Feline Aggression (General)

24 05 2011

Feline Aggression (General)

The second most commonly reported feline behavioral problem is that of aggression.  It is estimated by behaviorists that aggression represents approximately 13% of their feline case load.  The display of aggression in cats is influenced by the environment, heredity and early experiences of the cat.

A good medical examination by your veterinarian and history of the behavior in question are important to the diagnosis and treatment of the behavior problem.  Situations that create or contribute to the anxiety should be duly noted.

Aggression may only be a clinical sign that is indicative of other underlying disorders or anxieties.  Internal disorders that contribute to aggressive behavior include:  pain, illness or infections diseases, and tumors either hormonal or neurologic which may induce behavioral changes.  Stress either acute or chronic has a great influence on aggressive responses.

In order to have a well adjusted cat, basic needs of that pet should be provided and include: adequate outlets for play, social interaction, down time, hiding places and climbing areas.  Resources should be adequate and easily accessible for each household cat.  Necessary resources would include food, water, resting areas and litter boxes.  Each cat should be provided with safe areas from other pets and when necessary from certain humans.  Some small children may literally love the cat to death.

The critical period of socialization for cats to other cats is from 3 to 6 weeks of age.  Kittens raised with other cats are likely to continue to have friendly interactions with those same cats later in life.  The critical period of socialization for kittens with people occurs from approximately 2 to 7 weeks of age.  Early handling of kittens during this sensitive period is necessary for cats to be socialized to people.  Early handling decreases fearfulness to people later in life.  Cats that are not familiarized with people during this critical period may never be socialized.  These cats exhibit what has been termed, “isolation syndrome.”

When a cat is aggressively aroused, providing a quiet, dark and isolated area may help diminish the response.  Covering a cat with a box or heavy blanket may prevent injury to other animals and people.

The types of recognized feline aggression include:

  1. Territorial
  2. Intermale
  3. Fear/Defensive
  4. Play Aggression
  5. Predation
  6. Maternal Aggression
  7. Petting Aggression
  8. Dominance or Competitive Aggression
  9. Unusual Aggression, any aggression that does not fit into any other category

General signs of aggression include: extension of the hind legs, crouching on the forelegs giving an upward slope to the body.  The hairs in the middle of the back stand up straight (piloerection) giving the cat a fuller appearance.  The tail becomes stiff with the hair fluffed out and may twitch especially at the tip or there may be an inverted U tail position.  The pupils will be dilated and the ears will be turned back and outward.  The cat will try to appear menacing and will stare at its opponent. Cats in a threatening posture tend to give a side presentation.   Howling, spitting, hissing or growling is common.  Cats will often drop the lower jaw.

Cats in an offensive posture will often hop or charge back and forth along with various sound effects.

Cats that stand firm during an attack of aggression have about a 65 % chance of avoiding the attack.


Beaver, Bonnie.  Feline Behavior:  A Guide for Veterinarians.  W.B. Saunders Co.  1992.  Pp. 97-115.

Crowell-Davis, Sharon.  “Intercat Aggression.”  Compendium for Continuing Education Veterinarian.  September 2007. Pp. 541-546.

Horwitz, Debra.  “Feline Aggression Directed Toward People.”  NAVC Clinician’s Brief.  May 2007.  P. 33-34.

Marder, Amy and Victoria Voith.  “Advances in Companion Animal Behavior.”  Veterinary Clinics of North America.  Vol. 21. No. 2.  W.B. Saunders Co.  March 1991.  Pp. 315-327.

Critterology Related Articles:

Feline Territorial Aggression

Feline Intermale Aggression

Feline Fearful or Defensive Aggression

Feline Predation Aggression

Feline Maternal Aggression

Feline Biting When Being Petted Aggression

Feline Dominance or Competitive Aggression




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