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Cat Aggression Toward People

Nov 4, 2011 · Updated May 23, 2014 · ·
  1. Anne
    Fiendish Cats?

    Watching an enraged cat can be daunting. If you haven't seen one up-close, you've probably seen the image in some scary movie. A snarling cat with sharp teeth showing through a wide- open mouth, ears flattened backwards and eyes wide open with dilated pupils. The soundtrack of growls and hisses is not very pleasant either.

    Understanding the reasons for the different types of feline aggression and learning to recognize the warning signs may help you deal with incidents of feline aggression.

    Warning Signs

    Sometimes, it may seem that an attack came out of the blue, but more often there are plenty of warning

    signs. Knowing these signs and learning to recognize them can prevent some painful bites and scratches. Some of the physical signals that an

    aggressive (or potentially aggressive) cat may present are:
    • Wide open eyes.
    • Dilated pupils (in case of a perceived threat), or very constricted pupils (as the cat tries to threaten back).
    • Flattened ears.
    • Tail lashing or straight tail with bristled fur.
    • agitated meows that turn into growling and snarling.
    • hissing voices and sometimes even spitting.
    Behaviorists often categorize aggression toward people according to the source of the aggression. This allows for a better understanding of the underlying causes to the cat's behavior, which, in turn, can hopefully lead to a better resolution. Following are five types of aggression that cats may exhibit.

    When cats are frightened, their "fight-or-flight" response mechanism is activated. Most cats prefer to run away from danger (real or imaginary), but if they feel cornered or unable to run away for any reason, they may attack. Even shy or timid cats will strike out if left with no way to escape.

    Fear-induced aggression is easy for us to identify if we can recognize the cause of the fear. Sometimes, the cause is not obvious. Timid cats may be afraid of all sorts of imagined threats, even sudden sounds or movements. Your cat may also have experienced something traumatic in the past that makes it afraid of something particular that you are not aware of.

    Fear-induced aggression is also a cat's natural reaction to punishment, especially physical punishment. Cats do not learn from any of the kinds of punishment or rebuke that one might use with dogs or children - instead of changing the misbehavior, the cat is more likely to become afraid of you and react violently.

    Redirected Aggression

    Whatever the original trigger may have been, cats that are not able to retaliate against a source of aggravation may redirect their response to the nearest person, cat, or other animal (the family dog, for instance).

    Your cat may sit by the window and suddenly notice a dog, a raccoon, or another cat. The cat becomes agitated, but, being confined indoors, cannot do much to deter the perceived danger. That very minute, when the cat is focused on the threat outside, you casually walk by and pet its head. No wonder the cat suddenly hisses and lashes out at you. All that pent-up aggression is suddenly released in what may seem to you like an unprovoked attack.

    Pain Induced Aggression in cats

    For us humans, this is perhaps the easiest type of aggression to understand. Poor Kitty is in pain, so it seems natural that she will be confused and try to attack anyone who is around her. We usually sympathize with our cat when she lashes out at the vet for a painful procedure. After all, she doesn't understand that this is for her own good and naturally defends herself from pain.

    Sometimes, it is more difficult to ascertain that pain is the cause of aggression. You may accidentally hurt a cat while picking him up or during a grooming session. Cats have very sensitive skin and may react to pain that we don't even realize we have caused.

    Aggression Triggered By Petting

    This is an event some cat owners are well familiar with. You cat is lying contentedly by your side asking for some petting and you begin to gently stroke the cat. At first the cat is purring away, but within a few minutes the purring slowly stops, the tail begins twitch and then suddenly the cat grabs your hand with its teeth and claws.

    This is a well-known behavior pattern, but it's hard to tell why some cats are more sensitive to petting than others. It may have to do with early socialization with people, or with genetic disposition. Either way, it looks like some cats become over-stimulated and feel threatened when petted too long. Exactly how long is too long differs from cat to cat. If you live with such a sensitive feline, you will usually learn pretty quickly what it considers to be too long.

    Illness Induced Aggression

    Cats may become aggressive because of a medical problem. According to The Cornell Book of Cats, "Meningiomas (tumors of the membrane covering the brain), feline ischemic syndrome (constricted or obstructed blood vessels in the brain), rabies, and toxoplasmosis have all been associated with the development of aggressive behavior."

    Therefore, with any gradual or sudden onset of unprovoked violence, you should first consult your vet and check for medical reasons. You know your cat best and you should note any changes in behavior as part of a regular health assessment.

    Of these diseases, rabies is the most dangerous, since it can be passed to humans and is always fatal. If you suspect a cat's violence (whether the cat is yours or not) may be related to rabies, you must contact your vet and/or doctor immediately.

    Note: Most cat owners get bites and scratches not from one of these types of aggressive behavior, but rather during playtime, or even when the cat is "complimenting" you by the kind of love-bites cats share among themselves when mating or playing with each other. It may feel the same, but this is different from true aggression and will be discussed in a separate article.

    What to do

    If your cat has attacked you and is holding you with his claws and teeth, resist the urge to struggle free, which will only ensure scratches and bites. Instead, keep very calm and do not move or try to pry the cat's mouth open or hit or yell at the cat. No loud noises! With your free hand, gently sooth the cat by softly stroking the tops of his paws and then his toe pads until he releases his grip, all the while speaking gently and calmly to it.

    Do not quickly pull away both hands and get up and away from the cat, but do stop petting or stroking it entirely, keeping your hands away from its teeth and claws. Let the cat sit where it is and only when it is calm, try to carefully ease it away from you. It is best to then leave the cat alone for a cooling-off time.
    • Have your cat neutered - If the aggressive cat is a whole male (tom cat), you should get him fixed as soon as possible. Although unaltered males usually display territorial aggression toward other cats, this aggression can become redirected against people. Neutering will also help to prevent roaming and injuries from catfights, as well as control the serious problem of cat overpopulation.
    • Reduce stress - Stress may be the underlying cause to many behavioral problems, including aggression toward people. Almost any kind of aggression is likely to get worse when the cat is stressed. Stress is caused by changes in the cat's environment, and the cat's tendency to become stressed over these changes differs from one cat to another.
    • Never punish the cat for aggressive behavior! Punishing the cat is likely to add to the stress and make the cat even more aggressive.
    • Consult an expert - Cat aggression can be a serious problem. If you feel that things are getting out of control, consult your veterinarian and ask her to refer you to a local cat behavior expert.
    • Medication - Your vet or an animal behaviorist may recommend drug therapy as a means of dealing with an aggressive cat, even when the problem is not caused by illness. This will usually complement a behavioral treatment program set up by an expert.

    Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

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  1. Sweet Chloe's Mom
    I was attracted to thecatsite when I saw an article about cat aggression and jealousy. My adult son has a cat that get very aggressive when he is on the phone. She bites & scratches his arms & legs. Would she be jealous because he is not paying attention to her when he is on the phone. Most of the time she is very sweet. My son plays with her & she has toys, tunnels & cat trees. He got her at our local shelter when she was about a year old. He does not know much about her history before he got her. Can anyone help suggest what he should to control her aggression. :bigeyes:
    1. Furballsmom
      Hi @Sweet Chloe's Mom! As is recommended at the end of the article, if you would please start a thread in the forum Cat Behavior. The forums are where members will see your post and you will receive advice, suggestions and support.
      Here is how to post a new thread How To Create A New Thread Thanks!
    2. Sweet Chloe's Mom
      Thanks for the information
      Furballsmom purraised this.
  2. AcewoodismyLife
    My cat will walk by Son and out of nowhere just bite his leg or ankle or feet and with my Wife he leap at the back of her leg startling her and a bit painful as well and he's always meowing for food but we feed him twice a day wet food usually morning and night and it's the recommended size 3 ounces or One package or can
    1. Furballsmom
      Hi @AcewoodismyLife! As is recommended at the end of the article, if you would, please start a thread in this forum Cat Behavior and also regarding his eating requirements in this forum Cat Nutrition
      These forums are where team members will see your posts and you will receive answers, suggestions and support. Thanks!
  3. ewischmeier
    I need help! I have 3 siamese cats. One mom (6) and her son & daughter (4). I also have an 11 year old Miniature American Eskimo do . Starting a little over a week ago they started to stalk and attack my dog! They've never done that before.and aside from the water bottle I don't know how to stop them or what caused this sudden change in behavior. I'm afraid to go to work and leave them home alone with her (my dog). My dog is old and only 13 pounds. what do I do?
    1. Furballsmom
      Hi Ewischmeier! As the article suggests, please post your question in the forum Cat Behavior . That's where our forum members hang out and they can provide you with advice and support. Thanks!
  4. RadioactiveCat
    Hello! I got a kitten at two months old November 29, 2018. Since then he has endured three house moves and now we have been settled for three months and he is acting very weird. As a baby at 2 mo he was very cuddly and since moving he has become more distant? He still tries to nurse on my other cat who is 3, he runs and is skittish and there’s no reason for so. He’s been loved, cuddled, fed, watered and played with. He loves to play with laser lights and eat canned food. When he wants to, he will snuggle up next to me on his own but when he is picked up he freaks out. It takes me at least 10-15 mins of holding him still for him to relax.

    My older cat who he nurses on is now weaning him (she doesn’t produce milk since she is fixed) so maybe this has a play on it? I’m not sure, let me know your thoughts!
  5. BellaBlue
    My 3yr Old Siamese cat attacked my face when I was trying to clip her nails, which she hates, but was overdue. She left claw marks and two black bruises under both my eyes. She is feisty by nature but that is one of the things I love most about her. She is an indoor cat, therefore it’s my fault for never having got her spayed. Then top it off by trying to clip her nails. I should have let go while she was squirming but I tried to sooth her. My face was bleeding and I immediately noticed the puffy black eye. I scruffed her neck and raised my voice telling her no. Now I feel terrible. I know I should leave her alone when any cat becomes aggressive. I was shocked. Now she is so sad and depressed almost like she’s sick now. I don’t know what else I can do for her. I’ve laid with her and comforted her all day. She is eating and drinking. It was my fault.
  6. nancylam92
    My cat will be 3 years old in April and around 2.5 years (un-neutered) he started showing extreme un-provoked aggression towards my boyfriend and I. We noticed it when we would try to leave for work one morning (our routine for my cat's entire life was we leave the house at 9:30am and return 7:00pm M-F). He would rub himself aggressively all around our front door or pace back and forth when we would put our shoes on and gather our things to leave. It was always the same routine, he would rub himself aggressively on our legs, turn to us and hiss in between and if we even tried to take a step he would lash out and bite (deep holes and blood in our calves). We thought it was another animal that was spraying on our doorstep so we tried to clean the area and for a while it got better. We had him neutered the first week of Jan 2019 and he was doing okay for about 2 weeks until recently again, we noticed that he would get very agitated and aggressive whenever we started our morning ritual to get ready for work. At this point, he's been getting more and more aggressive, with the same routine of following one of us, rubbing himself on our legs, back and forth, hissing in between and if we try to move he will bite/scratch. There have been times when we try to walk/run away he will puff up and kind of chase after us in an aggressive stance. I've tried calming collars, but those seem to do nothing. Any advice on how I can safely distance myself from my cat when he is in this agitate state? Our last hope will be the vet to see if he has any health issues (which I doubt) and long term medication (which I would like to avoid).
  7. Pepfin
    I need help! I brought home two cats that are sweet as can be. Loving, affectionate, they play together, sleep together, groom eachother etc. Get along amazingly and are such wonderful companions. But the elder (a HUGE 6 month old) is food aggressive. For some reason this wasn’t addressed in foster care and it’s a nightmare. The younger kitten is 4 months but TINY. He can’t defend his food from the other. I’ve tried feeding them across the room from eachother but the elder will inhale his food and then rush over to eat the other’s. And now the kitten is adopting this same food aggression and inhaling his food frantically. I could feed them in a different room but by myself it’s hard (and for a pet sitter) because the minute the food is being prepared (dry or wet no matter) they are already going nuts and it’s hard to separate them.) Again, I can likely get the little one into the bathroom or something but I can’t see him not trying to dart out and as he gets bigger this will be less and less manageable. Help!
      Christina50 purraised this.
    1. nunnc84
      Feed one of them in the carrier. It maybe easier to put the big one in there at first. A food puzzle is recommended also =)
    2. VanLove
      Have you worked out your issue yet with the food aggression? I worked with 2 cats who had this issue and the method I thought to try solved the issue pretty quickly on the first try.
  8. Ohmygoliz
    I have three cats and my boyfriend has a dog. We have lived together for 4 years. Cats are now 8yrs+ dog is now 12. In the past if they got into fights, it was either one specific cat that would instigate or the dog would growl, starting the fight; with the dog fighting back and one other cat coming to the other cats “defense”. Me or him would step in and CHAOS for a few seconds. Now, the dog can just simply sniff a little too close to the one cat and he will hiss and attempt to scratch. The dog doesn’t really fight back anymore and I step in to intervene, with the other cat coming to defend again. So, I gotta get two cats to go away. Yesterday, one cat clawed me so bad it has bruised my arm and the dog must have accidentally bit me in her defense. (It was CHAOS) She’s older and can’t see as well. It’s always just the one cat the dog has the problem with. The other cats couldn’t care less about the dog. What do I do??? HELP ME! Dont really want to rehome the cat, but this is ridiculous. Thanks in advance!
  9. susan timlin
    I have a beautiful Orange and white Male, Manx cat. He is my first cat and he is just a wonderful cat. I have a lot to learn about cats as they are very different from dogs which is what I primarily owned. My husband did not want a cat but I got him anyways. Turns out, he loves him too. He however plays sort of rough with him. He thought that Finnegan liked his belly rubbed. He took his light biting as play. I told him his eyes and ears say "no" . He has adapted his pets to Finney and I believe the cat loves us both. I have gotten love bites from Finney but they are definitely "love bites" Gentle bites on the cheek with lots of purrs and rubs. He loves his chin and neck rubbed and I explained to my husband that he needs to approach him with a more gentle touch. He is not a dog but a sweet gentle kitty. Thank you so much for all the information you give. It has helped me so many times. Finney was abandoned as a kitty and was on the streets for a winter. He loves his home now and I am so grateful to have him.
      VanLove purraised this.
  10. Parisburns
    I've had my indoor neutered female for a year and a half, we've recently moved house, she's really good when it comes to going to strange places. She comes for car drives and she's been to Cornwall for a holiday and she's always been fine with different environments. We got a kitten about 4 weeks ago, a female. Slowly introducing and for 2 weeks they had been playing/play fighting together and even grooming eachother. A week ago I heard my cats hissing at eachother and the older cat attacked my kitten (bite marks around the neck) I separated them and then the older cat kept yowling. Kept them separated and slowly introducing them again and they were playing upstairs. They were both deadly silent but I could hear noises from kids outside, the older cat started growling and went for the kitten again (the kitten was just sat there) I'm concerned my cat is scared and taking it out on the kitten as she's vulnerable. Please can anyone help me! I love them both to pieces and want them to get along again!!

    Thank you,
  11. EmiCat458
    So I have two cats who both gave birth recently. One of my cats had five healthy kittens and the other had stillborns. She was really helpful with the other cat's kittens which I think she needed since she had lost all hers, but recently she hisses and growls at the other kittens whenever they walk near her... It's really concerning me I'm afraid she might hurt the kittens. Can someone help me?
  12. ScarletRain
    So my mom cat just had her first litter about 7 weeks ago, and shes starting to axt aggressive .She usually plays with the kittens softly, but about ten minutes ago she grabbed the runt by the inside of the neck, not the scruff, and wouldn't let go. The baby started crying and clawing at the mom and i had to pull her off .She is now sitting at the door mewing and putting her paws underneath the door clawing at whatever she can reach
  13. Arenee
    I need help. Tonight we got 4 foster kittens I always visit new kittens when we foster. I came in the room sat in the corner quiet and still eventually one of them approached me. I didn’t pet him or touch him just talked to him so he wouldn’t get overwealmed. He came near my face first he was licking my face and rubbing his head on my chin. All the sudden he stands up on my chest and latches his claws into my cheeks unprovoked. I though ok he’s trying to inspect me And my face. All the sudden he went from love bites on my nose to completly latching onto my face he started clawing at me all over my cheeks biting the tip of my nose and naustrals he latched onto my lip hard and refused to let go. This to me was an unprovoked attack. He showed no signs of fear. No flared up fur no fluffed up tail. No ears pointed backward. No growling hissing or dialated eyes. He was actually puring even as he latched into me. I didn’t feel he was at all scared he was brushing up against me. What could this be? Did I piss him off? Was he playing? To me drawing blood all over my face is not at all a love bite. This to me said I’m gunna bite you and I refuse to let go. It took me 10 minutes for me to pry him off of me it was extremely painful. I was yelling very loud to get him to let go. I was holding onto him while shaking my head. I tryed grabbing his paws that just made him bite down and claw harder. I felt his heartbeat and breathing he was breathing heavy and heart racing. I’m very worried does this cat have some sort of screw loose or is he just trying to bite things to explore and got scared. It’s been 3 hours And my face still hurts it’s 230am my family is asleep I’m at a loss what to I do that kitten scares me
      susmorte purraised this.
  14. Sammoore97
    That was very helpful thank u
  15. Malek
    My 6-year-old male Persian was the most peaceful before we got him neutered, he wouldn't even hurt a fly. His howls stopped, but something in him changed and he began to scratch and bite whenever he's groomed or touched in certain places, whereas he never used to mind.
  16. marianc
    I have an adopted 5-yr-old tabby. After 2 weeks of bliss, she suddenly started biting and scratching me while I was petting her. I tried everything described in the article about dealing with biting from over-stimulation, which is what my vet said it was. None of it worked. I got a spray bottle to spray water on her when she clawed the carpet. When she bit me, I sprayed her in the face. She ran away and came back docile. It didn't make her more aggressive, as I'd read many places that it would. She now bites less and less. So there must be differing solutions to this problem.
  17. abby-kat
    Hey guys, Abby-Kat here. Ive been doing a lot of studying on cat's behavior and what I've come to learn is that if your cat doesn't like some one, it isn't anyone's fault. Everywhere we go we pick up that scent and if a cat doesn't recognize that scent, it can startle them. Lashing out is a very serious matter and should be handled as such.
    When you see your cat lashing out, remind the human it's attacking, to remain calm and to repeatedly talk gently while you, or another family member get the cat off of the person.
    Aggressive behavior is something we cannot fix, exactly, but keeping a hold on it is important. Try letting the cat's 'victim' give him/her treats and pet them.
  18. smokiesmama
    Smokie fits the aggressive pattern - but only towards me.  She follows me around - no matter what room I'm in - she's there.  She likes to cuddle at night in the bed and likes a little petting, but even some times later after I've stopped petting - for no reason - she attacks.  Last week as I was walking down the hall she came out of the guest room and managed to bite both ankles.   She goes to the vet regularly and he does everything to her - exams - shots,etc - and she sits in his arms and purrs, so how do I tell him she's got a screw loose!  But just like a mentally challenged child, you deal with them as best you can and keep loving them!
      Sam71690 purraised this.
  19. rossdavies1971
    Really enjoyed reading this article. Covered all the angles. I just had an experience of a cat bite and this article confirmed my thoughts exactly. My cay was just scared and my wife just did not read the signals correctly. (not that I dare tell her that!)
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