A closeup of an aggressive cat displaying a growl.

5 Reasons for Aggressive Behavior in Cats

With bites or scratches directed towards people or other pets, an aggressive cat can be dangerous and distressing in any household. It can affect your quality-of-life while also indicating a quality-of-life issue for your cat. By understanding your cat’s aggression, you can create a plan to address your cat’s needs.

Aggression always happens for a reason. The first question you should ask yourself is, “why?” I can guarantee that she is not doing it to be “a jerk.” Instead, think about why your cat is acting this way. What is she getting out of it? Let’s take a look at five common reasons a cat may act aggressively.

Pain and Illness. Pain, illness, and discomfort are the most likely reasons a once-friendly cat is suddenly lashing out. Don’t assume that her personality has changed. She may be more irritable because she’s not feeling well or your once-welcomed pats are now causing pain due to an injury. As with any sudden behavior change, your first step should be a visit to your veterinarian to rule out any physical maladies. 

Play. Does your cat leap at your ankles when you walk through a doorway? Stalk another cat around the house? Bite your hands instead of toys? Play aggression is common in kittens and young cats, especially if they grew up as a single kitten with no other cats to tell them when play got too rough. 

To address play aggression, never encourage play with your hands or feet. Always use something like a wand toy to keep their hunting instincts focused far away from you. If your cat does bite you while playing, simply end the play session and step away. Try again later with an appropriate toy. Also make sure that your cat is getting enough appropriate play time. Two 15-minute interactive play sessions per day is generally recommended.

Petting. We love to pet our cats, but sometimes we enjoy it more than our cats do. If you have pet your cat for a few minutes, then seemingly suddenly she swipes or bites at your hand, you may have experienced petting-induced aggression. Even if it seems like she enjoyed the attention at first, cats can easily become overstimulated and prolonged petting sessions can start to bother them. 

If over-petting is the cause of aggression, pay very close attention to your cat’s body language. If their ears start to turn sideways or the tip of the tail starts flicking, they may be getting slightly annoyed. Move your hand away for a moment and let them initiate more pets if they want it. You should also stick to the areas of their body, like the head, that they like being pet. Full body strokes can be overwhelming for most cats. You can also try using a consent test to ask if they would like to be pet.

Fear. A fearful cat will try to make the scary thing go away. We see fear-based aggression especially when they cannot escape the scary situation. A cat cornered by a well-meaning family member, restrained by you to administer medications, or punished may resort to aggression as self-defense. 

Reducing fearful situations might mean that you avoid approaching your cat when she is nestled in her covered bed; you might learn fear free techniques to give your cat pills without restraint; you refrain from using spray bottles or shouting at your cat to help her feel safe.

Redirection. Redirected aggression occurs when a cat cannot access the thing that is upsetting him. If an outdoor cat walks through the backyard, your indoor cat can’t approach the stranger so he may lash out at whatever is closest, whether that’s you or another cat in your household. After this upsetting event, your cat may still act aggressively toward his original target. Managing redirected aggression can be difficult, but keeping a constant eye on your cat’s body language will help avoid negative encounters. 

Any type of aggression from your cat can be physically and emotionally difficult to deal with. If your cat’s behavior snowballs out of your comfort zone, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a professional behavior consultant. Aggression cases are my specialty – contact me at Pawsitive Vibes Cat Behavior and Training for help bringing harmony back to your home.

Share this post