Cats respond with aggression to express territorialism, to show dominance over another cat, or in response to pain or fear. No matter what the cause, dealing with an aggressive cat is a difficult situation requiring patience and a great deal of effort. When a cat pins its ears back, widens its eyes, growls, hisses or adopts a "Halloween cat" posture, it is entering aggression mode. Owners of aggressive cats can take steps to minimise this potentially dangerous behaviour, and avoid bites and scratches by working with the cat on a long-term basis.
Protect yourself. Wear long sleeves and trousers when dealing with aggressive cats. Wear gloves to avoid being bitten or scratched. Safety glasses are needed when dealing with extremely aggressive cats. Keep a towel handy to restrain the cat if necessary.
Determine the source of your cat's aggression. Look for common triggers such as people, objects or situations that set your cat on edge. Knowing the things that cause your cat to act with aggression allows you to tailor the cat's environment to avoid those things.
Move with confidence and speak in calm, even tones. Your cat picks up on visual and verbal cues. If you sound or appear nervous, scared or otherwise in a state of high alert, the cat is more likely to respond with fear or aggression.
Avoid using words that have distinct "s" sounds -- to a frightened or aggressive cat, these words sound like hissing. Instead of saying "such a sweet kitty," for example, opt for a less-intimidating phrase such as "good girl." Similarly, avoid interacting with the cat in rooms containing appliances that make a hissing noise, such as steam cleaners.
Approach the cat with a neutral object that doesn't smell like humans or another animal - a capped pen, for example. Approach the cat's nose head-on with the object and allow the cat to sniff. Presenting the cat with a non-confrontational, feline-like greeting can calm a nervous or skittish cat.
Adopt a "less is more" approach. All cats respond better when they're tricked into thinking something was their idea. Use as little force and restraint when handling the cat as possible.
Give the cat a safe space that it can call its own. When confronted with an unpleasant situation, cats have two options: fight or flee. Allowing the cat to flee to a small, dark, confined space where it feels safe (such as a cat carrier covered with a blanket) reduces the risk of injury for you, the cat and any innocent bystanders.
Invest in a calming pheromone spray or diffuser. Pheromone solutions release a scent that mimics the cat's own chemical responses, promoting a calm atmosphere.
Spay or neuter your cat. Intact cats have hormones raging through their systems, which cause an increase in aggressive, territorial behaviours and hunting instincts. Spaying or neutering your cat reduces the amount of these hormones, leading to a calmer kitty.
Work with your cat multiple times throughout the day for short periods. The more you interact with your cat and try to assuage its fears and calm its upsets, the more the cat becomes used to interactions. Keep interaction periods short to avoid overloading the cat with stimuli.
Reward your cat with treats when it responds favourably. Do not strike or hit your cat for acting aggressively -- this only makes the situation worse.
Speak to your veterinarian about the best course of action for your individual cat. Anti-anxiety medications may be needed to calm more extreme cats.
Tips and warnings
- Reward your cat with treats when it responds favourably. Do not strike or hit your cat for acting aggressively -- this only makes the situation worse.
- Speak to your veterinarian about the best course of action for your individual cat. Anti-anxiety medications may be needed to calm more extreme cats.
- "Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians"; Joanna Bassert, Dennis McCurnin; 2009
- "Veterinary Nursing"; D. R. Lane, B. Cooper; 2003
- "Pet First Aid"; Bobbie Mammato; 1997
- "Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff"; Lila Miller, Stephen Zawistowski; 2004
- "Pet First Aid and Disaster Response Guide"; G. Elaine Acker; 2008
- "Canine and Feline Behavior and Training"; Linda P. Case; 2009