From Pet Health Learning Center
Cat Aggression (Feline Aggression)
Signs and Symptoms
Cat aggression is a common issue that pet owners have to deal with, and it can cause a variety of problems. In fact, along with inappropriate elimination, feline aggression is one of the top reasons behind cat owners seeking help from animal behavior specialists. Many pet owners have difficulty understanding episodes of aggressive behavior on the part of their cat, and find such situations very troubling and upsetting.
Aggression in felines can be manifested in a number of different forms and is entirely normal under certain circumstances and to a certain extent. Cats instinctively live by territorial rules and act in ways to protect themselves. However, when feline aggression occurs in inappropriate situations, is excessive, or causes unnecessary harm to other animals or people, it transcends normal boundaries and becomes problematic. Since feline aggression can be dangerous and will often only grow worse with time, addressing the problem in its early stages is ideal. In order to make this possible, it's helpful to be familiar with some of the common warning signs of aggressive cat behavior.
Some general signs of aggressive behavior to watch for include behavioral changes that occur when the pet owner is not present. Yowling, urinating and defecating outside of the litter box, and destructive behaviors such as biting and scratching are also warning signs. Body language and postures can also provide indications that your cat is acting aggressively, or is about to engage in aggressive behavior. These indications may differ depending upon the type of aggression that your cat is about to exhibit. For example, offensive aggression is often characterized by a cat's ears pointing forward or to the sides while its pupils appear as slits or with only a slightly rounded shape. A cat displaying offensive aggression also tends to hold its rump higher than the rest of its body and will lock its eyes upon its target. The cat's tail tends to be held downward, with the tip swishing from side to side. A low growl may also be emitted.
In the case of defensive aggression, a cat's ears will typically lie flat against its head and its pupils will be dilated. Under such circumstances, a cat will usually assume a crouched posture, and the hair on its body and tail may puff up. The cat's tail will either be held under its body or curved to the side, and its claws will be out. Rather than growling, cats exhibiting defensive aggression tend to spit and hiss. On the other hand, predatory aggression is generally not characterized by such significant mood changes. For this type of aggression, intense concentration, stalking, crouching, and springing are typical behaviors. Again, these forms of aggressive behavior are perfectly normal in certain situations. However, if your cat's aggression is increasing, seems unusual, or is becoming problematic, it's a good idea to consult a veterinarian or qualified animal behaviorist. When dealt with appropriately, such problems can often be effectively remedied, restoring peace to both you and your pet.
Having your cat's aggression properly diagnosed is extremely important, as improper treatment can exacerbate the problem. The first step in diagnosing feline aggression is to rule out the possibility of medication or an illness that could be causing your pet's behavior. This will likely be achieved through a physical examination, the cat's medical history, and any tests that the veterinary doctor deems necessary. Once such possibilities have been ruled out, the veterinarian may very well refer you to a qualified animal behaviorist. These professionals are specially trained to deal with behavioral problems in animals and will best be able to help you treat and fix your cat's aggression problems. However, while an animal behaviorist is likely the one who will help you treat the aggression, it's important to start by having your cat checked out by a veterinarian in case its behavior stems from pain or another form of medical situation.
It's also important to have the form of your cat's aggression identified, as well as the factors and situations that tend to trigger its problematic behavior. This will be done either by a veterinarian or animal behaviorist and will require input from you, the pet owner. At this point, it's important to provide as much information as you can about your cat's behavior in different situations, as well as information about your household, daily routine, and anything else that might be helpful. Once your cat's triggers and the type of aggression it is exhibiting have been identified, an appropriate, specific treatment method can be developed in order to correct your pet's behavior. Once again, it's vital that treatment only be implemented by or under the close supervision of a qualified professional; otherwise the problem could be made far worse.
Pathophysiology and Psychology
Out in the wild, aggression is extremely important for a cat's survival. It helps them to protect territory, catch food, and defend themselves from threats and dangers. Furthermore, cats are hunters so behaviors such as stalking, biting, and scratching are perfectly natural. While such behaviors are not necessary to the same extent when cats are living in a domestic situation, certain circumstances and influences can cause some cats to act aggressively. Often, this occurs because the feline feels threatened or fearful and believes it needs to protect itself. Aggression may also be used to exert dominance. When cats do exhibit inappropriate aggressive behavior, they are capable of becoming quite dangerous.
There are many different reasons why a cat may act aggressively. Such behavior can be triggered by fear, stress, and anxiety as well as rivalry and jealousy. Pain, improper socialization, and learned behaviors can also give rise to feline aggression. Often, such behaviors are categorized with respect to the circumstances in which they occur. One common type of feline aggression is play/predatory aggression. Rough and predatory behaviors are often displayed during playtime by young cats, and this allows them to practice and develop skills needed for survival. However, when the behaviors are directed at humans or other animals, they can become harmful. Sometimes we inadvertently encourage such behaviors through the way that we play with our young cats. Then, as our pets grow older, the biting and scratching become more painful even though the animal still believes it is just playing. In other circumstances, cats act aggressively out of fear. If a cat feels the need to protect itself, it will go on the defensive in order to ward off the perceived threat.
Another type of feline aggression is referred to as non-recognition aggression, which involves aggressive behavior directed at a feline housemate that previously lived harmoniously with the cat displaying the unusual behavior. This can occur when one cat is brought home from a visit to the veterinarian or groomer smelling differently than it usually does. A failure of recognition can then occur on the part of the other cat, triggering an aggressive response. Furthermore, cats are territorial animals by nature and often live by subtle territorial rules. If something occurs to disrupt these rules, a cat may react aggressively. Pain and illness can also cause a cat to exhibit unusual behaviors, including aggression. As a result, there are numerous different potential causes of feline aggression. Even so, it's important to identify your pet's specific triggers in order to provide effective and appropriate treatment.
The treatment necessary for your individual cat's aggression will depend upon the type of aggressive behavior it is exhibiting and the underlying causes. In many cases, behavioral therapy carried out by a qualified animal trainer or behaviorist will be required. When this is the case, it's important to make sure that the professional is fully qualified and has appropriate experience. An unqualified or under-experienced behaviorist or trainer could seriously hinder your pet's treatment and could even make the problem much worse than it was to begin with. Some forms of treatment may involve the removal or avoidance of certain triggers. In other cases, socialization and behavioral changes will be the focus of the treatment plan.
In addition to behavioral treatments, you may wish to speak to your veterinarian about the possibility of using homeopathic remedies to help your cat. In many cases, such products will be very beneficial, especially when used in conjunction with other forms of treatment. This is particularly true when your cat's aggression is caused by stress and anxiety. Homeopathic products contain a variety of natural ingredients with soothing and relaxing properties that will help to calm your pet. For instance, passion flower, chamomile, and lemon balm are natural sedatives that reduce excitability and promote relaxation. Other natural ingredients such as valerian and hop help to regulate the nervous system while relieving tension and anxiety. As a result of these beneficial properties, homeopathic remedies can help to restore peace to your cat and household while your pet is undergoing treatment for its aggressive behavior. If you are interested in using homeopathic remedies, consult with your veterinarian so that together you can determine the most appropriate plan of action for your individual pet.