A feline friend can add a lot of love and companionship to your life, especially if you have a spirited cat. But if your cat has the tendency to become aggressive, it can leave you questioning what to do next—even if you are an experienced cat caretaker. Wondering how to calm an aggressive cat? Keep reading.
So, what does it mean when your cat becomes aggressive? Aggressive behavior always has a reason behind it, so it’s important to pay attention to what your cat is trying to tell you with his or her reactive behavior.
Learn about some of the reasons why your cat might become aggressive and how to help nip aggression in the bud!
Understanding aggression in cats
Aggressive behavior in cats can stem from environmental concerns, but it can also be an indication of health issues. Regardless of the exact reasons, aggressive behavior is usually expressed the same way. Aggression in cats includes hissing, growling, swatting, biting, exposed claws, an open mouth, or a stiff stance.
A cat’s body language can also hint at potential signs of upcoming aggression. For example, if your cat's ears are pressed back or flattened, their whiskers are upturned or angled forward, or their tail is twitching or bristled, it can point to a potential aggressive outburst. These behaviors can be directed towards a person, another cat, another animal, or a nearby object.
Is it normal for my cat to be aggressive?
An important thing to understand when it comes to aggressive responses in cats is that this behavior isn’t always pointing to an underlying issue. Aggression can be a natural behavior of your cat’s breed, making it a totally normal response to predation, playfulness, and social conflict. However, when cats start to show aggression towards humans or consistently towards other animals, the frequency of aggression would constitute problematic behavior.
Aggression in cats is the second most common behavioral issue in felines. Determining the cause of the aggressive behavior is important because it can help you decide if the aggression is normal or not. Whenever your cat exhibits aggressive behavior, take the time to evaluate the situation that caused the behavioral outburst in the first place.
Pay attention to who or what the aggression is targeted at, when and where it happened, and what took place right before the outburst. The only way to know if your cat is exhibiting normal or abnormal aggression is to understand the cause of it. Only then can you fix the root problem. (Or check out a vet’s advice on how to prevent aggression in cats in the first place!)
5 reasons why cats behave aggressively
If your cat is suddenly showing signs of aggressive behavior and that behavior is out of character, look for potential causes. If there aren’t any obvious causes for your cat’s odd behavior, you should take your pet to the veterinarian so that the vet can rule out any and all underlying medical causes.
Once your cat is cleared by the vet and given a clean bill of health, you can start thinking about other possible causes for your cat’s aggressiveness. Here are some of the top reasons why your cat is behaving aggressively!
1. Underlying health condition
A number of medical conditions can cause cats to become aggressive. When a cat is in pain, they often will begin lashing out at humans, other animals, or objects near them.
Underlying health conditions that contribute to aggressive behavior can include illnesses like epilepsy, arthritis, dental disease, trauma, and many others. But as stated earlier, if the vet clears your cat and verifies that an underlying cause is not the reason behind your pet’s behavior, you can start considering the following possibilities.
2. Other cats
It’s not uncommon for cats to not cohabitate well. This might include territorial competitions, incompatible temperaments, a lack of socialization, or the consequence of feeling overcrowded. When cats feel intimidated or provoked by other cats, it’s natural for them to go into attack mode. Make sure your cat is comfortable around any other cats in the house.
3. Unsafe environments
When cats are feeling threatened, they are going to be on edge, which often causes them to act out. Your cat might be stressed and feeling like there is no safe place for him or her to relax. Cats need their alone time. As such, it’s important for them to have quiet places like cat condos, high shelves, or a special room for them to chill out.
Fear aggression occurs when a cat perceives a threat in his or her environment. It is often accompanied by defensive behavior. The threat could be a person, animal, object, or sound, but no matter the exact threat, cats are more likely to become aggressive when they feel like they can’t escape the perceived threat.
Defensive signs include a crouching stance, flattened ears, a tucked tail, pupil dilation, or a preference for distance. Cats may also show signs of aggressions such as hissing, spitting, growling, swatting, biting, or scratching.
Redirected aggression is the term used to describe cats that act violently as a result of not being able to reach the object of their frustration. For example, an indoor cat that sees another cat in the yard may become highly reactive because the indoor cat cannot interact with the outdoor cat. Frustration-related aggression can occur over simple things as well, like not getting enough food or attention and being denied access to a favorite place in the house.
Easy ways to calm an aggressive cat
Making sure your cat has enough space in a safe place where your cat can relax is one of the best ways to calm an aggressive cat. However, there are a few other ways to put your furry friend at ease. If you’re asking the question, “What can you give a cat to calm them down?” we have you covered. Here are a few tips for keeping your cat calm, cool, and collected!
Ask your vet about purchasing pheromones, which can help reduce cat anxiety and stress-related behavior. Feline pheromones are sold as wall plug-ins, sprays, wipes, or as part of a cat collar. (Litter-Robot resident veterinarian Dr. Justine Lee is a big fan of using Feliway for aggressive cats.)
Herbs are a great all-natural way to put your cat at ease. Things like catnip, valerian root, and silver vine are stimulants for cats—following the initial excitement, these herbs can provide your cat with a calming sensation.
Other natural remedies
Bach Rescue Remedy Pet is a natural stress and tension relief product that comes in the form of a liquid. It’s a combination of five natural flower essences that come together to help relieve stress and anxiety for your cat. This is a great option when you need help calming your cat while traveling, during stressful events, or in situations with loud noises.
Your response to your cat’s aggression matters just as much as determining the reason for the aggression. Avoid any type of physical punishment or yelling, as it can increase a cat’s fear or anxiety, ultimately worsening the aggression.
When your cat has calmed down, approach them from the side so you’re less threatening and offer them positive reinforcement like treats or catnip. Food treats are an excellent way to reinforce non-aggressive behavior. If you’re dealing with cat-on-cat aggression, separate them and reintroduce them slowly with positive reinforcement.
Be proactive with your aggressive cat
In most cases, negative behavior can be fixed, especially if you catch it early on. Getting your cat spayed or neutered can also reduce aggression. In some cases, these procedures can completely eliminate a myriad of negative behaviors.
No matter what, make sure your cats have their very own safe place to hang out, relax, and spend quiet alone time. The Litter-Robot Cat Silo is a unique escape for your cat, but it is disguised as an elegant piece of furniture for your household so it won’t stick out.
This piece of furniture can provide a safe and covered space for your cat to hang out in, and it is small enough so that it fits perfectly next to a chair or by the couch. This multi-purpose furniture piece is the perfect addition to any home. Plus, your cat will appreciate having his or her own space to hang out in!
If you’re wondering how to calm an aggressive cat, follow the tips above. Talk to your veterinarian or an animal behaviorist for further advice.
Cover photo by Jay Zhang