Cat aggression explained: what you’re doing wrong

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Cats have the reputation of being aloof, uncaring and even randomly aggressive. It’s true – some cats genuinely lash out for seemingly no reason. But is that really the case? Cat aggression can stem from very different things that seem to be completely irrational on surface level. Most people aren’t well attuned to cat body language and can be oblivious to the most obvious show of discomfort. On top of that, cat psychology isn’t very well understood, so it makes it more difficult.  As such, here is cat aggression explained.

Cat aggression – common triggers

There are many cat aggression triggers and it really depends on the individual cat and the specific situation of the matter.  For example, a cat that hasn’t been properly introduced to another existing cat in the household can become incredibly timid or can lash out in the attempt to gain dominance over the other residing cats. The cat might feel deeply insecure, so they resort to aggression to gain some sort stability in the perceived cat hierarchy.

The reverse can happen as well. A cat that has been living by itself or with a previously accepted cat will not accept a new cat easily. It can become intimidated or they can lash out with violence. After all, it will see the new cat as a threat and as new competition. That’s why introducing cats properly (with a lot of care) is important. You don’t need cat drama on top of other possible issues.

Power dynamics between cats and between cats and humans are different. Most cats, especially when raised since young, will see their human as a sort of maternal protective figure. They won’t try to dominate their own caretaker, because they are attached to their human in a similar way to which kittens are attached to their mother (and human children to their parents, as evident by the similar attachment styles of cats, dogs and young children).

The most that can happen in this case is a failed play fight. It mostly happens with kittens or young cats that haven’t been socialised properly. They will try to mock attack you in hopes of playing. Some people interpret this as actual aggression. If there are no warning signs (pinned ears, large pupils, tensed up body, displeased noises, hissing), the cat doesn’t actually try to hurt you with claws or teeth and it even runs away immediately after, it is most likely just playing.

Specific things that annoy cats – cat aggression is seldom random

There are some specific things that may annoy a cat to the point of aggression. Of course, it depends on the cat. Some cats have very bizarre, specific triggers that only their owners can decipher. For example, a cat may be very displeased by certain sounds that you make, like laughing or sneezing. You might think that’s weird, but cat hearing is very good and they can be sensitive to sharp sounds. A cat can become overstimulated by the noise and attack the source – in this case, you.

Because cats can be overwhelmed by stimuli very quickly, it’s the same issue with petting your cat for too long. The fur might get static electricity or they might just become overwhelmed by the sense of touch.  It happens almost instantaneously, so the cat might just swipe at you in order for you to stop immediately. Unfortunately, a cat can’t use words to tell you to stop. Sometimes cat aggression is necessary to impose boundaries.  A friendly reminder to not test a cat’s boundaries, as claws will be involved, rightly so.

Fear and pain may be the reason

If your cat has been previously abused or is a former stray, it might be fearful of certain things. Even if you’ve raised said cat since it was a kitten, it might be its temperament that makes it more timid and thus more likely to be fearful of random things. It’s your duty to find out what the triggers are. You don’t want a cat that in a constant state of fear or anxiety.

This anxious and fearful energy builds up. Even if the cat isn’t by nature aggressive, it will lash out in fear at whatever is terrorising it. You might be scaring it as well, unintentionally – or another person that is present in the household. Some cats and dogs are deathly afraid of men because of past bad experiences.

You might be lightly touching your cat, when it suddenly whips around and scratches you deeply. What happened there? It could be overstimulation or it could’ve been startled. But it could also be pain. If you touch a certain spot and your cat flinches, it might be worth paying a visit to the vet. Cat aggression is not uncommon when it comes to chronic pain that’s not being handled or random unseen injuries.

What can you do to help your cat?

Observe your cat’s behaviour and see what it is that is making your cat react with violence. Deal with a fearful cat lovingly and be patient with a cat that is in pain. Sometimes it might be something as simple as boredom. If your cat is bored and you ignore it all day, it might come to see you as a possible toy. After all, it quickly learns that you react dynamically to being bitten or scratched, so it will do it again to ease the boredom.

You only have to play with your cat for about 10 to 20 minutes per day at minimum. Any string toy will do. And if you’re really that busy, perhaps look into getting another companion for you cat (but beware the introduction) or a get a cat sitter.

Otherwise, once you identify the thing that’s upsetting your cat, you remove said thing or you stop doing it. In the case of overstimulation, you have to be careful for how long you pet your cat. Its body language will tell you if petting time is over. You just have to be in tune with your cat – so don’t ignore a tensed up body. You might also want to make less offending sounds.

Cats shouldn’t have issues with each other if introduced well. There are plenty of guides on cat introduction out there.  Even so, always be diligent when it comes to the environment your cat lives in. Any small change may trigger a change in behaviour and thus cat aggression. Cats really like routine.

Therefore, cat aggression isn’t that mysterious and it can be explained by some relatively simple things. It might or might not be your fault, but it’s entirely your responsibility to care for your cat. That includes finding out why your cat lashes out and what you can do to help it. There are no definite answers to some cat behaviour, but some of the more known answers can be shared.

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