directed toward people or becomes overly rambunctious, it can cause injury and damage to household items. Play aggression involves the cat approaching the target (stalking) and then leaping. There is usually no warning growl or hiss. It can also involve predatory behaviours such as, stalking, chasing, attacking, running, pouncing, leaping, swatting, fighting and biting.
Young cats as kittens who were not raised with littermates, or had a lack of opportunities to play, sometimes show play aggression. Cats learn with their littermates that if they are biting or scratching too hard, the other kittens stop playing or retaliate. Kittens raised on their own early on may not learn this.
Steps to help:
For some reasons still unknown, some cats may suddenly become aggressive while being petted. Possible causes are overstimulation or an attempt by the cat to gain control when petting ends. Handling, bathing, grooming and nail trimming can also cause this type of aggression. Often the cat will have dilated pupils, tail lashing, and ears moved backwards on the head before becoming aggressive. Some cats don’t tolerate being petted for a long period. The cat tends to be content while being petted initially, then suddenly it attacks the person, jumps down, runs a short distance, sits, and grooms, with pupils, dilated.
This may be seen when a cat encounters unfamiliar stimuli, such as a new person, animal, or noise, or even when exposed to an unpleasant event such as a trip to the vet. Cats usually display fear aggression when they feel threatened, especially when cornered.
Ears will generally be turned back, and the tail and body lowered. Teeth can show and there may be hissing.
The best way to deal with fear aggression is to identify and avoid fear situations that produce a fearful response. Then you can attempt gradual desensitisation by briefly exposing the cat to the fearful situation, then reward non-aggressive behaviour with food and praise.
Re-directed aggression occurs when a cat is aroused and agitated by an animal or person who they can’t get to due to a barrier (such as a window or door). Unable to get to the trigger, the cat may lash out to anyone (human or animal) nearby or approaching the cat.
Cats that are in pain may act aggressively toward people or other pets in an attempt to avoid touch, movement or certain activities that might worsen the pain. For example, cats with osteoarthritis may resent having their joints touched, and may bite, hiss or scratch in response.
Owners can manage pain-induced aggression by working with a vet to establish a plan for pain management and refraining from touching painful parts of a cat’s body.
Common situations that trigger territorial aggression:
If you would like more information on feline aggression, please contact your local Vetwest veterinarian.