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10 Types of Feline Aggression – How to Recognise it and Deal With It

Welcome to my latest blog, this one is about feline aggression. Did you know that not all feline aggression is the same? Cats show aggression for different reasons and to demonstrate different behaviours. In this blog I will talk you through the 10 (yes 10!) types of aggression that I have experienced as a holistic feline behaviourist.

A point to note – All feline aggression is a method of communication. When you have determined the type of aggression you are dealing with you will be able to ‘de-code’ the message your cat is giving you. This will help you understand your cats needs and how you can support it.

One last point to note is that this blog is part 1 of 2. Aggression is such a big topic that I didn’t want to gloss over any part. So, without further ado let’s get into it…

So here we go with the 10 types of feline aggression:

  1. Pain related or induced
  2. Territorial aggression
  3. Fear based aggression
  4. Play aggression
  5. Intact aggression
  6. Maternal aggression
  7. Returning aggression
  8. Contact aggression
  9. Redirected aggression
  10. Idiopathic aggression

Not all aggression is equal or demonstrated in the same way. Here are some common signs of aggression (but not limited to):

  • Dilated pupils, direct staring
  • Thrashing/twitching tail
  • Hissing, growling or spitting
  • The ears flatten against the side of the head or rotate backwards
  • The body posture often becomes crouched or tense
  • Biting/mouthing

If a cat’s behaviour changes suddenly or they show aggression towards others in the home, it’s time to get that detective badge out again and try to understand what is going on – what is the cat trying to communicate to you. Below I have listed each of the aggression types, I hope this helps.

1) Pain Related Aggression

If your cat starts reacting aggressively the first port of call is to rule out any pain related issues. So, a thorough check from the vet is in order. I’ll talk about signs of cat pain in another blog post.

If a cat is in pain, they will hide any symptoms REALLY well.

This is a deep, natural, instinctive behaviour response because being in pain can make the cat a vulnerable target for predators. When your cat starts to act aggressively, determining if it is pain related can be hard unless you touch a cat in a specific area, and they cry out or react aggressively.

If you work with a feline behaviourist or complementary practitioner to address your feline aggression one of the first questions they will ask (and it’s one of the first questions I ask my clients) is ‘Have they been checked by a vet’?  It’s one of the quickest ways to rule out pain related issues.

2) Territorial Aggression

This is probably the most common form of aggression that guardians experience with their cats. It is more common in a multi cat household, but it can happen with a single cat household. Territory is sooooo important to a cat and it can be the cause of a lot of stress and problem behaviours if there are issues with a cat’s territory. When it comes to territorial aggression a cat will be very protective over the resources contained within its territory. These include food, toileting facilities and personal space such as beds or scratching posts.

Robyn Jessica Cormack

If you have a multi cat household, you may see the cats fighting but there are also subtle signs of territorial aggression to look for. These include one cat blocking the litter tray from the other cat, staring or constantly provoking and bullying.

If you have a cat who is exhibiting territorial aggression it may start spraying around the house, scent marking more (such as scratching more furniture or areas around the house) and showing aggressive behaviours as mentioned in the list at the start of this blog.

When it comes to territorial aggression the sooner this is recognised and dealt with the better. The longer this issue continues the harder it can be to extinguish. It is very stressful for all cats (and guardians) involved.

I will cover multi cat households and what they need in terms of resources in another blog. The best advice I can give you when it comes to dealing with territorial aggression is to make sure that you think about what each cat needs and provide it…for each cat. I.e. one litter tray per cat plus a spare (as a minimum).

You may need to divide your house up so that each cat has safe spaces, food stations, litter tray facilities etc in different areas of the house. Be mindful that just because the utility room is where you want to have the litter trays, it may not be the best place for the cat(s)!

If you are dealing with territorial aggression you really need to put the needs of each cat at the top of the priority list. If you have a single cat who is affected by an outside/neighbourhood cat still address their resources as a first port of call.

Craig Roberts

A final thought from me on territorial aggression – it is a HUGE topic! It can be one of the easiest forms of aggression to identify. Usually, in my experience, a mixture of environmental changes, behavioural modification and botanical remedy support is required to address, reduce and stop the behaviour.

Therefore, if you are dealing with territorial aggression, I would suggest you get in touch with me ASAP so we can start to address the issues and support you and your cat(s).

3) Fear Based Aggression

Cats that are new to a household, stray or feral cats may show fear-based aggression. This is a result of the cat not feeling secure in its environment or being afraid of humans and demonstrating protective behaviour responses. If a cat has been attacked or hurt by another animal or human, they will likely show fear-based aggression. This may not be in the most obvious form such as hissing and lashing out, but it may be slow growling or deep meowing type noises. Ears flat to the head and pupils dilated.

Fiona Loh

If you are dealing with fear-based aggression you need to do a lot of trust building work. If the cat is afraid of another animal or human try to slowly increase the positive association experiences, such as the human offering the cat treats.

Or try feeding the cat, playing and petting it with the other animal around. This process can take a long time, so you need to be patient. Building trust takes time. If you need support with this, contact a feline behaviourist. The work I do with remedies can greatly support a cat with fear-based aggression, removing deep hurt and past trauma that can lead to fear-based aggression responses.

4) Play aggression

This type of aggression is common with kittens and a positively established multi cat household. It’s also known as play fighting. The best way to deal with play aggression is to get the behaviour targeted towards toys rather than human body parts! See Torin in the picture to the right with her guardian Emma Brockman.

If you have two (or more) cats in a positive multi cat household, let them play fight as it is a good source of letting off steam and releasing energy. Just watch out in case the play takes a turn for the worse or increases in duration/frequency.

There is a fine line between play aggression and territorial aggression, so you need to understand how to distinguish between the two.

With play aggression there are no puncture wounds from the teeth or the claws. The cats will mouth the toy/other cat and use paws with the just the tip of their claws exposed. If it becomes more violent or one cat is always attacking another ferociously you need to step in.

Click below for a quick video clip of a gorgeous cat called Jasmine using her guardians’ arm as a plaything! Thank you for the video clip Corinne Boulton.

5) Intact Aggression

When a cat hasn’t been ‘fixed’ (spayed for females or neutered for males) they have hormones surging through their bodies. Cats aren’t like humans in that they can take control of their thoughts, emotions or hormones. Cats are driven by their hormones to mate and the drive can be very overpowering, especially for male cats.

Intact male cats will travel far and wide to find a mate and will be highly aggressive when they find one. If an intact male cat is part of a multi cat household, they will demonstrate high levels of aggression to the other cats in the household and potentially the guardians.

Best way to deal with intact aggression is to have the cat ‘fixed’. I am a great advocate of having a cat spayed or neutered. Again, I’ll cover more of this in another blog.

That’s it for part 1…there is a lot of content here. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me on social media using the links at the bottom of the page.

Best wishes, with love

Julie-Anne x

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