Why is my cat angry at me?

Sometimes it happens out of the blue - a usually happy-go-lucky, affectionate cat starts biting or hissing and their owner can’t work out why. Other cats may have displayed aggressive tendencies for as long as their owner can remember.  

Living with an aggressive animal can be really stressful, no matter how cute or fluffy they might be!  However, in good news, cat aggression is usually able to addressed providing you have the right knowledge, patience and understanding.

Why is my cat being aggressive?

There are a few reasons why a cat may display aggressive behaviour. Often, it’s out of fear or a response to being over-stimulated.

However, aggression can also be a response to pain, so it’s important to rule out any medical conditions first by visiting your vet. For example, neurological disease, liver disease or other pain-inducing diseases such as arthritis and hormone imbalances can all cause aggression.

Types of aggression

To address aggressive behaviour, it’s important to identify what type of aggression your cat is showing.

1. Patting aggression

This type of aggression is displayed while you may be patting your cat for a prolonged period of time. Usually this occurs when the patting is initiated by you, rather than your cat. To address this behaviour:

  • Wait for the cat to initiate patting.
  • Don’t pat the cat for a prolonged period.
  • Look out for body language signals the cat sends when they don’t wish to be patted any more.
  • Desensitise the cat by patting for at first very short and then increasingly longer times, while rewarding the cat with food treats for tolerating the patting.

2. Fear-based aggression

This is a common form of aggression displayed when your cat is scared. Usually, it is paired with strong body language signals such as enlarged pupils, pinned back ears and a fluffy tail and spine. To address this behaviour:

  • Avoid potential triggering situations
  • Systematically desensitise the cat by gradual exposure to the fearful stimulus.
  • Give the cat a food treat while it is calm during the trigger situation.
  • Teach the cat to perform an alternative behaviour in situations in which fear was shown.
  • Talk with your vet about whether medication could be helpful for modifying your cat’s behaviour.
  • Try synthetic pheromones as these can have a calming effect - Feliway® spray/diffuser is available at vet clinics.

3. Redirected aggression

This is common in multi-cat households or situations where pet cats are allowed outdoors. Redirected aggression can happen when a cat has an altercation, or wants to have an altercation, with another animal. The cat will instead redirect that aggression toward someone else, such as a different cat in the household or even their owner. To address this behaviour:

  • Prevent the trigger situation from occurring, e.g. restrict access to window sills, cover windows or keep stray cats away.
  • Bring your cat indoors.
  • Avoid handling the cat if they appear aroused by something.
  • Alternatively, systematically desensitise the cat by gradual exposure to the fearful stimulus.
  • Give the cat a food treat while they are calm during the trigger situation.
  • Medication may also be used in combination with behavioural modification (your vet will advise).

4. Play aggression

This is common in young cats and kittens or adult cats who were removed from their mother too young. In this situation, the cat does not exhibit dominant or fear-based body language.Instead, it will usually hide low to the ground with its tail swinging, waiting for the unsuspecting victim – usually a pair of ankles or hands dangling over the edge of a couch! Kittens will usually grow out of this behavior, but to nip it in the bud:

  • Avoid trigger situations where possible
  • Do not encourage aggressive play and ignore unwanted behaviour
  • Try positive reinforcement training by rewarding ‘good’ behaviour.
  • Don’t react in cCnfrontational ways such as physical punishment, or reacting to the aggression with fast movements or high-pitched vocalisations, as these may simply reinforce the aggression.
  • Redirect the behaviour – once you have interrupted an attack by ignoring and moving away, toss a toy for the cat to initiate appropriate play.
  • Provide interesting toys and rotate their use.
  • Engage in appropriate play with your cat daily. In these play periods, interact with your cat using toys

5. Noise aggression

Cats may respond to certain sound frequencies with aggression, such as a baby crying, another cat crying, high-frequency whistling or squeaking sounds. This can be addressed by:

  • Avoiding trigger sound frequencies (where possible)
  • Where appropriate, you can attempt desensitisation and counter-conditioning. Desensitisation to noise means playing the ‘trigger’ sound at a very low volume and if the cat remains calm/relaxed she can then be rewarded with a food treat (counter-conditioning). The volume is then very slowly increased over time and the cat continues to be rewarded as long as they remain calm and relaxed during the sound.

If you require more support or advice on cat aggression, give our friendly team a call on 9224 2222.