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Aggression Toward Owners

Aggression Toward People

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Cat Aggression to People

What is it?


According to Dunbar and Bohnenkamp (June 1986), cat bites account for about 10% of all reported animal bites to people with the primary pet parent as most common victim. [1]


There are many different reasons why cats show aggression. One common cause is that people do not realize they are teaching adult cat behavior when they allow harmless, cute, tiny kittens to play bite and scratch them during the kitten's critical socialization period which is before 10 to 14 weeks of age.


Another common reason is that people do not teach the kitten to accept and trust gentle human handling before 14 weeks of age.[2]


Gentle body massage not only teaches the cat that hands are good things. Gentling exercises teach cats to trust people and allow routine grooming, exams, treatments, lifting or moving the cat.

Cat aggression can be defensive or offensive biting, scratching, and ambush-like attacks on moving human feet and legs. Most aggression is fear-based or predatory behavior.

Cats typically show defensive aggression with a single, quick bite followed by a quick retreat. Usually the cat shows body posture warnings, sometimes with hissing or batting with a paw before aggressing.

Cats show offensive aggression without warnings by biting and scratching repeatedly  until the victim is no longer available such as behind a closed door.


Aggression can also be associated with petting. Some cats may solicit attention but then turn and bite after just a few minutes of petting. Theories on why this occurs include some kind of impulse control problem or some kind of misdirected sexual arousal.


What to do?


Behavior changes are often the first sign of discomfort and illness in pets. Always rule out physical causes for behavior changes first by a thorough veterinary exam and diagnostic testing.  If you cat gets a clean bill of health, then consider a pet behavior history analysis by a veterinary behavior consultant and a customized behavior modification plan.

Learn to understand normal cat behaviors and recognize body postures and facial expressions. Never force yourself on a cat. Back off if you see your cat showing any sign of fear.


Teach your cat to exercise predatory behaviors on toys not on humans.


Begin a series of hand feeding and gentling exercises to teach the cat to trust and accept gentle handling.


What not to do?


Do not respond to aggression with any type of aggression as this will only reinforce the cat's perception of you as a threat and cause the cat's aggression to escalate.


Do not try to resolve this problem without the guidance of a veterinary behavior consultant. Cat scratch fever can be a serious illness in humans and is more common that people realize.

[1]Dunbar, I., & Bohnenkamp, G. (1986) Biting and scratching. Cats. Berkeley, CA: Center for Applied Animal Behavior.

[2]American Association of Feline Practitioners. (2004). Feline Behavior Guidelines.

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