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Aggressive Cat Behavior
At times, cats can be an enigma. Their behavior displayed during periods of stress, illness or uncertainty easily triggers alarm within their owner, especially if the cat becomes aggressive toward another cat, animal or human.
Behind each act of aggression lies a reason. Sometimes the cause is apparent, other times it remains a mystery. Aggression can be displayed in many different forms.
Territorial Aggression- Sharing a home with more than one cat can trigger territorial aggression. Each cat needs to have their own personal space, just like humans. In a crowded situation adding levels to the home in the form of cat condos, cat ramps and perches can diffuse potential problems.
One of the first indications of territorial aggression is spraying. Even neutered/spayed cats are capable of spraying (leaving their mark) when they feel their territory is threatened. If you find urine one to two feet off the floor, your cat is spraying.
Introducing a new cat and kitten into the home adds a scent the resident cats are not familiar with. This triggers unwanted behavior. Spraying, growling, hissing, chasing and fighting are ways that the resident cat(s) makes his place in the home known to the intruder.
Territorial aggression displayed when there are cats outside appears randomly. Often, stray and feral cats will spray the outside walls or the windows claiming their territory. This can spark a territorial war between the cats inside. Solo cats will also respond to outside “threats.”
Outside, cats choose who they colonize with. Normally, there is one strong alpha and the rest are sub-dominant males, females and what is known as pariah cats.
Bringing more than one cat into our home, we are technically asking the cats to accept our choices and live in harmony. Sometimes, these actions are hard for some cats to tolerate.
Sexual Aggression- Prevalent during mating and kitten season this aggression can become fierce. Mating takes place in a rough arena. The toms are sexually charged, the female submissive but eager.
During mating the tomcat will mount the female and bite her neck hard clamping her down in place. The air around the mating couple is full of sexually charged pheremones. The bushes in the yard drenched with sexually stimulated urine. This brings other tomcats into the area. Fighting does occur with the victor(s) taking the prize.
Cats that are not neutered will become over time aggressive toward other cats, humans, even dogs. Dry humping behavior will occur for toms denied access to females during kitten season. The aggressive behavior releases the sexual energy.
Alpha Aggression- The most prevalent form of aggression for a clowder of kitties. The alpha cat will be the cat in the group that always perches higher than the other cats. He will eat first; he will push the others off their food once he has finished his share. The alpha is not always male. Females can assert themselves as alpha.
Two alphas often clash and the role of alpha can change at any time. Even small kittens can take over from an older alpha.
Prey/Play Aggression- the earliest form of aggression a kitten learns. Cats are first and foremost predators. It is the queen’s instinct to teach her kittens how to hunt. They learn to pounce, stalk and capture each other at around four weeks old.
Cat lover’s watching a litter of kittens tumbling about, stalking each other and hiding and then pouncing are sharply reminded of their own adult cat(s) predatory behavior. This behavior directed against live prey, another cat or a soft toy is the kitten’s survival tool. As the kitten gets older the play drive turns into prey drive. Ankles, feet, other animals, anything that moves are fair game.
Stationary objects also turn into prey which is why many kittens end up pushing knick-knacks and other objects off shelves and dressers.
Stimulation Aggression- also called petting aggression. For some cats, petting is an unknown factor. An action that we crave, but not one that every cat accepts. The cat who lashes out with his claws, or bites the hand that is petting him, quite likely was never introduced to human touch while a young kitten. Therefore the touch that we offer in comfort can be perceived as threatening.
If the cat is not used to being touched on his stomach, then petting him on his tummy is an invitation to war.
For unhandled cats, when they roll on their stomach they are producing all their weapons of war armed and ready (claws and teeth). Some cat owners mistake this motion as an invitation to pet the soft belly. This generally causes the cat to rabbit-kick the invading hand, grab with the front paws and bite down. For cats socialized by humans by the time the kitten is 3 weeks old, this type of touch does not signal a threat.
Pain -induced Aggression- you are walking across your room when out of the middle of nowhere, your cat pounces on you and attacks you. He has never done that before and you are puzzled as to why he is starting.
Later that night, you go to feed and he walks away from his food dish, or he eats just a few bites and leaves. You might see him pulling fur out of his chest or belly; all these signs are symptoms of a cat in pain. He is trying to tell you in the only way he can that he is not doing well.
Cats are masters at hiding pain. When they don’t feel well, their behavioral state transgresses from mellow, to anxious and then stressed. During this transition, some cats can release ACTH or adrenocorticotropic hormone from their pituitary gland. This hormone stimulates the adrenal cortex. Some cats are able to use this hormone to their advantage and regenerate from physical wounds or trauma.
Other cats, maintaining this constant state of anxiety can mean that the cat is ill. This hormone can also trigger a release of aggression. The cat may attack his owner, or other animals without warning.
In a multi-cat home, when one cat is getting pounced on and beat up routinely unexpectedly, this can be a sign that the victimized cat is ill.
When cats become ill, their signature scent changes subtly or dramatically, depending on what is wrong. This change in scent can provoke an attack from the resident cats that no longer recognize the “intruder.” A vet visit is always warranted with a cat subject to this type of an assault.
Maternal Aggression – a queen will display maternal aggression when her kittens are threatened. She will run off anyone or anything that threatens her kittens.
Queens will dispose of ill kittens by carrying them out of the nest, and leaving the kitten exposed to the elements and predators. This is done to protect her healthy litter.
Fear Aggression- cats when threatened have two responses. They either flee or fight. If there is no safe exit, the cat’s only response is to fight. A strongly dominant cat will fight tooth and claw. If he is sub-dominant then he will withdraw from the threat by crouching low to the ground, remaining quite still and not meeting the eyes of whatever is threatening him. Make no mistake about it; this cat is on the alert. Although motionless, one move toward him will provoke an attack that will include spitting, hissing, hair raising, claws out, head tucked but no biting.
Trigger Aggression- seen mostly in cats that have been abused. The causes for trigger aggression are sometimes hard to pin down. The cat could be responding to sight, smell, touch or the environment.
When the aggression comes, it hits the victim unexpectedly. The attack is fierce, possibly fueled by past treatment of the cat not necessarily personally directed at the victim. Cats hardly remember the good things that happen to them, but they never forget the bad.
I have found that one of the mistakes made when dealing with an aggressive cat is humans tend to anthromorphize the cat’s behavior. Cats are not generally inclined to practice forms of revenge. They don’t stay angry at people who genuinely care for them. The don’t carry grudges. They don’t lay awake at night scheming about how to hurt people who are helping them.
I’ve never seen one cat set another on fire, though I have heard of cats going into a burning building to rescue her kittens or to save a feline pal.
Understanding inherent cat behavior can assist you in deciphering acts of aggression. Yes, cats will lash out if they are hurt by someone. But unless the hurt continues, the fear and anger will cease.
They respond by instinct; they move and think as predators. They are low on the food chain so they fight fiercely to protect their life. When cats react they are simply trying to protect themselves in the only way they know how.