Why Does My Cat Attack Me?
Does your cat strike out at you once in a while?
Does she hiss, growl or swipe a paw at you when you’re not expecting it?
Why Is My Cat So Angry With Me Anyway?
First, he probably isn’t angry with you.
Most likely, he is either somewhat confused, worried, scared, stressed out, not feeling 100%, or just a little annoyed with you.
It’s not really anger.
It’s Called Cat Aggression
A household cat being too aggressive is common.
It’s so common that there are standard terms and definitions for the various types of aggressive behavior.
What Does Cat Aggression Look Like?
Aggressive behavior can take a few different forms, but it’s essentially when your cat exhibits unusual behavior under certain circumstances.
She might be displaying threatening or evasive behavior and it’s directed at you, another family member, or another pet.
It is often a defensive or protective reflex.
Your cat may hide, hiss, growl, swat with her paw, bite, scratch, or display an aggressive or defensive posture.
This behavior often confuses a pet owner unless they understand why their cat is doing it.
Types of Feline Aggression
There are 10 general categories of aggressive behavior.
What you observe in your kitty can probably be assigned to one of these categories:
- Play Aggression
- Redirected Aggression
- Petting Induced
- Fear Induced
- Pain or Health Induced
If you can understand your cat and determine what is motivating her to have aggressive displays, you can get started on reducing the factors that are prompting her to act that way.
This is considered the most common form of unwanted aggressive behavior that owners report.
This occurs when a household cat believes he is engaged in play, but the play is too rough and they end up scratching or biting their owner or other pets.
The two biggest reasons some cats have this issue is either they didn’t learn how to play appropriately when they were kittens or their owner encouraged rough play as they were growing.
Some owners confuse their young cats by encouraging them to see human fingers and feet as toys to play with, swat at, and pounce on.
If an owner does this, they shouldn’t be surprised if their young cat attacks their feet when they aren’t expecting it. The cat merely has playful intentions.
Kittens and young cats play pretty rough. Kittens learn by playing every day with other kittens what the boundaries are.
They learn that biting softly or swatting without scratching is what they are supposed to do.
Kittens that didn’t have littermates may not have learned the boundaries of where play ends and pain begins.
Redirected aggression is a common form of feline aggression and one that can confuse owners.
This happens when your cat is agitated or provoked by some external animal or other stimuli, but then he ends up taking it out on you in response.
The most common situation is when kitty is looking out the window and sees another cat, or a dog, or a squirrel or bird.
That outside animal has stimulated your cat’s territorial or predatory reflexes. But there is nothing he can do about it. Then you come up and touch him on the back of the head and he hisses at you. It’s just a reflex, a redirected response.
The owner may never notice what is outside the window, the thing that is actually agitating their cat. So they end up blaming their cat for being in a bad mood.
And if your cat is frightened or really agitated by what he saw outside, that feeling can stay with him and keep him on edge for many minutes.
Typical triggers for getting your cat agitated include:
- Seeing another cat through a window or door
- Watching squirrels or birds outside, just out of reach
- Smelling the scent of another cat on a family member or a visitor
- Having another pet or person introduced into the household
- Scary or loud noises
- Your other indoor pet is harassing or bothering him
If you see your cat appears agitated, if he is pacing, growling, swishing his tail or otherwise looks on edge, don’t approach him.
You can talk to him, you can try to calm him down, but he may not want to be touched just yet.
Sometimes indoor cats compete for resources.
Sometimes one cat will try to establish a socially dominant position over another cat.
Some cats want to be the boss of the house. Or at least the boss of the other cats.
Some behaviorists call this Status-Induced Aggression or Inter-Cat Aggression.
The social balance of a multiple-cat house can be complicated and too subtle for the owner to notice.
You may notice this if you see your bigger cat lay in a doorway and swat at the other cat as he tries to walk by.
Or you may see this when he growls at you when you try to move him or he appears to be in a bad mood while you are petting another pet.
Territorial aggression is similar to competition, except that it centers just around the home or territory of your kitty.
Many animals have territorial instincts. Cats do too.
They may consider certain areas to be just their areas. This might be a small area. This might just be a certain room or a certain spot in a room.
They may growl at the intruder. They may swat. They may chase him. They may wait for their moment to pounce.
Cats will generally not mind sharing territory with humans, but they may direct their territorial aggression and anger at their owner if another feline has them annoyed or worried.
In a typical house, territorial issues arise when a new pet or human is introduced into the household.
It can also happen when one cat returns from the animal hospital and is covered in unusual, strange smells. It can take days before the returning cat gets her usual smell back.
Some cats become a little aggressive after being pet for a long while.
Some cats liked to be stroked a little bit, but after a few minutes, they have had enough. They sometimes suddenly nip at the person petting them, quickly get up and walk away.
If you observe this, don’t worry, it’s normal for some felines.
The best thing to do is pet her when she wants to be pet and stop when she doesn’t want it any longer.
The common signals that indicate petting time is over include
- He stops purring
- He doesn’t look sleepy any longer
- He is now turning his head and looking at your hand
- His tail has started to twitch or flip
- He appears distracted and a little restless
If your kitty does this, just accept that he has his petting limits. He has a low tolerance for being groomed and stroked.
It’s nothing you’re doing wrong. It’s just how he is. He has a low petting threshold.
Fearful or Defensive Aggression
This type of behavior is easy to understand.
It occurs when your cat sees a threat and reacts to protect herself.
Fear aggression is a reaction to a person, animal, or sound that has her scared and confused. In her confusion, she may lash out at you.
Don’t approach her. Don’t try to pick her up. Don’t try to physically console her.
How do you tell if she is scared? She may be hiding so you won’t see her.
Or she may be in a defensive posture. She is crouching low to the floor. Her ears are flat. Her tail is tucked. Her fur may be standing on end.
What do you do? Well, nothing. You can try to vocally reassure her. And you wait for the situation to pass.
Predatory aggression is different from the other behaviors on this list.
Predatory behaviors are built into the DNA of a cat. Even a housecat. It’s a survival instinct. It’s a good thing for a cat in the wild to possess.
Cats have the desire to stalk prey. They focus. They watch. They wait. They assume a hunting posture. They sprint and chase. They pounce and bite.
Outside the home, this is what many cats have done for thousands of years.
But inside the home, or if you have other household pets and your feline exhibits this type of behavior towards you, another human, or your other pets, it can become a problem.
Maternal aggression is simply how a new mother reacts when someone approaches her kittens.
Mother cats (called queens) have deep instincts to protect their young from any threat.
And even though you would never harm her kittens, she may be overly protective and perceive you as a threat.
She will certainly see your other cats as threats too.
She may be very aggressive towards you and your other pets during the first few days.
If she and her kittens seem okay, it’s best to just leave them alone and not provoke her.
Maternal aggression normally goes away as the kittens grow.
Pain-Induced and Irritable Aggression
When an animal is in pain, it is easy to understand why he might act out aggressively at people or another animal.
Pain-induced or irritable aggression can affect any animal, even the nicest, most normally docile one.
Cats in discomfort don’t want to be touched in the painful areas. They don’t want to be handled at all.
If you have a cat, especially an older one, that has always been calm and docile but has suddenly become aggressive, it’s possible that his problem is medical.
He has experienced some decline in his health and that is what is driving his sudden anti-social behavior.
Underlying medical problems should always be ruled out when you are first seeing any anger issues.
Make sure there is no health condition you should be attending to with your kitty.
Idiopathic aggression is reserved for those cats that are highly aggressive against their human parents, but no underlying cause for it can be found.
A medical exam provides no evidence of any medical condition or complication.
And, even though their owner has thoroughly studied their daily behavior, environment, and history, no other category of aggression triggers seems to apply.
The cause behind their behavior can not be determined.
Generally, if no apparent cause can be found, the underlying condition ends up being either medical or redirected aggression. Both of these conditions may be difficult to uncover.
But sometimes, there is no underlying cause and the cat is labeled as having idiopathic aggression.
If a cat’s aggression is extreme or violent, and yet there is no cause for it, the cat owner will need to consider how to proceed.
Living with a sometimes violent and unpredictable feline can be difficult, especially if there are young children or elderly in the home.
Why Is My Cat So Aggressive and What To Do About It
Once you figure out the scenarios that are triggering your kitty’s aggressive emotions, you can begin curtailing those incidents from happening so often.
Become aware of how your cat sees his environment.
Constantly watch him and how he acts. You want to learn to read his body language.
Their body posture, the position of the ears, the position of the tail, facial expressions, eyes, whiskers, and sounds can all indicate what they are feeling.
Knowing when your kitty is feeling offensive or defensive can help you to avoid her when she wants to be left alone.
Characteristics of Defensive Posturing
- A general protective posture that includes crouching
- Feet tucked under the body
- Head tucked in
- Eyes wide open
- Tail curved around the body or tucked underneath
- Flattened ears or ears back against the head
- Body may be turned sideways to the perceived threat
Characteristics of Offensive Posturing
- Trying to make herself look bigger and more intimidating
- A tall upright stance
- Direct stare
- Tail is up and stiff or could be lowered
- Fur on tail is puffed out
- Upright ears
- May be growling or yowling
- May be very slowly approaching the perceived threat
How to Stop Play Aggression
If your cat plays too rough, you can try to train her out of doing that.
But if she’s been attacking people’s feet, toes, and fingers all her life, it’s going to be difficult to get her to stop now.
Your main strategy will be to distract her with better toys. Instead of your fingers and toes, make sure you provide her with a lineup of new and interesting toys that she will appreciate.
And if she gets too aggressive with you, your best option is to simply walk away, which ends playtime.
Over time, she should start to associate biting you with making you go away, which isn’t what she wants.
How Do You Stop Redirected Aggression?
When your kitty gets all excited by something he sees outside (like the neighbor’s cat), but he can’t directly respond to it, he may redirect that energy at you.
Your best course of action is to not allow him to see that outdoor cat in the first place. This removes the stimuli for his aggression.
You can close the curtain or put in window blinds if that is reasonable.
Or you can use deterrents to keep strays out of your yard.
There are motion-activated water sprinklers, sticky tape, electronic doormats, and other items that are designed to keep away outdoor pests.
You may have to get creative.
If the stimuli that are getting him spooked are outdoor noises, you may find success with keeping a radio on or using air cleaners as white noise generators to drown out the outdoor noises.
And when your feline gets agitated, be sure to avoid him until he calms down.
Competition Aggression Solutions
If you have a multiple cat home and your cats are competing for resources or each one wants to be the king of the house, you have a problem.
The first step would be to make sure each one is spayed or neutered. Raging sex hormones are behind a lot of behavior issues. It’s fine in the wild, but not so much in the house.
You don’t want to reward any cat that is trying to bully any other. Try ignoring any aggressive behavior.
Pay attention to the other cats, however. Make sure they have access to any resources they want.
How To Stop Territorial Aggression
Territorial problems start when you bring a new cat into your home.
It’s understandable if your existing cat is disappointed that he now has to share his home with someone new.
But if you have a plan to introduce them, and you take it slow, and you put in the effort to reassure your existing cat that nothing has really changed, you should be successful at it.
Take your time when introducing them. Don’t allow your new cat to go everywhere in the house right away. Restrict the new cat’s access for several days, maybe a week, maybe two weeks if things aren’t going too well.
Make sure each cat has food, water, litter, several great sleeping and hiding areas, and plenty of your attention.
Your new cat will gradually take on the smell of your home. He will begin to fit in. Your existing cat can’t stay mad forever.
Things will get better. They may become friends. At least they should tolerate one another.
How to Stop Petting Aggression
You might have a kitty that likes to be pet, but only for about two minutes at a time. If you go any longer than that, she gets angry at you and leaves – that is petting aggression.
The easiest way to put up with it is to just accept it.
You pet her where and when she wants it. You pay attention to her mood and when you notice that her mood is changing, you stop. Simple.
You may be able to lengthen these petting interactions by being careful, considerate, and giving out a few treats.
First, don’t bother her when she’s eating. Don’t pick her up when she isn’t wanting you to pick her up. Don’t wake her up to pet her.
Let her seek you out.
Don’t hold her on your lap with force, preventing her from jumping down.
Find out where she accepts being pet. Many cats don’t want their legs touched. Or their belly. The head and neck are generally safe.
To increase the time you get with her, give her a treat just as a petting session is ending, but before she shows any aggression.
Try to gradually increase each session a little bit. Keep giving the treats so she associates your sessions with those treats.
Stopping Fear-Based Anxiety and Aggression
The simplest way to stop fear aggression is to keep the fearful situations from occurring.
You will need to identify what is scaring your kitty and figure out how to prevent those situations from happening.
If that strategy isn’t possible, then maybe you can desensitize him so he gets over his worries.
By using treats, praise, and patience, you may be able to gradually expose him to whatever frightens him, rewarding him for staying calm, and maybe he will get over his fear a little day by day.
When your cat is afraid and is acting aggressively toward you, try to not reinforce that behavior.
Don’t react by acting afraid. Don’t react by trying to get her to calm down. Don’t reward her behavior. Just leave the room.
Preventing Predatory Aggression
Predatory aggression occurs when your indoor kitty pretends to hunt your other indoor pets or people.
Predatory instincts run deep in the feline world, so you can’t stop your cat from having those hunting urges or from acting on them.
But if he is pouncing on and scratching toddler’s feet, or terrorizing your gerbil or pet bird, you may have to give him other avenues to explore.
The best approach is to provide him with a rotating assortment of life-like toys. Toys with feathers, toys that resemble moles or mice, small toys he can capture and carry around.
What To Do With Health-Induced Aggression
For cases of medical-induced aggression, follow whatever advice your veterinarian has given you.
If your cat is in pain, handle her gently. Be nice. Don’t take it personally if she snaps at you.
An older cat may be confused, insecure, experiencing a loss of normal sensory input, or have any one of several disorders.
Be sure to properly administer any medications your vet gives you.
If you have a cat that is acting aggressively, it’s your job to figure out why she is acting this way.
You need to observe her and your home’s environment. You need to determine the factors that are triggering her unwanted actions.
Then you need to reduce or eliminate those factors.
Unless the cause is readily apparent, you should work with your veterinarian to rule out a medical issue.
Once health-related issues as a factor have been ruled out, then you can focus on your cat’s behavior in order to formulate a solution to the problem.
Living with an overly aggressive cat can sometimes be risky. Be careful.
NOTE: This article is not intended to be medical or veterinarian advice or guidance. You should not rely on this article for professional health or vet care. The author of this post is not a veterinarian or a medical doctor. This author does not know your pet or your personal situation. This post should be taken as general information only. The advice you really should rely upon for your pet and your situation is the help and assistance you receive from a licensed veterinarian and the professional staff who actually examines your pet. Talk to your vet. That’s what they are there for.