Sunday, February 2, 2014

Feline Aggression Part 1: Why is My Cat Aggressive?

by Amanda L. Maus DVM
Catalina Pet Hospital

Tucson, AZ

Feline aggression is an important cat topic since it can greatly affect relationships and cause tension in the household. 

Signs of aggression in order from mild to serious:
  • Ears pointed back or flattened to head
  • Tail tip twitching or whole tail swishing
  • Hissing
  • Growling or Yowling
  • Swatting or charging
  • Scratching or biting
In order to decide what type of aggression the cat has, there a few observations that need to be made. First, determine whether the cat is acting aggressive towards other pets or towards humans in the home.  Second, correlate what happens right before the aggression behaviors happen.  Third, observe and note which signs of aggression are displayed by the cat.

Types of aggression:
  • Transferred/Redirected
  • Petting
  • Play
  • Disease/Pain
  • Fear/Stress
  • Territorial
  • Improper handling
Transferred or redirected aggression occurs when a cat is agitated by an object, animal, or human, that the cat can only see, hear, or smell but cannot directly access due to a door or some other barrier.  The cat then needs an outlet for the provocation and acts aggressive towards the nearest object, human, or animal.

Petting aggression can seem spontaneous and confusing to pet owners.  Often the cat initiated the attention and does enjoy the petting for awhile, until suddenly the cat starts scratching or biting instead of just leaving when they were done receiving attention.

Play aggression is most common in kittens but can extend into adulthood.  Bottle raised or single kittens are more likely to do this due to lack of feedback from their mother or littermates.  Normal kittens may act combative if they are not provided with enough dedicated playtime or appropriate toys.  Rough play involving hands can lead also to this behavior.

Certain diseases such as infections or those that affect the thyroid or brain may cause aggression. Any source of pain like an injury, arthritis, or dental disease can also lead to aggression.

Fear aggression happens in situations involving foreign or offensive noises, smells, environments, humans, or animals.  A cat's upbringing, history of previous trauma, and even genetics can contribute to the cat's reactions.

Although territorial aggression can be caused by not having a cat spayed or neutered, for most households, it happens when a new cat is introduced to a home where cats already exist.  For established cats, it can happen after one of the cats is gone from the home and comes back smelling like a veterinarian's office or groomer.

Improper handling can also cause aggression.  Cats do not respond well to rough handling or being disturbed where they are sleeping or resting.  When picking up a cat, improper technique that causes a cat to not feel supported is also not well tolerated.  Many cats do not allow petting of the stomach area or around the legs/feet.

Next week, we will discover how to address and treat different types of feline aggression.

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