This is an outline of 11 different types of domestic cat aggression that you might be confronted with and how to resolve them. They concern both aggression towards other cats and human caregivers.
- Intercat – territorial aggression – this commonly occurs when a new cat is introduced to a resident cat’s home. It is caused by a domestic cat’s natural need to maintain a social distance. Although domestic cats have adapted to the human environment, essentially, they are still solitary having inherited the characteristic from their wild cat ancestor. The resident cat threatens or attacks the new cat. The new cat defends and is fearful. Treatment program: the accepted method is to introduce a new cat to resident cat slowly and in stages to desensitise both cats to the new arrangement. This means confining the new cat and then opening up their territory gradually. Related: Tip on introducing a new cat to a resident cat
- Intercat – redirected aggression – this concerns a multi-cat household. One cat feels the need to be aggressive against perhaps an intruding cat outside the home and is prevented from attacking this cat and therefore redirects their aggression towards one of the cats in the home. If this happens a lot it can upset the relationship between the resident cats. Treatment program: you’ve got to try and remove the “causative agent”. In other words, you’ve got to try and prevent cats becoming aggressive towards outside agents. This means doing detective work and finding out what is causing the aggression. This will normally be a one-off ad hoc situation and probably won’t require any real programme to deal with it.
- Intercat – poor social skills i.e. lack of socialisation – some cats are under-socialised and have not learned ‘normal’ domestic cat behaviour. They may react defensively towards other cats or play too roughly with them. They may fight during play sessions and other interactions with the other cats. Treatment program: further socialisation required which is effectively “systematic desensitisation and counter-conditioning”. It may mean establishing separate territories and safe places in the home in order to reintroduce the cats.
- Intercat – sexually motivated aggression between male cats. These will normally be male cats that have not been neutered. The treatment is to neuter and establish separate territories within the home. But this is probably impractical. Neutering will normally do the trick together with giving them time to adapt which is a version of desensitisation. I have a page on this written by a guy in India, Poochu, in which he observes feline sexual aggression. Click this link to read it if you wish.
- Intercat – displaced hunting aggression – this applies to the cat-to-human aggression mentioned below. A domestic cat becomes frustrated at their inability to express their natural desire to hunt. It builds up to the point where they become aggressive towards other cats in the household. It may be manifested in conjunction with other frustrations such as redirected aggression. Treatment program: plenty of play is the only way if the cat is full-time indoors. This places a greater onus on the owner. Or allow them to hunt which is politically incorrect in 2022.
- Intercat – non-recognition aggression – domestic cats recognise each other visually and through body scent. Wash one of the cats and the other will no longer recognise them as their scent is washed off. The other cat might become temporarily aggressive towards the washed cat until her scent returns through grooming.
- Cat/human – rough play – the domestic cat tends to play too roughly and likes to ambush the human caregiver. The cause is probably a lack of complete socialisation or never having learned how to inhibit play aggression in play sessions with littermates. Treatment program: redirect play towards toys and away from the caretaker’s hands. Provide interesting types of toys and consistent play sessions. Punishment should be avoided. Punishment should be avoided at all times in any form of treatment in my view. Negative punishment would be removing play sessions and that would be the common-sense solution. In other words, don’t interact with your cat to the point where they hurt you. Young cats should grow out of this behaviour.
- Cat/human – petting-induced aggression – this is a very common form of aggression in which a cat turns from enjoyment of petting to aggression against their human caregiver. It’s due to overstimulation or an individual cat’s limited tolerance of petting. Treatment program: this is down to the person understanding the limits of their cat’s acceptance of petting by observing pre-aggression signals. Petting should be carried out in a way which is commensurate with the individual cat’s tolerances. There will be a natural desensitisation by the cat and therefore a greater tolerance of petting over time but it may take years.
- Cat/human – defensive aggression – this is caused by a cat being fearful during handling, grooming or restraint. It is caused by a lack of complete socialisation. The word “socialisation” means a cat becoming completely desensitised to the human environment and human interaction. This as you know takes place in the early weeks of a domestic cat’s life through interactions between kitten and people and other pets. This period cannot be missed and if it is lots of problems emanate from it. It is a fundamental part of a domestic cat’s “training”.
- Cat/human – redirected aggression – this is very similar to redirected aggression against other cats. A cat sees something outside or may have experienced an event outside which has made them feel aggressive towards perhaps another animal outside. They were unable to express their aggression and when they come inside and meet their human caregiver, they might attack them. This might happen on an ad hoc basis even in the best socialised domestic cats. If it happens often, it is probably due to a lack of complete socialisation.
- Cat/human – Displaced hunting aggression (read more by clicking this link)- occurs when a cat is prevented from hunting by their owner and attacks the owner instead of a prey animal. The solution is really to allow a cat to express their hunting desires through play or to let them actually hunt outside but that is a controversial suggestion in the modern world where there is a greater emphasis on preventing cats preying on native species.
If you can think of other forms of aggression then please tell me in a comment. As mentioned, this is an outline document. You might like to refine it. It has been kept fairly compact as most readers visit the site on smart phones.
Below are some more pages on feline defensive aggression:
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