Is your cat showing aggression towards people, playing too roughly, or showing aggression during feeding time? This guide will cover some basic steps you can take to reduce your cat’s unpleasant behavior. If your cat is acting aggressively towards your other pets, read both this page and our Multiple Pet Household page for information.
Disclaimer: This information in no way serves as a substitute for medical advice for you or your pet. If you have been bitten badly enough that your skin is broken, seek medical attention immediately.
Aggression during petting
If your cat suddenly becomes aggressive or lashes out when you pet her, especially if you touch a particular body part (paw or hips, for instance), he/she may be trying to tell you that something is wrong. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out a medical cause.
Over-stimulation is also a possibility. If your cat suddenly bites you after you’ve been petting him/her for a few minutes, this is likely the cause. Some cats get so excited about getting attention that they lash out inappropriately. Other cats don’t know how to tell you they’ve had enough and bite/scratch to give you a hint. This is fairly normal behavior, though certainly not ideal. Learn to read your cat’s body language to avoid these unpleasant events. Right before your cat bites/scratches you, does she pin her ears back, start “twitching,” let out a low growl, flip her tail, or show other signs of annoyance?
Aggression during playtime
Biting and scratching is normal play behavior for kittens and sometimes even cats, but it sure is annoying if you’re the target. Never encourage scratching/biting behavior by using your hands during playtime — this is sending your cat the message that your hands are fun toys. Say “OW!” to let them know you didn’t like that one bit, then discontinue playtime by leaving the room or ignoring your cat. Turn your back, cross your arms, and look away. Some people also use a quick squirt from a water bottle to discourage this behavior. You can keep playtime interesting by introducing new toys that don’t involve going anywhere near your hands, such as laser pointers, remote-control mice, and “fishing pole” type toys.
Food bowl aggression
Like dogs, some cats get aggressive around meal time. This can be a result of excitement about dinner, or fear that another animal will eat the food. If your cat attacks your legs or is otherwise aggressive before or during feeding time, City Kitties recommends an automatic feeder. While not cheap, these feeding stations are worth every penny. Rather than your cat associating dinnertime with you (and your legs — ouch), they will begin to associate it with the auto-feeder. Simply fill it once a day, set the timer, and your cat can eat without any involvement on your part.
If your cat shows aggression toward other pets before or during meals, the answer is pretty obvious: separate this cat from other pets when it’s dinnertime. Free-feeding (leaving food in the bowls 24/7) is not recommended for a variety of reasons, but especially in this case, the cats should be fed at specific times in separate areas or rooms.
In some cases, cats become aggressive for no discernible reason, lashing out as you walk by or attacking seemingly out of nowhere. Ask yourself if anything has changed to trigger this behavior. New smells (visiting a friend who has cats, going to the vet’s office), “scary” or unusually shaped objects (hats, umbrellas, walking canes, pineapples, whatever!), changes to your home or routine, sudden movements, or other stressful events could trigger fear-based aggression. If you’re not sure what the cause could be, speak to your vet.
For any type of aggression, City Kitties recommends trying feline pheromone plug-ins and collars to calm your cat. These products mimic cats’ facial pheromones, creating a feeling of familiarity and safety. In many cases, we’ve found the products really help reduce stress and aggression. Feliway is one popular brand, but there are others.
As with any behavioral problem, if you are unable to find a solution yourself, speak with your veterinarian. Sometimes cats, like people, have mental imbalances that may result in aggression. Your vet may suggest prescribing medication to manage this issue.