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Aggressive behaviour

Aggressive behaviour directed towards another cat or owner is a common behavioural issue reported to the RSPCA. There are many different types of aggression that cats show and these may have different causes.

To correctly diagnose and treat aggression, you must understand the type of aggression by learning to read you cat’s body language. Keeping a diary and taking notes of when, where and under what circumstances the cat has been aggressive will help the diagnosis. Aggresive behaviour is also sometimes caused by underlying medical conditions. Therefore before you visit an animal behaviourist, it is always better to first see your vet.

It is important not to punish your cat or try and handle the aggressive cat on your own. Punishment can often make the problem worse, particularly if the aggression is motivated by fear. An animal behaviourist can help you reduce aggressive behaviours by identifying the cause and in some situations, increasing outlets for this aggression such as increased play time with toys.

Types of aggression

There are many different types of feline aggression and more than one form may be exhibited.
  • Play aggression: young cats commonly show play aggression towards people or other pets. Behaviours commonly seen with this type of aggression are stalking, pouncing, nipping or biting of people or their clothing.
  • Redirected aggression: is unprovoked and directed towards another animal or person. This is often seen in a multi-cat household, where one cat is aroused by a person or another pet. Out of frustration the aroused cat will lash out at the passing person/ pet.
  • Fear aggression: appears when a cat is exposed to unfamiliar people, animals, places or stimuli (eg. noises), or situations previously associated with an unpleasant experience. Some cats will run away but other cats will turn to aggression in response to the perceived threat.
  • Status related aggression: occurs in households where cats are organising their social structure. This may occur when a new cat enters the household, the environment changes or new cats enter the neighbourhood. Occasionally, this aggression can be directed towards people.
  • Aggression when patted: occurs when a cat reaches their threshold for the amount of physical interaction that they can tolerate. This varies for each cat and some have more tolerance than others. A lack of regular handling or early socilalisation may increase the likelihood of this behaviour. Fear and status related aggression may also be expressed with this form of aggression.
  • Territorial aggression: Territorial aggression can be exhibited towards people or other animals either within or outside of the household. This type of aggression is usually seen at social maturity (1 to 2 years of age).
  • Pain aggression: Pain induced aggression is often seen when handling or contact with another person or animal elicits pain or discomfort in the cat. If you are concerned that this may be occurring, it is recommended that the cat be taken to the vet to rule out any medical causes.
  • Predatory: Predatory aggression is the cat’s instinctive desire to hunt prey. These behaviours include stalking, chasing and attacking and maybe directed toward other animals or people.
  • Maternal: Maternal aggression is directed towards people and other animals when a mother cat is with her kittens.

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