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Cat Aggression Toward People Treatment

Cat Aggression
Toward People

 Cat Behavior Library  


Cat Aggression Toward Owners
and Cat Handling

There is little in life more pleasant than stroking a silky purring cat. But if that silky smooth cat decides to turn around and scratch or bite, the joy quickly dissolves.

The causes of aggression in cats are varied: internal pain, being restrained against his will, a frustrated hunt instinct, previous bad experiences, or hormonally induced by petting.This last cause of aggression results when you are petting the cat from the neck to rump.

One theory says this may trigger a hormone release similar to that in a mating cat. In the wild, the natural response during mating is to turn around and attack.

Remember, cats were originally wild animals and there are a lot of natural triggers built into their personalities. For this problem, when petting, look for subtle early signs like tensing the body, or rippling the skin. Learn to stop petting before the response. Even better, have some treats, and periodically give a treat to interrupt the tenseness, and reward the cat for remaining calm.

When petting, look for subtle early signs like tensing the body, or rippling the skin. Learn to stop petting before the aggressive response.  Spanking a cat is always a bad idea.

These same natural instincts may lead to other types of attacks on you, particularly around the feet. In this case it may be your cat's natural hunting instincts which are frustrated by being a totally indoor cat. The only prey around is you!

This same hunting behavior is what is being seen when a cat fetches a toy. What the cat is probably doing in her own mind is teaching her kitten, (you) to hunt and is returning the (fake) wounded mouse, so that you have another chance at it.

You can re-direct this hunting aggression with toys such as a string on a pole, or by throwing balls. It is also important not to play hand attack games as this will encourage the cat to attack people.

Another important concept in training aggression out of your cat is to correct your cat every time he shows aggression. This immediate correction by you may be a hiss or a noise maker such as a can filled with rocks or even a party noise maker, or a squirt of water from a bottle or pistol. Make noise, but no physical contact. Spanking a cat is always a bad idea.

Medical problems may be giving your cat pain, which he responds to by attacking you. This can be ruled out by your veterinarian by performing a physical examination as well as blood, urine and fecal examination.


Most cats do not like to be held still against their will. "Restraint Aggression" is sometimes controlled by using another instinct of cats. When a cat is gently held by the scruff of the neck, an instinct tells the cat that MOM has him in her mouth and he should curl up and relax. This instinct decreases with age, but is sometimes useful when it is necessary to restrain you cat.  Use one hand to gently pinch the scruff (back of neck) and the other to support the weight of the cat. The procedure is completely safe, and painless (if the cat is not overweight) and usually makes your cat more relaxed. If your cat does not respond well to this, discontinue its use.

Kitten Gentling is recommended for all young cats. Even older cats can learn to accept being touched all over and held somewhat against their will.  Begin these exercises when the cat is hungry during hand feeding.

All cats with aggression problems should be neutered, as this will reduce hormonally caused problems. By keeping in mind that cats are not so far from being wild animals and some very strong instincts remain close to the surface, aggression problems can usually be easily solved, so that your cat will always stay a happy, healthy member of your home.

Your cat may have had a painful experience in the past and may associate a certain handling with the previous pain, so try to see if you can identify what "triggers" when handling cause aggression… then avoid those triggers.

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