How to Stop Cat Aggression – A Holistic Approach

cat aggression

Cat behavior can feel mysterious and complicated. If your cat is aggressive towards you or another member of your family, it might feel hard to know what to do next. 

The severity of aggression, and the context in which the behavior presents will help guide your plan. Cats who are situationally aggressive may require different management protocols as opposed to cats who are chronically aggressive. Either way, I bet your head is spinning with question about cat aggression, and I’m here to help. 

First, I want to acknowledge how tough it may be to extend compassion towards your aggressive cat. This behavior is combative and frustrating, and does not always lend itself easily to empathy. Identifying and understanding the root cause of cat aggression may feel difficult, or even unsafe.  However, getting curious as to why your cat is experiencing aggression is often the fundamental piece to initiating successful treatment. Unless your cat is truly feral or protecting themselves from imminent danger, they are likely also not living a quality life in this reactive state. 

Types of Aggression

Cats can show aggressive behavior towards people or other cats/pets in or around the home. Cat aggression directed at people may include family members that live in the home, guests, groomers and veterinary staff. Aggressive behavior towards people include hissing, yowling, swatting, scratching and biting. 

Cats that live together peacefully may experience aggressive behavior as well. This may look like fighting, chasing, hissing, and blocking access to certain areas. Many cats that experience inter-cat aggression may avoid each other. 

Why Cats Become Aggressive 

Cat aggression can happen for many reasons. It may be a behavior that has shown up unexpectedly, or it may have been brewing and escalating over time. Either way, it is incredibly important that you work to identify the root cause. 

Common reasons cats become aggressive include: 

  • Aggression towards people in the home
  • Territorial aggression, including aggression over their home, yard, property (such as a cat tree or favorite bed), person, animal, or food
  • Aggression in play (escalating from play to aggression)
  • Fear aggression 
  • Pain

How to Stop Cat Aggression 

Managing cat aggression will always depend on the root cause, and treating your cat’s aggression will be significantly easier if a known root cause has been identified. 

Managing your cat’s aggression may include: 

Proper introduction. 

Properly introducing new cats to other pets in the home is so incredibly important and can make or break their relationships. Sadly, it’s also incredibly overlooked by many cat parents. 

Both your new cat and residential pet deserve time and space as they adapt to their new home. When you bring a new cat home, sequestering them into the smallest room possible (even a bathroom) is ideal. It may feel counterintuitive to you, but this small space provides room for your new kitty to have adequate decompression time, and to take in their new surroundings. It allows both your new cat and residential pets to smell each other and become aware of the other’s presence in a safe way. From there, you can slowly expand your new cat’s domain, eventually providing supervised/short visits, and always separating meal times in the beginning. 

Pet parents to multiple cats will often schedule their cats’ veterinary visits at the same time for ease of transport. If this is you, use some of the tips above to allow for a soft reintroduction into the home. Both adrenaline and fear as a result of the veterinary visit may put your cats on the defense, creating a more tense and aggressive environment.

Separate feeding spaces. 

Cats are territorial animals and if their food source feels threatened, they may become aggressive around meal times. If you can, provide separate rooms for each cat during mealtime. Otherwise, spread each kitty’s food bowl as far apart in the room as possible. 

Proper space.

We all need appropriate space for resting and decompressing. Having one bed for a three cat household isn’t going to cut it. Provide lots of safe spaces including multi-level perches, such as cat trees and window perches and ample space for hiding and resting.

Use a bell. 

For indoor/outdoor cats that don’t love other neighborhood cats, placing a bell on your cat’s collar can help manage and mitigate these upsetting interactions! The noise of a bell may make it easy for other cats (and birds!) to hear your kitty coming. Communicate with your neighbors and ask if they would consider doing the same for their kitty. 

Watch for behavior cues. 

A proper understanding of cat behavior is possibly the most important aspect to migitaging cat aggression. Your kitty will give you cues as their aggression escalates, and it’s your job to read those cues and react appropriately. Oftentimes, this alone can eliminate your cat from reaching their aggressive threshold.

Cats have many ways of expressing themselves when they are becoming fearful or aggressive, and these expressions range well beyond the outward hiss or swat. Most cat behavior cues lie within a cat’s body language and include tail posture, tail movement, ear positioning, eye positioning, and pupil size.

Cat body language 101: 

Tail positioning: A tail that is high to the sky indicates a happy and confident kitty. A tail that is low, tucked, or thrashing around indicates that your cat may be feeling unhappy. 

Ear positioning: Ears that are erect and forward often indicate that your cat is feeling happy, confident, inquisitive, or alert. Ears that are back and towards the body indicate that a cat may be feeling fearful or happy. 

Eye positioning and pupil size: A cat that has soft, blinking eyes is usually a calm one. If your cat’s eyes become dilated and big, or incredibly narrow and slanted, they may be feeling fearful or aggressive. 

Supervised play. 

It is important that if you have a cat that can tend towards aggression with people or other animals, that you supervise playtime in these scenarios. For example, this is a kitty who should always be supervised around young children in the home during both play and meal times. 

Seek professional help.

At any time and with any level of cat aggression, it is always ok to seek professional help from either/both a veterinarian and a cat behaviorist. This is especially true if the aggressive behavior has reached a point where you or a family member cannot safely maintain a relationship with your cat, or your cat’s quality of life is suffering. 

If resources are available, using both a cat behaviorist and veterinarian in your cat’s intervention and treatment journey would be ideal. A cat behaviorist will be able to evaluate your cat, your home, and life circumstances to provide a tailored plan for your cat’s aggression. Your veterinarian can provide you with information on both pharmaceutical and nutraceutical supplements for managing your cat’s aggressive tendencies and assess whether there is a medical component. Having both professionals working together in collaborative care for your cat will likely yield best results! 

For helping to calm the nervous system of fearful, anxious or aggressive cats, I see great success using the following supplements: 

The best results will always come from using a holistic approach that includes both supportive supplements and other tips mentioned in this blog. 

Your cat is so much more than their behavior. Yet, cat aggression should never be ignored. Your kitty may be crying out for help. Many times, managing aggression is a relatively easy fix, and other times it’s really, really hard. There are times that cat aggression is unexplainable and next to impossible to control, and these are incredibly sad cases.

Whatever scenario you are in with your cat’s aggression, I am here for you. If you need more help, just submit a comment below and let’s talk! 

Meow and furever, 

Dr. Angie

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