04/Apr/2013Cool for Cats: How to Deal with Feline Aggression

Cats are often synonymous with elegance, as they glide from room to room, purring softly. Indeed, this portrayal of calm is often the very reason why someone is attracted to owning a cat. So when a cat grows aggressive and becomes a danger in the house, this can be distressing to both cat and owner. So, what are the warning signs, why do cats become aggressive and, most importantly, what can an owner do to help?

Cats are not aggressive for the sake of it. While they are hunting animals, they are perfectly able to live alongside other pets and humans with no cause for concern. If they do start to show signs of aggression, this usually means they feel under attack. This can lead quickly to injuries to both the cat and its owner. In the immediate term, the best thing to do is to back away from an aggressive cat, giving it space to calm down. Identifying the underlying causes and putting things right will normally stop hostile behaviour in the longer term, which is where your vet should be able to help.

Seeing the signs

An aggressive cat normally shows plenty of warning signs that start small and build up until it can contain itself no longer and launches an attack. Tail lashing, or thumping can indicate unease, as can skin or ear twitching, meowing or the sudden cessation of purring. As the cat grows more anxious, its ears will lie flat against its head, with its tail stiff against the floor. Its pupils will dilate and its fur will start to stand up. As it prepares to attack, the cat will crouch, ready to pounce, before starting to hiss and spit and bare its teeth.

Working out why

If an owner is not tuned in to a cat’s body language, a sudden bite or scratch can appear to come out of the blue. Yet there are many scenarios that can induce aggression in an otherwise placid cat.

Pain. A cat in pain will show aggression, especially when someone tries to stroke the affected area or to pick it up. In fact, aggression is often the first sign that a cat has been injured. Sudden shows of hostility should not be ignored, and a vet must be contacted as soon as possible to ascertain the extent of any injuries suffered and to rule out any painful underlying conditions.

Trauma. Boredom, stress or fear in a cat can manifest itself in aggression, especially if it has been intimidated by another animal: its fear can be redirected towards its human owner. A cat can show aggression towards another feline if one wanders on to its territory or if a new cat is introduced into the home. Again, a vet can either help, or refer the cat to a feline behaviour specialist who will work with the cat to reduce its stress and anxiety.

Too much petting. Stroking a cat can be a mutually beneficial occupation for cat and owner. Yet if this goes too far or carries on for too long, the cat can lash out in a bid to stop the attention. Watching carefully for the cat’s warning signals and stopping at the first sign of them will usually allow the owner to stay within the cat’s petting tolerance levels and so nip this type of aggression in the bud.

Diffusing the situation

Never, ever react to an aggressive cat with aggression yourself. This will only make matters worse, and the cat much more likely to lash out. Treat the cat with love – use a low, soothing voice, avoid overt eye contact and give the cat plenty of room – don’t crowd it or try to touch it until it has calmed down.

Where possible, keep your cat in a non-competitive environment. Generally, they do not react well to living with too many other cats. If you want to introduce a new cat into the home, seek your vet’s advice on the best way to do this to avoid stress and aggression from either cat.

If your cat is very dominant and gets into lots of fights with other felines in the area, try putting a bell on its collar so that its would-be victims can have a chance to escape.

If the above does not work, or if the aggression is more serious, then your vet will be able to advise. It could be that they will ask you to keep a record of your cat’s aggressive behaviour so that you can look out for consistencies to help with a diagnosis. Another possible solution for male cats that you are not planning to breed is to have them neutered, as this can often mellow a hostile cat and stop it wandering quite so far from home.

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