The Fearful Feline: What Creates Cat Aggression and How to calm it.

The Fearful Feline: What Creates Cat Aggression and How to calm it.

Know why your favorite feline is acting out? These tips may help restore the peace.

My friend, Paul recently visited, and to his surprise my super-shy cat, Angus, made an appearance in the living room. Paul froze and held his breath, just like Rutger Hauer in “Ladyhawke” right before Michelle Pfeiffer transforms into a poof of feathers and disappears into the dawn. However, instead of escaping into the nearest closet, Angus approached Paul, swiped and hissed at him. I was horrified. Paul, however, remained cool (and still) until Angus calmed down.  This isn’t the first time Angus has behaved aggressively toward visitors. My saintly cat-sitter, Analisa, sends me updates of his ‘improved behavior’ whenever I’m out of town. “Only one hiss today and then he did flip-flops for me,” she’s reported. Initially I thought Angus felt threatened by the scent of other animals on Analisa (she works in a veterinary clinic). After a bit of research, I realized that scent might not be the cause. There are numerous types of cat aggression ranging from playful to defensive. Following are some types of cat aggression and solutions to save you and your best friend from an unpleasant situation.

The most common type of cat aggression is between cats – especially unneutered males.

We’ve all seen the scrappy neighborhood tomcat fight for his territory or heard those unsettling howls in the middle of the night. Indoor cats experience a more subtle territory battle.  Their battles are frequently related to physical size, learned associations, undersocialization (a lack of pleasant experiences with other cats early in life) or a basic personality clash.

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Never allow your indoor cats to fight it out. This will lead to increased cat aggression. Instead, interrupt the aggression with a loud clap of your hands. According to the ASPCA, other solutions include neutering/spaying your cats, separating their resources in order to reduce competition and providing additional perches. Phermones, which mimic natural cat odor, can help reduce tensions. Rewarding good behavior with healthy treats will also help ease conflicts. Finally, give your indoor cats time and space alone in order to self-soothe and de-stress, especially after a conflict.

Other types of aggression can occur when a cat feels threatened, perceives danger, is defending his territory, is experiencing pain and irritation or is the result of idiopathic (unexplained) causes.

In instances where your cat is acting out not only to his fellow felines, but toward household visitors or even you, a full veterinary examination will help identify any medical complications.  Diet or abnormal social behaviors could be contributing to the aggression. Implementing a full treatment plan with your vet will create an awareness of your cat’s needs as well as a happier, safer environment for all.

After reviewing Angus’ medical history with his vet, I learned that he, unlike his very socialized and chill ‘brother-from-another-mother,’ was under socialized. While kitty play dates are out of the question, by providing Angus with the space he needs and monitoring his health, he is warming up to visitors at his own pace – minus the hissing fits!

Image: Tomi Tapio K via Flickr

24 Comments

  1. I have a loving but young neutered male. He hates one of my cats. She is an older cat and basicaly lies in one place most of the day on a chair. He positions himself under her on chair etc, then leaps upwards. She yells, he tries again. I have had to separete them. I have two other cats, he gets on well eith them. Any advice?

  2. I have a 7-y/o cat sent to me from Texas via plane; I’m in Ohio. I have other cat in the home. Mix have the new car in a spare bedroom. From day 1, she’s been hissing and growling and sometimes coming at me. It’s been one week, and today I was able to put my hand near her head. Yesterday she let me pet her head, hissing the entire time.. I think she wants to be scratched and touched but afraid. This has been ver traumatic for her. Help!

    • I’m sorry to hear about your cat Ellen. Because he behavior is so hostile, I would consult your vet about her stress/anxiety levels. I hope everything works out!

  3. i have 6 cats inside. two are younger males the other females 4 or older. all are fixed. about 2 weeks now the 4 year old calico has been bullying one of the younger males. he is afraid to come out and will stay hid the whole time.she searches him out. now she is taking her aggression out on one of the older females and has clawed her twice in the face causing me to take her to vet for attention. i dont want to declaw her as it is cruel, but i have separated them for hours at a time and she still goes after him or anyone else for no reason. before i got the 2 males( they have been in house one year for one and 6 months for the other) all was ok , not great. but her aggression is horrid. tried medication she spits out the pills or throws them up. please help!!!

    • MARY LOU MEINDERSMA

      What is the answer to joan brooks situation with her calico cat. Same thing happening to me with a tortishell who just got spayed and is 3 years old and been on great behavior with the other 3 cats I have for the past 3 years. My older cat is blind and she just aims right at her and really is terrible. My poor blind cat hides and is so scared. What causes a once good cat to turn on another one that they have lived with for 3 years in tight quarters too.

      • Hi Mary, both are really tough questions. There are many factors that can lead to a change in your cats behavior/ aggression towards other cats/pets in your household. Changes to routine, new family members, health issues just to name a few. I would recommend consulting your vet about the behavior problem. Some things I would recommend; you can try giving the aggressor cat more play time to tire them out and redirect them with a toy if you catch them harassing your older cat. Also adding vertical space never hurts. Cat Shelves gives the allusion of more space and territory. We are also working on an article about cat pheromone therapy for behavioral issues, this might be something worth looking into. Wishing you the best of luck!

  4. Julia Hearton

    I have 8 cats all were strays a, mother 8 years, 1 male, 1 female age 6 her babies, then 1 male stray he is 6 years old: I have 4 cats mother was killed by a car when they were about 3-4 weeks old. I nursed them with baby bottles until they could eat on their own. I kept them from the other cats until they were 6 weeks old. They all got along great. After we moved into another home over 2 1/2 years ago the babies were 1 male and 3 females now 3 years old. The male started chasing his tale and biting it so when he was 1 1/2 old the vet. decided we should cut his tail short because he just wouldn’t stop. That took care of that problem, now about a year ago he decides to chase and bite the older cats. I have them separated for over a year. Is there some way, I can get them all back together in the whole house? I don’t like having a gate up in the middle of my home and would just love to have a big happy family again.

  5. I have had a female cat for about a month. It was roaming a neighborhood and it was obvious this very young cat recently had kittens. It was starving and nothing but skin and bones. I don’t like seeing an animal starve so I took it home, fed it and tried to love it and give it a good home. At first it was fine and once she got to feeling better, she started grabbing my leg or arm and biting or scratching me. This happened with two other cats I had previously. This is a pure black cat and I would love to keep her if she will let me. With the first cat, I would have red streaks running up my arm after it bit me. I would need to go to my doctor and get medication each of the three times it happened. The doctor believed it has Pasteurelia and I was told I could lose my hand, arm or my life. I finally got rid of that one. The next one seemed so sweet at first and then he wanted to be outside and would bit me if he did not get out. I had him neutered and declawed thinking that would help. Since I live on a busy street, I wanted him to stay inside. Then I got cancer, my doctor told me to get rid of a biting animal, so I took it to live at a friends farm. Now I am on my third one only because I did not want her starving. I really like cats but cannot live like this.. Why don’t cats like me?

  6. We have a 5 year old neutered female cat which we rescued from the wild when she was a kitten. Just recently she has episodes of violence, viciously attacking me and others. She got her shots and was examined by the vet a couple weeks ago but said vet didn’t respond to my entreaties. What’s wrong? What do I do?

  7. Gail Huntley

    Hi there..I have 2 Maine Coon cats..one is 12 years old.The other is 3 years old and already bigger than the older.Lately our 3 year old has become a bully..chasing the older cat upstairs into her hideyhole..a safe place she has had ever since she was a kitten.Until yesterday’s episode they seem able to sort this out..however this time our little one is hunting the older cat and she is hiding and shaking all over..not sure what to do..am trying to spend time with them both…have the 3 year old sequestered in a bedroom in case the older girl wants to come downstairs…at a loss..why all of a sudden is this happening they were good friends.

    • Hi Gail, I’m sorry to hear your two cats are not getting along. The younger cat might have pent up energy they are then taking out on the older cat. Try using a dangle toy to tire her out or if you see the aggression taking place, use the toy to redirect her away from the older cat. You can also try the plug-in feline pheromone therapy. It helps ease the tension in the house using cat’s natural pheromones. Creating additional vertical space with cat shelves might help too. Wishing you the best of luck!

  8. Gloria Adams

    hello I have 5 cats. The most recent male cat who was a drop off and we took him in is acting very aggressive to my old female cat. She is now afraid to move around and now refuses to use the litter box, in which the male cat then sprays the area. The male cat has been with us for a year now why did this happen all of a sudden. My female was tested 6 months ago before this happened and the results show nothing. PLEASE HELP!! I love them all but my older female is terrified.

  9. My male cat recently moved here from another household.
    He has hyperthyroidism. I made an appointment for the iodine injection.
    Once he is cured will his aggression towards one of my female cats subsided?

    • Hopefully when he starts feeling better this aggression will go down. Has he always been aggressive towards the other cat?

  10. Hi I have a 1.5 year old rescue cat named Alice. She is usually very sweet and loving but after I clip her nails or if I walk by without acknowledging he she will hit or sometimes lightly bite the back of my calf, how do i get it to stop?

    • Most likely, Alice is showing signs of play aggression when she bites you as you walk. Luckily play aggression is a behavior issue that can be corrected. Try following our tips in this article:

  11. Hi – Great article. Today fir the first time our 2 yo neutered Siamese turned and attacked me as we walked outside. He’s an indoor cat and I walk him on a harness so he can enjoy the outdoors safely. In the recent past he has protested when I pick him to bring him in but today was very different. He hissed and lunged, bit and scratched. When I was able to get him indoors he continued . I don’t take it personally of course and let him get over himself. Later he was his curious/affectionate self.
    I’m wondering if the season is a factor?
    Also I gave him a catnip toy for the first time last night- maybe a factor?
    I feel like I created a monster but bringing him out in the first place.

  12. Celeste Cain

    My female had babies 2days ago and my male also the father of the babies has been very aggressive towards her. Want allow her to eat from same food bowl or even roam the house. What do I do to help her out but help him also to be a little more comfort now?

  13. Andie Achexnayder

    Hi! I have a stray cat I’ve “adopted” and my neighbors are complaining that my cat is attacking their cat, and they want it to stop. What can I do? I think my cat is neutered.

  14. My friend’s husband- an 80 year old veteran-adopted a cat to replace his beloved one that died. This little rascal attacks the wife–she was one who administered medicine for ear mites twice daily- . she will leap on her and scratch er aggressively.They use spray bottle of water to stop this aggression -but doesn’t work. she had to go to hospital and they were very concerned about the massive amounts of scratches she had on her. She has ben to vet -no health issues-no help.
    Please -anyone with advice.?

  15. My male neutered cat that attacks my female cats and has scratched the entire side of a leather chair into shreds. I thought at first he was just scaredof the girls, but he will be calm and purring on my lap and one of the girls will make a noise and he will fly off my lap to attack them. I’ve tried everything i can think of short of a shock collar and declawing to stop this behavior. Please help.

    • Hi Charlie, have you tried installing some verticle cat spaces for the male cat in the rooms he likes to hang out in? You can also try adding double sided tape to your furniture and putting a cat scratcher next to it. Adding more scratchers around the house might help deter him from scratching the furniture.

  16. Hi! I introduced a different cat to my two and it was a disaster. Even after that new cat was removed, my two who are sisters and used to love each are growling, hissing and screaming at each other now. I don’t know how to turn the clock back. Help! Elyse

  17. I brought a male cat in our house that belongs to our neighbors that moved but he keeps coming back. he comes here when he’s ready to go home . yesterday I had to bring him in the house because I forgot my keys. my female who is fixed attacked him , myself ,and my male cat that has been declawed and fixed . she has grown up with my my male and now shes very aggressive to him and afraid to move freely around the house. ive had to put her in the dogs kennel because of this . she has warmed up to me again but she will still bite litghtly but she wont leave my male alone . what has caused this . she was neautered at 6 months and chester we got as a resuce cat and was mean until we got her . when she clawed me in the face I was bent over and I booted her away but not hard enough to hurt her just to slide her away so I could get away but poor chester she chases him all over the house and attacks him . what do I do I need the dog kennel to put dog in when I leave house because she gets mad and barks constantently and tears house apart she is a blue merle border so she is very high strung and thinks she should get to go every where I go

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