There’s a reason the phrase “hissy fits” exists, and it’s probably because, at some point in time, a peeved cat wreaked havoc on some poor, innocent person. Nobody wants to admit that their darling pet is anything but perfect, but at one point or another, every cat owner has had to learn how to calm an aggressive cat.
Aggressive behavior doesn’t necessarily mean your cat is destined to be an evil hellspawn (though you can’t rule that out), but dealing with a tiny, furious creature with claws is an issue. Before you lose your nerves battling with a yowling furball, check out the tips in this article! There might be an easier way to handle them.
What Is Considered Aggressive Cat Behavior?
Besides the traditional arched-backed cats depicted in Halloween cartoons, there are plenty of alternative signs of cat aggression. A cat’s body language consists of its posture, facial expressions, and the movement or placement of its ears, whiskers, and tails. Understanding that cats communicate through their body language means they are limited in letting us know what they are feeling. Sometimes this language can be subtle and misunderstood.
Aggressive Body Language
How does body language determine aggressive behavior? It’s simple. Body language changes based on what is aggravating your cat. While some subtleties can be hard to decipher, some behaviors are hard to mistake. In general, some obvious signs of aggression in cats are:
- A rigid stance
While cats are proud, independent creatures, their confidence dwindles in situations where they feel threatened. A cat that is trying to defend itself makes itself look smaller to protect itself. These defensive indicators can include:
- Tucking tail between legs
- Flattened ears
- Flattened whiskers
- Bowed head
A cat in an offensive stance is preparing for a fight — clinched and ready for an attack. Cats that are offensively aggressive will make themselves look as big as possible to intimidate their opponent. Signs of an offensive stance are:
- Stiffened, upright body
- Tail extended straight up or straight back
- Bristled fur
- Arched back
- Rolling onto back or side to prepare for an attack with teeth and claws
Common Causes of an Aggressive Cat
Figuring out the trigger for your cat’s aggressive behavior is the key to resolving it. Sometimes unwanted behavior is fixed by simply removing an object from their space (vacuums are scary when you’re a foot tall) or by providing your cat with some distracting stimulation. Each cause requires a special way of handling it.
Many animals are very territorial with their space, and cats are no exception. Territorial aggression is typically directed towards other cats, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be aggressive towards other animals or people.
Their perceived territory can include your home, yard, an area around your house, the block, and sometimes an entire neighborhood. Territorial aggression behaviors can include stalking an intruder, displaying offensive body posture, and attacking.
Fearful aggression occurs when a cat is scared or threatened and feels it cannot escape. A combination of offensive and defensive behavior is displayed in an attempt to ward off the threat. Usually, the cat will calm down on its own when the threat goes away, so it is best to leave them alone when displaying fearful aggression.
Pain or Discomfort
Irritation or discomfort from pain, frustration, or deprivation is a major trigger for aggression. Pain-induced aggression can cause anxiety if a cat anticipates being touched or picked up, causing them to lash out. Even normally docile cats can become aggressive when they are in pain. If you suspect your cat has an underlying medical issue causing them pain or discomfort, you should immediately take them to a vet.
Sometimes your cat gets a little rough when they play with you. Cats are predatory creatures, and when they play, they are practicing their hunting and attacking skills. Younger cats are more likely to have play aggression and are the most common aggressive behavior directed towards their owners.
Through rough play with each other, younger cats are taught to restrain their more violent swipes and bites; they learn to be more gentle in their play with one another. Kittens who don’t get socialized properly or otherwise are not taught to temper their rough play behavior will continue to rough play with their owners or other cats.
Frustration / Redirection
Have you ever come across your cat resting on the back of your couch, purring gently and asking for you to pet them, but after a few seconds, they suddenly bite you? This random attack may be a redirection of their frustration about something completely unrelated!
Redirection is a relief tactic where a cat becomes startled or upset by something, but instead of running away or dealing with the cause of their distress, they target the nearest thing they can get to. These attacks can seem “out of the blue” but are an outlet for their agitation. Common causes for redirected aggression can be:
- Seeing an animal through a window or door, they cannot get to
- Smelling another animal on your clothing
- Hearing high-pitched noises
- Being frightened or harassed by a dog or another cat
- Being in a shelter, surrounded by stimuli from other cats
- An interrupted catfight
Frustration from too much or lack of stimulation can also be a cause for redirected aggression. If your cat suddenly bites you during a petting session, the explanation maybe because it is overstimulated and is trying to tell you they want you to stop. Likewise, if your cat is bored or enclosed in a small area, the lack of stimulation may cause them to become aggressive as a form of redirection.
For mama cats, keeping her babies safe is the number one priority. Maternal aggression occurs when your cat feels the need to protect her offspring from perceived danger. It is very real to her, even if you don’t think she has anything to fear from you or that spooky-looking coat hanging on the door. Territorial instinct and the urge to hunt are also innate behaviors that can trigger cat aggression.
What Are the Most Aggressive Cat Breeds?
Some studies suggest that genetics are the biggest determining trait for a cat’s predisposition. This suggests that some breeds tend to be more docile than others, which can help you when adopting your new fur baby. Though there is some variance among the ranking of these breeds, the more aggressive breeds tend to be:
- Turkish Van
- Egyptian Mau
Other studies have suggested that coat color can determine cat demeanor and that you can get an idea of how docile a cat can be based on its coloring. Black and white, orange, and grey colored cats tended to be the most aggressive breeds. The more docile breeds included cat breeds with solid colors or with tabby coats such as the following:
- Exotic shorthair
- British shorthair
- Norwegian Forest
- Russian Blue
- Saint Birman
How To Calm an Aggressive Cat
While a tiny, scratchy furball can be a cause for concern, fear not! There are options to try before you throw them in naughty kitty jail. The solution to how to calm an aggressive cat may be simpler than you think. Barring more severe behavioral issues, some aggressive cats may respond well to these at-home treatments.
Locate the Aggravator
First and foremost, you need to know what sets your cat off. Each method for handling feline aggression is unique to the aggravator. After all, like most remedies, the treatment must fit the sickness, right? If the aggravation is clear, it makes it easier to proceed with the solution.
The obvious solution to most aggressive behavior may be to avoid stimulating your cat, if possible. If you know your cat often bites you when you rub its belly, don’t do it. If your cat is all claw when playing with loose shoestrings, don’t leave your shoes unattended.
Punishment for aggressive behavior is never the right thing to do. Things like spraying water or frightening your cat with a loud noise when they behave incorrectly can further increase their aggression, especially in cases of fear aggression.
Improper or physical punishment can cause fear and anxiety and cause your cat to avoid or become further hostile towards you. While it may stop the unwanted behavior at the moment, it hinders progress in the long run. Remember that you want to punish the behavior, not your cat.
Interrupt the Behavior
Gentle whistling, throwing a toy into their line of vision, and other forms of distraction can curb the start of aggression. Interrupting the behavior by touching or picking up your cat can be dangerous because they may redirect their aggression towards you, so avoid this whenever possible.
The best solution is early intervention before habitual behavior occurs. This kind of intervention is best done under the supervision of a veterinarian or animal behaviorist. Behavior modification uses positive reinforcement to encourage more desirable behaviors and discourage undesirable behavior. An animal behaviorist might walk you through fear exposure techniques, where small exposure to unpleasant stimuli can gradually diminish their fear of it.
Alternatively, counter-conditioning can rewrite a negative experience as a good one, by say, giving your cat a treat during an unpleasant experience and rewarding them when they display non-aggressive behavior. When combined with CBD — like with HolistaPet’s CBD Calming Chews for Cats — you can have a higher chance of reinforcing good behavior by helping them feel relaxed and comfortable during the training process.
At home, you may want to try redirecting your cat’s aggression from one thing to another. For example, if your cat tends to claw your couch when it’s nervous, providing a scratching post instead might redirect that behavior away from your furniture. For nervous cats, providing a place to hide, such as a cat condo or a box, gives them a place to calm down, away from stimulants and people.
For many aggressive cats, their aggression is an outlet for their frustration or a way to release energy. Providing relaxing alternatives for your cat can help ease some of their anxiety and dissipate that aggression.
Catnip is infamous for mellowing out crazy cats and can also be used as an alternative stimulant. Combined with things like CBD, such as in HolistaPet’s Catnip Spray with CBD, their mellow levels can be maxed out when you spray it on their toys, bed, or scratching posts by giving them a reason to chill out and enjoy the scent.
How To Calm an Aggressive Cat if Home Remedies Do Not Work
The bottom line to keep in mind is that your vet will know best. They can evaluate what your cat needs best and can advise you on your next steps. Hidden injuries or disorders are hard to find with the naked eye, and they may find that the underlying cause is medical. In that case, they may recommend surgery, physical therapy, medicine, or a new diet to help resolve the issue.
Spaying or neutering your cats may also be a solution to their aggression in cases where their behavior is fueled by their urge to mate. Sexually induced aggression can cause your cat to pick fights more often than cats that have been fixed. There are multiple benefits to spaying or neutering your cat, but it is always best to consult a vet first before having your feline undergo the knife.
Final Thoughts — How To Calm an Aggressive Cat
Aggression is usually treated as more of a nuisance than a serious issue due to cats’ smaller stature than other housepets like dogs. Cat bites and scratches post their risks like infection and diseases if not taken care of, and can cause anxiety and wariness in people who have had bad experiences with aggressive cats. With enough trial and error, any behavioral problems can improve. Now that you know how to calm an aggressive cat, a little time and patience should be all you need!