What causes cats to be aggressive?
Cats can be aggressive for a LONG list of reasons. They range from behavioral to health reasons, and often it depends on who your cat is showing aggression to. Here are a few of the basic ones.
Cats will often get very aggressive when they play with you. They can even accidentally injure you by biting too hard or scratching. Usually this is a result of over enthusiasm and not because the cat intentionally wants to hurt you. However, sometimes a cat will get frustrated or mad during play and become rough with you as a result.
If your cat is frequently doing this while playing with you, you should discipline the cat. This is done by spraying it with a water bottle or making loud noises whenever the cat gets too rough. Then immediately cut off the play session and refuse to keep playing with the cat. You need to do this consistently - make it clear to the cat that if it misbehaves, it will not get to play anymore.
You can also be proactive and notice in many cases when the cat is starting to get angry. Watch for the cat swishing its tail back and forth or putting its ears back. Stop playing with it if it seems to be getting mad.
What if my cat is attacking people?
Some cats do this as a way of playing. They basically stalk you - hiding in the bushes or under the furniture and then running out and jumping on people or animals. There's a video on the Internet here that has some funny examples of this - including a cat deciding to jump out of a bush and attack a bear. The bear runs away, chased by a little 8 pound cat.
While this can be funny, it can also be dangerous to both you and the cat. You could trip over the cat as it attacks your legs, hurting both you and the cat. Sometimes the cat will actually scratch people, and children may be injured or terrified. It is something you want to discourage.
If your cat is doing this mainly indoors, then it is a little easier to stop. The cat will only have a limited number of hiding places - as you're walking by, if you see the cat hiding and getting ready to pounce then beat him to it by clapping loudly and saying "NO." Do the same thing immediately if he successfully pounces on you.
Another good way to deal with this behavior is to cut down on the energy levels of the cat. Basically, play with it more frequently so it has enough appropriate play. Cats need attention and they need to play around - if you give them an outlet, they won't have to make one themselves. They really aren't that active as creatures go anyway, given how much of the day they sleep, so it doesn't take much to wear them out.
This kind is different from the "playful" behaviors cats display. It usually happens because there is another pet in the house that is smaller than the cat. It's not the same as bullying - the cat will actually attack it, chase after it, etc. This can sometimes happen with smaller dogs. This is instinctual - you will again have to discipline your cat, and it may be best to separate the animals and gradually introduce them in controlled settings. If your cat is killing smaller animals outside such as mice or birds, there is little you can do about it. This is natural hunting behavior for the cat.
Cats can also get aggressive if they get into "fight or flight" mode. Indoors, there is often no place to flee - so fight it is. This can happen if the cat is put into a new home or if a strange person or animal comes into the house. The cat may view the strangers as a threat and attack them or hiss at them.
The best way to deal with this is to make sure your cat always has a place to retreat to. It can be another room, a closet, a cat tent or something similar or something similar, or really just any place the cat can go hide. Also remember that if it is a strange person that is frightening the cat, you control the response. Don't provoke the cat by coming close to it when it is angry or aggravated. If it is afraid of you, sit down with the stranger away from the cat and go about your business without paying attention to the cat. Most cats will calm down as long as the person makes no threatening moves towards them.
Pain or Rough Handling:
If your cat is biting you when you pet it or pick it up, it may actually be sick. Often part of the cat is sensitive because of an injury or illness. A big cause of this is ear mites in cats, which can make it very painful when you rub against the cat's ears, which are already pretty sensitive. If your cat is only getting rough with you when you pet it on a certain part, you should have a vet check it out to see if something is wrong.
Also be aware that some cats just don't like to be touched on certain parts of their bodies. My current cat used to hate being touched on the toes or belly. She nipped me every time. She wasn't actually breaking the skin, so when she did it I would say "NO" and hold onto her head with one hand and her foot with the other - gently, but firm enough that she couldn't get away. She eventually got used to it and doesn't have a problem with it anymore.
Many female cats will get defensive and angry if you try to touch their kittens, even if you are an owner the cat trusts. You will have to gradually get the mom used to you handling them. Build up your level of contact with the kittens - start with sitting around near them, move up to touching them, then holding them, then taking them away briefly and returning them. Use treats as a reward to the mother and to calm her down. The kittens will have to be handled, and you don't want the mom freaking out every time, so it is best to teach her that you are not going to harm them.
What if my cat is attacking other cats?
Cats will fight with each other, especially if they are strangers. This can be for a number of reasons. First, territorial reasons - if a cat is in another cat's territory, it is asking for a fight. Cats can be very defensive of their turf. This happens either with introducing new cats to your home or, if you let your cats outdoors, with any random cat that happens to walk into your cat's area. Cats can also fight each other over status in a social group (they do have them).
It is hard to stop your cat from fighting other cats outdoors. The best solution to that is to make your cat an indoor cat.
If you are getting a new cat, you should introduce it to the old cats slowly, and make sure they are kept separate except under supervised conditions.
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