Most of the times “problem behavior” in cats is actually normal cat behavior, but a problem for the owners. These "problem" cats are, most of the times, not sick but just misunderstood. As owners we tend to punish this behavior, but this makes the problem worse instead of fixing it. Although for us it looks like the aggression is coming out of nowhere, there is always a reason for it. Instead of putting the focus on counteracting this unwanted behavior, it’s better to pay attention on how to get the cat as relaxed and satisfied as possible. The “short fuse” will go away eventually.
Aggression is highly ranked on the list of behavior problems in cats. This is the top 3:
- Uncleanliness and spraying
- Agression towards other cats
- Agression towards people
Quite often we don’t recognize aggression between cats. The form of aggression that happens the most from one cat to another is staring. Probably this staring contest is something you have seen before, but thought it was something innocent, because it looks innocent, but it’s not! This staring can quickly lead to a horrible fight.
There are a lot of different types of aggression which you can sort in two categories:
Often caused by pain or fear.
In this category there are a lot of different forms of aggression. Two kinds of offensive aggression that we see a lot are "Redirection aggression" and "Impuls control aggression".
This means that the cat can’t take it’s aggression out on the object/cat/thing that is causing this behavior. For example: Your cat is sitting in front of the window and sees another cat he wants to scare away. Because he’s inside and he can’t get near the cat outside, the frustration is growing and this will be expressed to the cat/dog/person inside who is around or walks by. For us, it seems like this aggressive behavior is coming out of nowhere and this “attack” happens without any reason, but this is (almost) never the case. Cats can stay in a state of excitement for a long time, so the real reason that caused this behavior could not be noticeable at the time that the “attack” happens. Cats always show signs of this excitement when they are in a situation like this. For example: a sweeping tale, big pupils, flat ears. When you see these signs: Leave the cat alone!
Impuls control aggression
Impuls control aggression is an abnormal aggression that is not commensurate with that what the cat is responding to (mostly normal human behavior). The cat wants to take over control as reaction to the excitement they feel inside and often seek for confrontation. 95% of the cats who show this behavior are extremely affectionate when not in this aggressive state.
Examples of impuls control aggression:
- Bite quickly and then walk away
- Hold on to body parts with their mouth
- Heavy biting multiple times in a row
This type of aggression often gets worse with attempts to interrupt, correct or give any other kind of attention. The cat can’t be distracted or stopped when they’re in this kind of mood. Also it takes as good as nothing to cause a new attack. Impuls control aggression is not something that can be cured, but it is manageable. The key is to avoid situations that cause this behavior and with specific medication, a good quality of life is definitely possible (this always in agreement with the veterinarian or behavioral specialist).
What to do when your cat has this kind of aggression:
- Rest: Give the cat 24-48 hours to relax (for example in a separate room)
- After this “resting period”: Go to your vet for a health check-up
- Prevention: Prevent triggering factors. In practice this means: don’t pet the cat and don’t look straight in the eyes
- Make sure the cat has his own safe room with all the facilities a cat needs
- Recognize the first signs of agitation: Sweeping the tale, “stalking”, big pupils, excessive sniffing
What to do when your cat is aggressive
- First of all, go to the vet to see if there are physical/medical problems that cause the aggression
- If the reason can be found in the environment, find a suitable solution to change this
- Contact a behavioral specialist (if there are no physical/medical reasons found)
- Optionally start with medication, always in agreement with your vet/behavioral specialist
What can we do to prevent the development of aggression
- Base Good socialization of kittens. Pay attention when you buy kittens, make sure they don't already show behavioral problems
- Physical environment Make sure there’s enough personal space, high spots to lie on, places to hide and enough scratching posts
- Socially Social interaction
- Activities Games, like hunting and catching "preys"
- Food Use a food game instead of putting the food in a regular food bowl. Give several meals spread over the day
- In general A predictable and controllable surrounding. Cats get nervous really fast if there are changes in their living environment