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Cat Aggression Toward People

The aggressive attack itself (biting and scratching) is not diagnostic. It is the events surrounding the attack that help determine the cause and solution to cat aggression.

Defining Play Aggression
Play attacks come during or just after a rousing play session. The hunt and predatory centers of the cat become fully aroused during the play. While in this aroused state, the play escalates into aggression. The play gets, "Out of Control".

Avoid any play that encourages aggression toward people.  Use toys that direct play away from people such as chasing a string.

If Play Aggression is present…
First, avoid any play that encourages aggression toward people (no boxing or wrestling). Try to find games that are directed AWAY from people toward inanimate objects. Examples of good play are chasing a string, ball or other commercial cat toy.

If the problem continues, use a shake can, water spray, pillows or fog horn to punish the cat in the act. Do not apply physical punishment such as scruffing or spanking with your hands.

If the play aggression occurs at night, prevent the cat from sleeping while you are home (to make him tired at night). Exercise the cat with toys heavily in the evening. If late night antics continue, ask your veterinarian about prescribing antihistamines to cause drowsiness in the cat at night.

Redirected aggression
If the cat has just come out of a tense situation, like a real or imagined altercation with another cat, the juices may be flowing. Look for a "contingent cue" (the cue is connected to the act) like a stare down, or a new cat seen from the window. If there is no cue that can be identified, it may be a different type of aggression. Redirected aggression can occur an hour or more after the contingent cue.

If Redirected Aggression is present…
The simple answer is to identify all contingent cues, then avoid handling the cat any time related to those circumstances. Try to remove the cue. For example, it may be possible to temporarily prevent the cat from looking outdoors by closing access the window, or covering it. If this approach is insufficient, see section on treating status aggression.

Establish clear leadership (status) so you are not perceived as prey. Increase play exercise with toys that don't involve the cat touching the owner, to release the pent-up instinct to hunt.

Predatory Aggression
Every cat has a natural hunt instinct, which is separate from hunger. A well fed cat with a strong hunt instinct will continue to hunt. This instinct varies dramatically between cats. This aggression is most common in indoor cats, who are prevented from hunting outside, so they hunt the only thing that moves inside the!

If Predatory Aggression is present…
If the cat stalks and attacks you, it is appropriate to reprimand this behavior. The best approach is to say "No!" then, "Hiss!" at him like a cat. Since you are now speaking his language, he will likely back off. If necessary, yell, stamp your feet, and clang something. Chase and use loud sounds or even a pillow swat but don't personally touch the cat, since physical punishment may make the problem worse.

Fear Aggression: Toward Select People (e.g. strangers, one sex, etc.)
Fearfulness is very affected by genetics. Environmental factors either increase or decrease this predisposition. The greatest environmental influence is in the first several weeks of life. If a fearful experience happens during this period, the effect is heightened. The key signal is that the cat attacks only a specific person or profile, and when in a situation where the cat does not think he or she can escape.

If Fear aggression is present…
The goal is to increase the confidence and decrease the fear aggression to an acceptable level. Fear cannot be "cured". Anti-anxiety medication is commonly used in Fear Aggression cases. See treatment section below.

The greatest environmental influence is in the first several weeks of life. If a fearful experience happens during this period, the effect is heightened.

Dominant or "Status" Aggression
You may have been very loving, permissive, and therefore seen as subordinate in the past. The cat may begin with inhibited bites to "put you in your place" and when there is no consequence, may escalate to more serious bites. See treatment section below.

If Petting aggression is present…
Try first to identify a medical cause. Have your veterinarian evaluate the skin for mild dermatitis. Some veterinary chiropractors suggest there may be lumbar spinal pain as a cause. If no medical cause can be found, treat it as if it were status aggression (see above) since it may represent the cat "putting you in your place" once their desires have been met.
The other two potential causes are even more difficult to address. One theory is that petting aggression is an aberrant variation of a mating instinct. It is known that when mating, cats often turn on each other aggressively, so the cat may have a hormonal release causing a reflexive aggressive action.

The final causation theory is that the cat is not painful, or haughty or erotic. This theory is that the cat merely has a threshold at which certain types of petting start out nice, but when a threshold is reached, instead of merely walking away, this personality type feels it necessary to communicate via aggression.

Cat Aggression Toward Owners

Cat Aggression Toward People Treatment


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