DEAR TABBY (VOL. 1) : BARKING CATS, KNEADY KITTENS, FINICKY FELINES & MORE
In Volume One of our Dear Tabby series, cat expert, Kristin Levine, answers your most pressing questions about cats, from hair chewing, to unexpected bites and barking noises.
How to Solve Unprovoked 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. Unprovoked aggressive cat behavior doesn’t mean you have a “bad cat” — it means there’s a problem that needs to be corrected.
The following should help you figure out what’s going on—and learn how to help your cat calm down.
Five Steps to Solve Unprovoked Aggressive Cat Behavior
1. DIAGNOSE THE PROBLEM
You can’t help your aggressive cat unless you understand what’s going on. Unprovoked aggressive cat behavior is a complex issue, and there are several major types of cat 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.
- 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 fearful of defensive aggression.
- PLAYFUL 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 – especially children.
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.