Clawing Your Way Through the 5 Types of Feline Aggression
Mon, November 29, 2021

Clawing Your Way Through the 5 Types of Feline Aggression


Animal behaviorists cite aggression as the second most common feline behavior problem, mentioned non-profit organization ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). While feline aggression is taken less seriously than canine aggression, cats can still be formidable. This view might be due to cats being smaller. They also don’t have the tendency to pursue humans to bite them.

Still, cats have five potential weapons, namely their teeth and all four clawed paws; dogs only have their mouth as their main weapon. Bites from cats inflict severe lacerations, which can be painful and become easily infected.

Cats can also cause cat scratch fever, which is usually a benign but potentially serious infectious disease that makes a person exhibit flu-like symptoms. Having an aggressive cat at home can be risky and pose a real threat to your family and visitors.  

Feline Behavioral Problems In Tehran (2015)

Naga Tamimi and colleagues of biomedical and life sciences journal portal PMC developed a questionnaire containing 40 behavioral questions. The answers of the cat owners were collected during the interview upon completing the survey questionnaire. Of 167 cats, 12.6% were less than six months old, 27.5% were between six to 11 months, 19.8% were between 12 to 20 months, 16.2% were between 21 to 35 months, and 23.9% were more than 36 months.

31.7% of cats had outdoor access (versus 68.3% who didn't have outdoor access). 46.7% had no interaction, 37.1% had interaction with cats, and 16.2% had interaction with people. Owners' reaction towards behavior were: punishment (31.7%), ignoring/distracting the cats (22.8%), comforting (19.2%), and inconsistent (26.3%).

94.6% of cats exhibited at least one behavioral problem. 45.5% exhibited fearful behavior, 37.1% showed attention-seeking behaviors, 32.9% exhibited aggression towards other cats, 31.7% were aggressive towards people, and 30.5% scratched on inappropriate objects. 30.5% showed inappropriate elimination (house soiling and marking), 15% vocalized in their owner’s absence or chased small animals, 13.8% hid, 11.4% showed excessive grooming, 9% exhibited obsessive behaviors (psychogenic alopecia and staring), and 4.3% ate fiber material.

Older cats were more likely to seek their owners’ attention compared with other groups. Access to outdoors was not associated with behavioral problems except for inappropriate elimination. Interaction with other cats and people was associated with inappropriate scratching in cats, showing that cats with less interaction with people were more likely to scratch inappropriate objects.   

The authors concluded that due to the high number of cats reported with undesirable behavior, professional practitioners are needed to address this issue by increasing awareness and educating veterinarians and owners.



Familiarizing Yourself With Feline Body Language

Aggression can be either offensive or defensive. An offensive posture includes upright ears with the backs rotated slightly forward, constricted pupils, growling/howling/yowling, and piloerection (hackles up)—which includes the fur on the tail. It also includes stiffened rear legs and tail, the latter being lowered or held straight down to the ground.

A defensive posture includes crouching, tail curved around the body and tucked in, head tucked in, eyes wide open (pupils partially or fully dilated), ears flattened sideways or backward on the head, piloerection, and open-mouthed hissing or spitting. Cats in this posture might make quick strikes with their paws with their claws out.

Overt aggression includes biting, swatting, growling/shrieking, scratching, and preparing for an all-out attack onto side or back—exposing its teeth and claws. This position might make your cat attempt to grab your hand and bring it to your pet’s mouth to bite it.



Types of Feline Aggression

1.     Between Cats/Inter-Cat Aggression

This type of aggression occurs between unneutered males. As your male cat reaches adulthood, it will often challenge other males for mates and territory. However, aggression between household cats is more subtle and complex than fights between two outdoor tom cats. Aggressive behavior can be triggered between females or between males and females.

This behavior can be attributed to physical size and activity, as larger cats intimidate smaller or less active felines. It can also be related to a lack of pleasant social experiences with other felines, a learned association (accidental) between the other cat and an unpleasant object/experience like thunder or fireworks, or a personality clash.

2.     Territorial Aggression

Male and female cats alike are territorial, but the former defend larger territories. Territorial aggression is often directed toward other cats. However, it can also be directed to humans and dogs. A cat can demonstrate territorial aggression towards some of your family members or cats and not to others.  

Some situations that trigger territoriality are the following: when a kitten in the household reaches sexual maturity, a new cat is introduced into your house and family, major changes in the cat’s family or environment, and stray or roaming felines entering your cat’s territory.

3.     Maternal Aggression

Females that have given birth and are nursing kittens may show aggression towards people that approach them, stated Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, a college in New York. It is recommended to provide your cat (queen) with a quiet, low-stress environment, minimize visitors, and avoid contact with your cat and its kittens if they demonstrate aggressive behavior. Maternal aggression will be gone when the kittens become older and more independent.  



4.     Play-Induced Aggression

Rough play is common and natural among cats less than two years old and kittens. When rough play is directed towards people or becomes destructive, play can potentially injure people or damage household objects. Play aggression is a common type of aggressive behavior that your cat will direct towards you.

This involves chasing, stalking, running, pouncing, ambushing, swapping, biting, and more. Other factors that lead to play aggression are spending long hours alone without opportunities to play and if you encourage your cat to chase and attack others’ hands and feet in play.

5.     Petting-Induced Aggression

Some pet cats like being held, carried, hugged, and petted. Others like to be petted but not carried and a few do not like to be petted at all. This type of aggression is triggered when your cat feels irritated when being petted, nipping and lightly biting you before jumping up and running off. Behaviorists conjecture that physical contact can induce pet-induced aggression when it is repeated.

Repetitive contact leads to pain, static electricity in your cat’s fur, excitement, and arousal. Watch out for these signs of petting-induced aggression: restlessness, dilating pupils, flattened ears/rotating them forward and back, tail twitching and flipping, and head turned towards your hand. When you see these signals, it is best to stop petting your cat.

Feline aggression can be directed towards people or to other animals. It is recommended to understand your cat’s body language to help you discern the signs of aggression. Consult your veterinarian if you think you need help in addressing your cat’s aggression.