What Causes Fear Aggression in Cats
Cats can get scared sometimes.
When most cats are scared, fearful, or startled — they run and hide.
And some poor cats want to run away, but they freeze, they aren’t sure what to do or don’t react quickly enough to get away.
Sometimes when they are afraid, they act aggressively to other cats or humans.
They can’t really help it. They’re scared. They are acting out in fear.
Veterinarians call this fear aggression.
It’s very common. In fact, it’s the most typical type of aggression trait in felines.
And, most kitty behaviorists say that aggressive behavior is the second most common issue they are asked about by cat owners.
Aggression in Cats Caused by Fear
Some cats will act aggressively almost anytime they get scared. Others will only do it once in a while.
It can happen to any kind of cat, it doesn’t seem to matter how old they are, or what breed they are, or if they are usually friendly or mostly bad-tempered.
When a cat gets scared, its three options are to run away, fight what scares them, or just freeze in place.
Veterinarians know all about fear aggression because some of their feline patients are very scared and they’ve learned to be cautious. A scared cat can hurt others.
And while cats do get frightened, most felines don’t make a habit of attacking people.
If your feline is getting out of control, you will need to take action and get some professional advice.
Symptoms of Feline Fear Aggression
It’s not unusual for a cat to become aggressive when he is afraid.
It’s just his way of dealing with a stressful situation.
But when he is aggressive to you or another family member, it’s disturbing for us. We don’t want him to act like that.
Most of the time, we can easily tell when he is afraid of something, but other times it is a little harder to notice.
Recognizing Fear Aggression Symptoms
How will you know when your kitty is feeling afraid?
When a cat is scared, they run away, they hide, they get defensive or they get aggressive.
The easiest way to know your cat is frightened is when you don’t see her because she is hiding. That’s easy.
Here are some body language signs that indicate she is scared and maybe about to strike out:
- She’s freezing in place
- She’s in a crouched position or making herself as low as possible
- She’s turning away or leaning back away from you
- Her pupils are dilated and she’s staring at something
- Her ears are back or flattened against her head
- Her tail is unusually low or tucked between her legs
- Her tail is up and her fur is standing on end
- Her tail is twitching back and forth forcefully
- Her back is arched
- Her whiskers are flattened back or she’s showing her teeth
- She’s hissing, meowing, or growling
Reasons for Fear Aggression in Cats
It’s in a cat’s nature to be careful and fearful of certain things. It’s a survival instinct.
For a normal cat, fearful behavior occurs when either some loud or sudden event takes place or when an experience reminds that cat of a previous frightening experience that she went through before.
Unfortunately, some cats seem to be in a heightened state of anxiety most of the time. They appear nervous and ready to run or hide at a moment’s notice.
And if they can’t run or hide, the only thing they can do is either act defensively or act overly aggressive and try to make whatever is frightening them go away.
And once a cat learns that the fearful situation goes away when he acts aggressive, he will continue to use aggression as the means to get rid of those feelings in the future.
So, what are the most common events that trigger fear? Here are some:
- Any loud or unexpected noise
- A series of noises that don’t stop (such as fireworks)
- The noise of other cats fighting somewhere
- A sudden movement, especially if accompanied by a noise
- A stranger or a strange animal
- A loud human adult, child, or baby
- Being in a new, strange place
- Being taken for a car ride, especially if it ends up at the vet
- Strange odors, such as the odor on another cat who is just back from the vet
- Anything that reminds him of a previous traumatic experience
- He’s in pain or discomfort from a medical condition
You probably know which of these fear triggers your cat is susceptible to. If your cat acts aggressively, perhaps you can limit these triggers.
If your pet’s reactions are not too bad, perhaps just eliminating or avoiding these triggers is all you need to do.
But if your kitty has strong or aggressive behavior too often, you may need to take another step and help him to get used to that trigger and not be fearful of it any longer.
Why Is My Cat Aggressive To Me When He’s Scared?
When your kitty is scared, you want to comfort him. Generally, that’s not what he wants you to do.
When your cat is frightened, he wants to hide, flee or fight. He doesn’t want some human to pick him up so he can’t move.
Why Are Some Cats More Easily Frightened Than Others?
All felines have individual traits and personalities.
When some were kittens, they didn’t receive the proper socialization a kitten should get.
Some kittens were handled roughly. They grew up in an aggressive environment. They respond more how a wild animal would respond to their surroundings.
If your feline is being aggressive to you and there doesn’t appear to be any obvious trigger as to why she is doing it, you should have her checked out by a vet.
She may have some health condition that has her in pain. She’s confused and scared and lashing out at you by mistake.
How to Stop and Treat Fear Aggression in Cats
So what do you do to tamp down the aggressive episodes you’ve been experiencing?
First, try to see your home and environment as your cat sees them. Try to understand the circumstances that trigger her unwanted reactions.
Second, take steps to either eliminate, reduce or mask those triggers.
For example, you can’t stop your neighborhood from setting off fireworks during a holiday, but maybe you can turn on an air cleaner or some music to partially cover up the sudden intensity of those fireworks.
Finally, maybe it’s possible to train her to not fear her triggers so much.
By using treats and positive reinforcement, perhaps you can convince her that nothing bad is going to happen to her when these triggers happen. That’s a hard problem to solve and will take patience and time. And, let’s be honest, you may not be 100% successful.
Managing Fear Aggression in Your Cat
What are some tips to help your kitty’s anxiety?
Here are some easy ones most folks can do.
- Don’t overreact if he gets aggressive. Don’t yell or scream, push or hit.
- Stay calm and controlled. Don’t make it worse.
- If she was startled by a sudden movement, don’t make more loud or sudden moves.
- Don’t bring so many loud or obnoxious people around.
- Make some good quiet hiding spots. Maybe elevated perches or small enclosed areas.
- If your other cat has just returned from the vet, keep them separated for a day.
- Make sure litter boxes, food, and water are easy to get to, even when he’s scared.
- Reduce conflicts with any other cat, especially if it’s a bully.
- Introduce a pheromone product into the environment to reduce stress.
- Increase the amount of time you play with him. Play and exercise are good.
- Work on building the bond between the two of you.
- Use treats and positive reinforcement to reward her courage.
- Don’t ever make her feel trapped.
- When she’s hiding, let her be. Don’t try to drag her out.
- To rule out medical issues, monitor the litter box and food dish for use.
- If she is ever aggressive to you, don’t say anything, just leave the room.
- When she acts up, let her calm down on her own.
- If she is spooked by noises, leave a TV or radio softly on to drown out those noises.
- Put treats or feed her near the things she is afraid of. Like the carrier that takes her to the vet.
Try to introduce as many of these steps as you can. Behavior isn’t going to change overnight, if at all. But you want to try and help as best you can to make her happy and make your relationship as good as it can be.
What to Do Now
You won’t magically eliminate your kitty’s fear.
If you can recognize the factors that are making her frightened, maybe you can reduce them.
And maybe you can help her to not react so strongly or violently to those triggers.
Be understanding. Try to see the issues from her vantage point.
Take as many small steps as you can. Be consistent.
Never punish. Don’t overreact. Try to not make the problem worse.
Remember, if you don’t see any obvious triggers for her aggression, it could be a medical issue.
It’s possible that in cases of extreme aggression, you may have to call in a specialist for one-on-one guidance.
And as always, take cat bites seriously. Cat bites can become infected. It doesn’t matter that it’s your cat. Call the doctor.
NOTE: This article is not intended to be any type of veterinarian or medical advice. Please, you should not rely on this article for individual professional advice for your situation. The author of this article is not a doctor, veterinarian, or medical professional. This author does not have knowledge of your pet or your personal situation. This article should be taken as general information only. The best advice you should rely upon the most for your pet and your situation is the advice you get from the licensed veterinarian and professional staff who actually see and treat your pet. Talk to your vet about any concern you have.
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