Under the soft fur and cuddly appearance hides a predator. Cats in the wild do not do gardening, they have to hunt for survival. Even if your kitty has been served tasty food on a platter its entire life, the predatory instincts do not leave its sub-consciousness.
The cats hunting instincts exhibit themselves for a wide variety of reasons and would fall in three broad categories i.e.:
- the aggression is directed at you for something you did (or did not do),
- the cat has been aroused by something or somebody else and you just happen to be in the wrong place or
- the kitty plain simple has not mastered acceptable ways of playing.
Unlike other personality issues, aggressiveness can be a real problem for you and the visitors alike. Cat bites and scratches are painful and can also transmit disease. The signs of aggression in cats are distinct and quite unmistakable once you have seen them i.e. flattened ears, puffy hair, hissing and howling.
Some cats are lovely pets towards the usual household inhabitants, but turn into little drama queens the moment a visitor walks in. Such a behavior is triggered by fear towards unfamiliar people and circumstances. A cat displaying this sort of aggression usually hisses, shows its teeth and crouches low with the tail and legs tucked under the body. The cat’s fur also stands on end all over the body.
This problem can be managed by identifying the reason for the fear and, if possible, avoiding the situations. Gradually the cat will need to be exposed to the fearful situations, but this should be done slowly and for short periods of time. When the cat displays the wanted behavior, reward it with food and lots of attention. It is important not to do the following things with a cat that displays aggression when scared:
- do not console the cat as that will display your approval of the aggression and will re-enforce the behavior.
- visitors should not retreat in front of the cat, because this would show the cat that the “problem” of unwanted visitors will go away if it gets aggressive.
These kind of situations are better managed by separating the cat to ensure no casualties occur but otherwise showing a total lack of attention.
Attacking during anger towards another
Your cat may be in a middle of a quarrel with another cat when you decide to get involved. Or a bird outside the window may have gotten the cat worked up, but the unsuspecting owner became the recipient of the lashing instead. A cat exhibiting redirected aggression may growl and pace around in an agitated manner swishing its tale.
The best strategy is to leave the cat alone until it is calm. You may have to separate the cat from the situation by gently herding it away using a thick blanket or a board to an area which is peaceful and dark. Do not surprise the cat by grabbing it, especially not from behind when the cat does not see who is approaching it. Periodically turn your attention to the cat - if your cat is still aggressive, turn the light off and leave. If the is calm, praise it and offer some food or treats. If the reason for was another cat in the household, re-introduce the two cats slowly, once the aggressor has calmed. Place the cats on opposite ends of the room and feed them. This will allow both cats to associate food with the other's presence. You can interrupt aggression by startling them with a water gun or shaking a jar of coins. This sort of remote punishment keeps you from getting hurt, and if consistent, may discourage further attacks.
This activity is most pronounced in kittens during their learning period but many adult cats still love to play rough. Kittens raised with their siblings learn how to bite and scratch with reduced intensity, because play that is too rough causes a retaliation or the cessation of play. Therefore this type of aggression is usually seen in cats that were raised on their own or lack appropriate play outlets.
Biting and scratching is cute in tiny kittens but if not addressed, it can quickly get out of hand. Some cats remain “kittens” in this respect well into their adult years.
As cute as it may seem at first, do not encourage rough play and ensure that this is a rule for all family members. You can put a bell on the kitten’s collar so you always know where he is. Thant way you can deny him of the favorite pouncing places. You can also clap your hands or use a loud noise when you see him begin to stalk you. These must be used within the first few seconds of the onset of aggression to startle, rather than scare the cat.
Do not physically punish your cat, even with a slight tap. The pain of being struck can lead to more aggressive behavior. Physical contact may also be misinterpreted for play and actually encourage the behavior.
Play aggression can usually be recognized in a kitten's body posture. The tail lashes back and forth, the ears flatten against the head. This sort of posture usually develops from normal play and is followed by biting and scratching.
The best strategy is simply walking away and ignoring your cat or kitten. That lets the kitty know that rough play leads to no play.