• Adele Danskin

Cat Behaviour - Aggression

Cats are individuals just like people and because we can’t speak directly with them, we need to try to understand their body language and behaviour in order to communicate effectively and live in harmony with them.

Why has my cat suddenly become aggressive?

There are many reasons why your cat may suddenly appear to become aggressive and the most common cause is that they are experiencing pain. Quite often cats disguise their pain very well. For example, it is only recently that we have come to recognise the widespread problem of arthritis in older cats. This is because the most common sign of feline arthritis may simply be a reluctance to jump onto surfaces or to climb stairs. Cat-fight abscesses are a common reason for acute onset of behavioural changes in cats. The initial stages of an abscess are not obvious from the outside, but there will be a significant area of tenderness where the abscess is developing. If this is inadvertently touched during stroking or petting it can cause quite a dramatic and understandably aggressive response from your cat.

If you suspect any pain response in your cat or if she suddenly appears to become aggressive for no obvious reason, it’s very important to make an appointment to see your vet for a full clinical examination.

Why does my cat suddenly scratch and bite me when I’m stroking her?

If you cat is fit and healthy and not in any pain, it may sometimes happen that she appears to have suddenly turned on you with outstretched claws or bared teeth for no apparent reason. The good news is that there will always be a reason, it’s just a matter of finding out what it is. Most cats enjoy being stroked and petted, but they dislike being restrained. If your cat jumps into your lap when you’re sitting quietly, it may simply be due to the fact that you can provide a warm and comfortable bed for them. In this situation they also generally tolerate a certain amount of stroking, but owners will often report that their cat suddenly turned on them and either scratched or bit their hands before leaping off their lap and stalking away. This is because they view being held as a form of constraint. If you observe your cat carefully, there will always be some warning signs before this point is reached. If you stop stroking at the first warning sign or even the second or third sign, it is likely that your cat will remain on your lap and no-one will get injured. This is because they are actively trying to warn you of their displeasure and you’ve correctly read the signs. However, if you ignore these signs and continue to hold/stroke them, they may eventually resort to a more aggressive means of communication with their teeth and/or claws.

What are the warning signs that my cat isn’t happy?

A cat that is getting agitated, will nearly always start to twitch the tip of their tail. This movement will become increasingly obvious as their irritation builds and their entire body will begin to tense up.

Additionally, their ears may rotate back towards their tail or start to flatten against their heads. If you’re able to see your cat’s face, you may notice that the eyes are open and the pupils dilated. All of these are very clear warning signs that your cat is not happy and if you notice any of these signs when handling your cat, stop all contact immediately.

Top Tips

  • Never try to restrain your cat if they are showing active signs of displeasure

  • If you must restrain your cat always ensure both your safety and that of your cat. For example, use a towel or ask someone to help you hold your cat when you need to give them oral medication

  • Try to encourage safe playing and never use your fingers or toes to tempt your cat to pounce, even when they’re kittens. This only teaches them that your fingers and toes are items to hunt!

  • Never strike or shout at your cat, even if you have been scratched or bitten. This will only cause a fearful response and make a difficult situation worse.

  • Always reward good behaviour and ignore any behaviour you don’t want to encourage.

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