Written by Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC, DABT
In this two-part blog, Dr. Justine Lee, DACVECC, DABT reviews the top 10 tips on preventing aggression in cats. Check out part one to learn more about cat aggression and dealing with an already aggressive cat!
Last month we talked about the types of aggression that we can see in cats, and some general guidelines on how to minimize it. Today we’ll discuss the top 10 tips to prevent aggression in cats in the first place!
1. Make sure that kittens are well socialized.
I personally don’t like to separate kittens from their mother or littermates until 7-8 weeks of age; the longer you can keep them together, the more the mother and siblings can help with the socialization! This is the vital time period where kittens learn cat manners. They’ll be taught important lessons like not scratching or biting, and how “rough” play can be. Likewise, try to socialize kittens to humans during this time period too!
2. Avoid creating territorial aggression by spaying or neutering your cat by 5 months of age.
This will be important not only to prevent sex hormones from causing unwanted behavioral changes—like urine spraying and fighting—but to help prevent pet overpopulation too!
3. Avoid using your hands or feet when playing with your cat.
Some cats lack social skills and can’t control their claws or teeth and may bite during play. You don’t want your cat to use you as a toy when your cat has play aggression. If you’re playing with your cat and they get aggressive, stop what you’re doing immediately, ignore your cat, and walk away. This may help teach him that play aggression isn’t rewarded and results in “no play time” at all. If you find your cat attacking your hands or feet, direct their attention towards something else, like a toy. My veterinary-recommended favorite? A feather securely tied onto a thick rope and string.
Also, please note that you should NEVER use your hand (or human body parts) to separate cats when fighting, as cat bites can cause serious injury and infection. If you need to break up a fight, use something else instead—a broom, piece of cardboard, etc.
4. Provide a separate safe place for resources for each cat that you have.
That way each cat can go somewhere for some alone time. Make sure there’s plenty of toys, a litter box, food, a clean water source, and a sleeping area. This will help prevent fighting over resources. You can find some fantastic information at the Ohio State University’s Indoor Cat Initiative HERE.
5. Consider a food game device that helps stimulate your cat “hunting” for food.
This will also provide some environmental enrichment for them.
6. Remove any stimuli that make your cat aggressive.
If you have a stray cat walking up to your window, close the window or use a window shade to prevent them from seeing each other. Likewise, if your cat is on a window perch looking at the stray cat, move your cat to a different area of the house to minimize that stimulation.
7. Recognize the body language of aggression in cats early.
If you start to notice any signs of aggression in your cat, break the cycle by simply startling your cat. No need for physical contact—just a loud clap, blast of spray from a can of compressed air, or even a spray of water can break the cycle. You can use a plant spray bottle (filled with just water) to spray water on your cat as soon as you notice the aggressive behavior, when the cat just thinks of attacking. The spray device (which sounds like a hissing cat) startles cats and breaks the cycle. Plus, most cats don’t like water sprayed on them, and this will stop the activity in its tracks. Alternatively, you can also hiss too—that ought to startle your cat! While our goal isn’t to scare cats, it’s important to distract your aggressive cat to help him “reset.” Again, we never want to use physical punishment, as this will make your cat fearful of you or result in other abnormal behavior.
8. Talk to your veterinarian sooner than later.
In part one, I mentioned how underlying medical problems can cause aggression in cats. The biggest mistake I see is people trying at-home remedies first, only to get frustrated in failure. When in doubt, consult with your veterinarian early to get help with environmental modification, ruling out medical problems, trying natural holistic supplements, and pharmacologic intervention for help.
9. Protect your other cat!
If you have a more submissive cat who is the brunt of attack, please make sure to protect him or her. Make sure you are there to supervise them, and if you’re not home, consider adding a barrier (like a baby gate, separate room, etc.). Make sure all your cats’ nails are trimmed at least monthly, to minimize the severity of injury. Consider adding a bell on a cat breakaway collar so your other cats know where the attacker may be too!
10. Don’t be a statistic.
Over 50% of cat parents report aggression in their cats when trying to introduce a new cat. Help minimize aggression in your cats by going slowly when introducing cats, helping set the environment and mood! Keep in mind that veterinary studies have found that the more cats there are in one household, the higher the prevalence of behavioral problems.
As a veterinarian and cat lover, I love having at least two cats. They have a companion, provided they get along. Keep in mind that introducing cats to other cats can be hard, but can be done successfully, so don’t give up. When in doubt, do it slowly and consult with your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist for assistance when needed. Use these tips to prevent aggression in cats before it even sets in!
Cover photo by Ningyu He on Unsplash