Feline Behavior Problems: Different Types of Aggression

Feline behavioral problems are quite common and there are several types of aggression. It's triggered by specific factors and, if you have a cat, then you must know how to handle it.
Feline Behavior Problems: Different Types of Aggression

Written by Camila O.Thomas

Last update: 22 December, 2022

Feline behavior problems usually come out as aggression or other threatening actions directed towards people, and other animals.

Of course, all animals can be aggressive when it comes to protecting themselves or their territory.

In fact, aggression is an evolutionary trait which helps us defend our offspring and for self-defense if we’re threatened or attacked.

The kind of feline behavior we’ll discuss today is aggression. Note that it may refer to a wide variety of complex actions and it occurs for various reasons and in different circumstances.

The classification of feline aggressive behavior

A hissing cat.

To help overcome out-of-control aggressive behavior in cats, it’s essential to understand what’s causing such attitude.

If your cat’s been aggressive in the past or they act in a way that makes you think they’re about to become aggressive, then it’s time to assess what situations may trigger this behavior.

For example, has your cat attacked anybody? If so, when and where did it happen? Also, what happened during the half-hour prior to the incident? Finally, what was the [real or imaginary] risk to your cat?

Determining the answers to these questions will help you identify the circumstances that trigger their aggressive reaction. In addition, it’ll give you an idea of ​​why they behave in a certain way.

Be aware that a number of medical conditions may cause or contribute to aggressive feline behavior. Toxoplasmosis, hyperthyroidism, epilepsy, abscesses, arthritis, and dental diseases, among others.

Other medical conditions that cause aggression in cats can be rabies and trauma, and, in older cats, sensory impairment or cognitive dysfunction. Thus, the first step to solving your feline’s aggression problem is to do a full veterinary checkup to evaluate their physical health.

There are many other reasons that lead to aggressive behavior in cats. So, observe them carefully to determine what’s triggering it.

Feline behavior: Aggression between cats

Feline behavior: A pair of boxing cats.

This is the most obvious form of feline behavior, and the easiest to understand. It occurs mainly among feral or poorly socialized male cats. As males reach adulthood in the wild, they often begin to challenge each other to access mates and territory.

Street cats often get into threatening confrontations and real fights. They show it by sitting or standing stiffly. They puff up and measure one another.

Then their ears turn back, and they often grunt and hiss. After this interaction, one of the cats may eventually back off and leave, or one or both will attack.

Aggressive behavior between domestic cats is more subtle and complex than the conflicts between two feline strangers. In fact, it can be so subtle the family won’t notice it.

In this scenario the postures of the aggressor and its victim are subtle. Many cats tend to hide to avoid aggression.

Aggression can occur between cats of the same gender or between females and males. It may be related to physical size and activity, as large cats often intimidate smaller, less active cats. A lack of socialization plays a big role as well.

Fear and defensive behavior

An aggressive reaction due to fear can occur when a cat perceives a threat and it can’t get away. The more threatening a person, an animal, or an object may be to a cat, the greater their fear reaction will be.

The typical bodily postures associated with fearful or defensive aggression are a combination of:

  • Defensive signals such as bending over, flattening of the ears, tapping of the tail, bending or rolling to one side and dilation of the pupils.
  • Aggressive signals, such as spitting, goosebumps, grunting, biting and scratching.

Aggressive signals will come out if a cat cannot get away from what they fear. Often, the best way to deal with this kind of defensive-aggressive feline behavior is to simply avoid it until the animal calms down.

Territorial cats

Most animals will try to expel other individuals from their territory and cats are no exception. Both genders are territorial but males can defend larger territories than females.

The kind of feline territorial aggression is mainly directed towards members of their own species. However, they may also direct it towards dogs and people.

For example, a cat may express territorial aggression toward some family members but not others. In the same way, they may target some cats but not others. The way in which cats mark the lawn is by patrolling, rubbing their chin against things, and spraying their urine.

They may also stalk, chase and ambush a perceived intruder. However, in this case, they may show aggressive bodily postures followed by hissing.

Some cats take a slow and steady approach when stalking. While others go about it aggressively and immediately. The perceived territory of a cat may be the entire property or only part of it like the yard, the block. Also, they may also claim the entire neighborhood.

Games with your cat

A cat stalking a toy.

Rough play is natural and common among kittens and any cat under two years of age. However, as playful as the intentions of a cat may be, the game doesn’t always end well.

“Playful” aggression directed at people often causes injuries or property damage. This kind of aggression is the most common type of feline behavior directed towards guardians and family members.

Its typical predatory attitude begins with stalking, followed by chasing, attacking, running, ambushing, hitting, grabbing, fighting and biting.

Some believe that young cats learn to inhibit their bites and to sheathe their claws when crushing through playing with each other. So when a cat feels orphaned and is lonely for several hours then this will contribute to them being overly aggressive during games.

Aggressive reaction when you pet your cat

Even though some cats love physical contact, there are many who don’t like to be touched. Petting-induced aggression occurs when a cat gets irritated by it.

This kind of aggression comes out in the form of pinching or biting the person who’s doing the petting, followed by them breaking free and running away.

It may be because repetitive contact leads to over-excitement, pain and even static electricity in a cat’s skin. So, when your cat tells you to stop petting them, honor their request … or else.

It’s important to keep in mind that cats with behavioral problems should always get a medical examination. A veterinarian is likely to detect any underlying medical problems, especially if it’s causing them pain.

Note that physically punishing an aggressive cat isn’t just cruel but will prove ineffective in changing an undesired behavior.

It may, in fact, trigger pain-induced aggression. In most animals, physical punishment will only worsen the behavior and bring out an even more aggressive instinct: self-defense.

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The contents of My Animals are written for informational purposes. They can't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.