4 min.

Aggression in cats: causes and solutions

Acts of aggression in cats can be divided into two groups: Aggression between cats and aggression towards humans. Within these two groups, there are several categories, making this a complex subject to tackle in a single article. There is irritation-induced aggression, redirected aggression, aggression caused by under-stimulation, and several other types. Though we can’t get into each category here, we’ll focus on the ways to prevent the most common types of aggression.

Negative stimulation

Most people use their fingers to play with their cats. The problem with this very popular approach is that we are unwittingly teaching our cats that the hand—and, by extension, the skin—is something to be bitten. This behaviour often continues into adulthood and creates cats that are prone to biting. It’s best to avoid using your fingers as a toy and instead opt for toys on sticks where the plaything itself is far from the hand.

Lack stimulation

House cats often lack stimulation. They get bored and naturally look for something to do. Some will be content climbing the curtains or unrolling your toilet paper. But others will get more creative and will imagine that your ankle, your foot or your pant leg is, in fact, some kind of prey on the move. Your cat will go in for the kill (attacking your ankle, foot or pant leg), and you’ll try to fend off the attack by moving or running. Without meaning to, you’re encouraging your cat to go after any prey that moves. Your cat may get a kick out of it, but it’s not all that fun for you.

There are several ways to keep your cat entertained and distracted. The two easiest methods are playing with them and introducing interactive feeders. Pet shops have all kinds of interactive feeders that make cats work for their food. In fact, no cat should have their food simply presented to them on a silver platter (or in a metal bowl). They should all work to earn their food, just like they would in the outdoors. Instead of gobbling everything down in three minutes, your cat will take 20 to 30 minutes to eat each meal. That’s 20 to 30 minutes not spent engaging in an all-out attack on your ankle.

But taking the time to play with your cat is still the easiest way to make sure that it’s expending energy in the right place. Cats are sprinters, so it’s not like you have to play for hours on end. Two or three sessions of 10 to 15 minutes each will go a long way in tackling problems related to under-stimulation.

Petting-induced aggression

Is your cat the type that likes to be petted, starts purring, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, bites you for no apparent reason? This phenomenon, sometimes called love biting, simply indicates that a cat enjoys being petted at the beginning, but then reaches a point where the affection becomes unbearable. Avoid petting cats like this on the hips or the belly and focus only on their head and neck, and you’ll quickly nip the aggressive behaviour in the bud.

Bad first impressions

When acts of aggression happen between cats, the source of the conflict can often be traced back to the cats’ early encounters when they were first sniffing each other out. Don’t think that you can let a new cat loose in a house where another cat has already marked its territory and expect that all will go magically well. Instead, opt for positive reinforcement methods to give cats the time they need to acclimate to each other. Contact a cat behaviourist from Cat Educator to find out more about this technique, which is highly effective and easy to implement.

Avoid online advice and people with good intentions

For any kind of behavioural problem with your cat—and especially when it comes to aggressive behaviour—avoid looking for answers on forums or seeking advice from friends who’ve “had cats their whole life.” What’s more, because of the possibility of inflicting harm, aggressive cats often get euthanized whereas a session with a cat behaviourist from Cat Educator increases your chances of correcting your cat’s behaviour by 80% to 90%. Whatever the case, the first step is always to consult a veterinarian, especially for acts of aggression that occur without warning.