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How to Solve Aggressive Cat Behavior

After litter box issues, aggressive cat behavior is the second most common reason cats end up in shelters or re-homed. If you are dealing with an aggressive cat that attacks people or other cats, don’t take it personally. Aggressive cat behavior doesn’t mean you have a “bad cat”—it means there’s a problem that needs to be corrected. Read our guide to help figure out what’s going on—and how to solve it.

Five Steps to Solve Aggressive Cat Behavior

1. Diagnose the problem.

You can’t help your aggressive cat unless you understand what’s going on. Aggressive cat behavior is a complex issue, and there are several major types of cat aggression.

  • Fearful or defensive aggression:

    Cats that feel cornered or threatened will often attack as a protective measure. A cat that adopts a defensive posture—hunched back, tail down, ears back—before an attack may be exhibiting this type of aggression.

  • Territorial aggression:

    Cats are territorial by nature, and may aggressively defend their territory—especially against other cats, but sometimes against people. If your cat shows other territorial behaviors, such as urine spraying or chin rubbing, or is aggressive only towards specific cats or humans, he or she may be territorial.

  • Play aggression:

    Cats, and especially kittens, use play as a way to practice and develop their hunting and fighting skills. Aggression during play is normal, but kittens must be taught early not to direct aggressive play against humans.

  • Redirected aggression:

    If a cat’s aggressive instincts are triggered by something he or she can’t get at—like a bird or dog outside a closed window—the cat may lash out unprovoked when approached. If your cat attacks unpredictably or “out of the blue” in seemingly peaceful circumstances, you may be experiencing redirected aggression.

    To learn more about these types of aggression—and to explore other potential causes of aggressive cat behavior—visit the ASPCA website.

2. Assess the environment.

Once you understand why your cat is acting aggressively, take a look at your home environment. Noise, boredom, or too much competition for resources such as food or the litter box can all cause aggression. Make sure you provide plenty of access to calm “escape” spots, playtime, and other resources.

3. Modify the behavior.

Some types of aggressive cat behavior, such as play aggression, respond well to simple behavior modification techniques. Use deterrents like clapping your hands to interrupt aggressive behavior, followed by ignoring your cat until the behavior stops. Never use physical punishment, even light taps—these can make the problem worse. Offer rewards like affection and treats when your cat is calm.

4. Visit the vet.

Not every cat will respond to basic behavior modification. If your cat is still acting aggressively, make a visit to the vet to rule out health problems—including pain, which can be a hidden cause of aggression.

5. Call in the experts.

Some types of aggression can be difficult to address with simple behavior modification—and changing the environment to avoid territorial disputes may not be an option. If your cat continues to be aggressive, and has a clean bill of health, a qualified cat behavior expert can help you get to the heart of the matter and outline your options, including deciding if your cat would be better off in a home with no other cats or children.

Dealing with aggressive cat behavior can be very distressing to cat parents. Be patient and persistent, and get help from the professionals if the behavior continues, and you’ll be on your way to a peaceful cat and human household.

  • LaNette Scharr

    I am a new cat mom to a black, male stray approximately one year of age that followed me home from a walk about three months ago and insisted that I adopt him. After many nights camped out on my front porch and no one claiming ownership I did just that and named him Jack. A very friendly, social cat that insisted on coming into the house. Obviously not a feral cat. I believe he was abandoned and left to survive on his own for a few weeks until he followed me home. Sensed I was softhearted and never left. Unaware of his background I did what any responsible pet owner would do and established a relationship with a local veterinarian. I had him neutered, inoculated, chipped & registered. I have invested top dollar into the cat. I bought and assembled a indoor cattery for his night time sleeping space along with a multitude of interactive toys and scratch post to keep him happy. A very grateful cat. Has never rejected any of my gifts. My concern is over some unprovoked displays of aggressive behavior. My observations tell me that these bouts are out of frustration when he’s not getting his way by biting and scratching the back of my legs ambush style. Either to get my attention because he wants to go outside or he is bored. I did not have the heart to declaw the cat when I was asked. I thought it would break his spirit from living the life he had come to know living a indoor/outdoor lifestyle. Establishing house rules has been pretty easy. The kitty litter pans seemed natural. The sleeping in a cattery at night took some getting use to for all of us. However, he has come to accept it. He recognizes that I’m returning every morning to set him free. I prepare his food while he purrs and rubs against my legs giving my calves occasional love bites. When he is through with his feeding he grooms then we play for a bit before he demands to go outside for the day. He will return usually around 4 ish. for his evening meal. I keep him inside for the rest of the evening for his protection from the foxes and coyotes that live in our rural area. He is usually content for a couple of hours. When he gets his second wind and becomes rambunctious that’s when I witness the naughty behavior. like a child that cant get what he wants. I’ve had to scold him at times by giving him a firm voice and a knock on the nose when he’s drawn blood. this usually works but often leaves us both feeling confused that were not communicating our needs. I’ve thought of the using a spray water bottle as a redirector but that would require wearing a gun holster when being ambushed. I am interested in your thoughts and suggestions?