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Lashing Out

Identify 5 causes of feline aggression toward people and learn the most effective solutions

Aggressive behavior toward people can be a sign of stress. Knowing the cause of aggression (stress) helps you choose the proper solution. Distinguishing between a truly aggressive cat and one that may have medical problems is necessary.

Your cat’s aggression might stem from arthritis pain or hyperthyroidism. Ask your veterinarian to rule out common medical causes before you assume your cat’s aggression is strictly behavioral. Your veterinarian can also advise you on safely handling your cat to avoid scratches and bites.

After obtaining your veterinarians advice and a clean bill of health for your cat, try to identify which of the following types of aggression your cat displays.


 Types of Feline Aggression Behavior  Aggressive Behavior Toward People:

                                          Play aggression

                                          Redirected aggression

                                          Fear aggression

                                          Petting – Induced aggression

                                          Status – Related aggression

FishinFrenzy copy                                 


Causes: You might unknowingly contribute to play aggression by using your fingers as toys. This sends a message that it’s OK to bite flesh. A kitten separated from litter mates too early might not have learned proper social behavior such as scratching and bitting.

Solutions: Use an interactive (fishing pole) toy to put a safe distance between your cat’s teeth and your fingers. Use the toy to stimulate their natural hunting instincts. Allow them to attack the toy and show of their hunting skills.  Schedule two 15 minute interactive sessions a day. Cats who don’t experience enough energetic interaction might ask for playtime through the attention-getting behavior of biting.

In many homes, the only stimulation available to the cat comes in the form of people’s moving feet. If your cat attacks your ankles, it probably indicates a need for more play time.


Causes:  Redirection aggression can appear when the cat is stressed or in a situation that they can’t control.  For instance, an indoor cat at the window spots an unfamiliar cat in the yard. Agitated, the cat jumps from the windowsill, runs to the nearest animal or human and attaches without provocation. You must then find what has caused the aggression in your cat.  What has caused this unusual behavior.conflict between cats

Solutions:  Don’t try to hold or touch the cat. Move slowly and get them into a quite room by themselves (make sure shades are pulled and lights out)  so he can calm down.  It may take several hours, just let them alone and they will calm down. While the cat is in the room you must remove what triggered the situation, cover the window for days till he dissociates it from the episode.  After several hours crack open the door (quite room) and let them come out by themselves, on their own time.  Don’t try to hold or comfort them, just let them alone, they will come to you when they are ready.  Don’t try petting them if they go to your lap, just sit still and give them more time to settle down.  Take things slowly and quietly.  Any signs of aggression, return them to their quite room.


Causes: Any cat can exhibit fear-aggression as a normal survival response to a potential threat. A fear aggression posture is actually one of many conflicting emotions exhibited as the cat tries to avoid confrontation. The cat will growl and hiss in hopes of scaring off an opponent. If that doesn’t work, the cat will crouch, using body language to send two messages at once: “I’ll fight if I have to, but I’d rather get the heck out of here.” The cat’s front end faces the opponent but the back end faces sideways, ready to escape. Children often become victims of fear  aggression when they try to hold cats against their will. Teach children to recognize a fearful posture and not to force affection or intrude on a cat’s “safe” area. Many cats get labeled as aggressive because their fear signals weren’t respected. They learn they can communicate only through aggression.

Solutions: If your cat displays fear aggression, don’t cuddle too much, as this could be misinterpreted as restraint. Offer a safe retreat because a frightened cat always looks for escape. Set up hideaways in your home and consider getting a cat tree because many cats feel safer in elevated locations.

If a cat begins showing initial signs of fear, behavior modification can be done in the form of low-intensity interactive playtime for distraction. If caught early, you may be able to change his mindset as you trigger his prey-drive.


Causes: You affectionately stroke your cat’s fur. Your cat seems to enjoy the attention until suddenly turning and biting your hand. Blame overstimulation. Some cats initially enjoy repeated stroking but it can escalate into the cat becoming overstimulated.  Every cat is different.

Solutions: Observe body language. A cat reaching the limits of tolerance will usually give warning signs, which can include skin twitching, tail lashing, flattening or flickering of ears, cessation of purring, low growling, looking back at you and shifting positions. Learn your cat’s time limit. If your cat gets irritated after five minutes, stop petting after three. Leave your cat wanting more. You might even have to avoid petting altogether for several sessions before working up to one stroke.  Again go slowly, on the cats terms.


Causes: The cat feels they is superior to a particular person in the house.  Some cats need to control their surroundings and react aggressively to interaction they don’t initiate. A display similar to petting-induced aggression may occur if you begin petting without the cat’s “permission.” The cat might bite or merely grab your hand.



Another display includes blocking an owner’s path to certain rooms. The cat might give a direct stare with a slightly lowered head, flattened ears and lashing tail. Status-related aggression may target a single member of the household.


Solutions: If your cat displays this aggression while in your lap, keep arms and hands still and stand up so your cat gently falls to the floor.  If your cat solicits attention in a dominant way, refuse to interact by turning away and ignoring them or giving a squirt from a water bottle or compressed air-can until your cat resumes normal behavior. People in the household can carry water pistols or noisemakers and squirt or startle the cat at the earliest signs of aggression. Signals to watch for included skin-twitching, growling, staring, hissing, tail lashing or quivering, and flattened ears.

Reward positive behavior with a treat or affection. Clicker training (see our article on clicker training) often works with status-related aggression because the cat immediately makes the connection with the good behavior. Never strike or yell at the cat. Have the targeted person take over feeding duties, playing with the cat, and only in the evenings when the cat is more receptive. Gradually, additional sessions can be added during the day.  After a week of behavior modification, the cat will began to relax. They will start associating the target person with positive experiences and eventually let them initiate petting sessions, demonstrating that concerned cat owners armed with knowledge can transform an aggressive cat into a loving, well-behaved pet.


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