How to Help A Cat That is Aggressive Towards Humans
16 September, 2014

Cats are natural predators and it is normal for them to chase, play and attack (in fun) other cats, you or other members of your family.  A playful inadvertent scratch or a little nip at your toes is not a cause for worry.  However, if your cat or cats become aggressive towards humans and/or your family members, it can be problematic.   There are different kinds of aggression and ways to resolve them.

Reasons a cat might be aggressive

Aggression is not a diagnosis of illness but an emotional condition.  Once it has been established as a problem for you, the owner, each individual case needs to be assessed by taking a thorough history of the cat, his or her environment, how the problem first started and how it has progressed.

Aggression in cats is usually motivated by, or related to:

Social pressures
Fear or anxiety
Inappropriate play
Illness or pain

Of course, at the first signs of aggressions, the cat’s health should be checked to ensure it is not motivated by pain or illness. Therefore a visit to your vet will help determine if there is an underlying medical condition.


Warning signs of aggression to your or anyone else

There are often signs to look out for that alert you that your cat (or any cat you approach) is ready to be aggressive towards you:

Dilated pupils, direct staring

Thrashing/twitching tail

Hissing, growling or spitting

Your cat’s ears flatten against the side of the head or rotate backwards

Your kitty’s body posture often becomes crouched or tense

If you see any of these signs then it is best to turn away and not pursue any physical contact. The cat doesn’t want to attack you unless you absolutely force it to do so by ignoring its signals and continuing your approach.

Cat fighting and biting is common form of aggression

Kittens fight each other when they are young and engage in enthusiastic rough and tumble fights. These are always interrupted if they become a little too violent so that the kittens learn to inhibit their biting when playing.  However, when humans attempt the same kind of games, using their hands, they often reinforce the excitable behavior and encourage kittens to grow up, biting and scratching in the name of play with an intensity that can cause injury. The cat’s preferred target of hands then becomes feet and, as an adult, the cat will pounce on hands and feet at every opportunity.

Play aggression can be easily prevented by making sure that human body parts never form part of any games with your cat. There are numerous toys on the market, most of which are attached to rods or sticks to enable easy manipulation from a distance. Your hands should be associated with gentle stroking, holding and feeding rather than aggressive play. Don’t be tempted to shout or tap your cat’s nose or any other form of intended punishment as this will either be seen as part of the game or as a threatening gesture. This will not teach your kitten new, acceptable ways to play.

Some cats will bite when stroked or pet in certain areas

Many cats love being pet since it is like being groomed by their mothers when they were kittens. However the adult cat has a strong instinctive survival mechanism and they can feel vulnerable to attack if they allow themselves to become too relaxed and comfortable. They develop a sense of conflict between pleasure and potential danger and this can result in a sudden aggressive gesture to escape from the situation. Cats can often be seen running away a few steps and then stopping to groom their paw quickly as if they are rather embarrassed by what they just did.

Any cat that displays this behavior will provide strong warning signs. For example, your cat will stop purring, visibly stiffen, start to thrash its tail from side to side and may even make a hissing sound. If you stop stroking at the first sign you will probably not get bitten.  (My cat, Sammy, to this day, always bites me when I scratch his behind.  Therefore, I don’t scratch it!)

If you have just adopted an aggressive cat, watch what makes him upset or provoked

If your cat is already aggressive, you should allow your cat to initiate contact and keep your responding physical contact brief, concentrating on your kitty’s forehead, cheeks and chin – at least until you know the cat well enough to appreciate what level of attention he or she will tolerate and enjoy.  Let your cat to determine the quality and quantity of interaction that takes place.

If your cat is wary when someone approaches or nervous of people in general, always allow your cat to escape from any situation, when your kitty feels threatened. It is a natural instinct to flee from danger and if you block your cat’s escape (or hiding place)  then it could result in a fearful cat becoming aggressive.

There are ways and methods to learn what makes your cat tick, upsets him or her or even scares your kitty.  Once you have found out why your cat is aggressive, it is easier to determine your approach.  If you have tried all of the above and there are not any underlying medical issues that might cause your cat to be aggressive, you should try to consult a specialist in animal behavior.




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