A question about a feral cat’s aggressive behavior

by Karen

I have had many strays. This particular cat was hiding in our shed and wood pile as a kitten all last winter. Now it is coming right up to the house meowing and hissing for food. In the last three weeks it has become more demanding and agitated. The other day it smacked my hand with it’s paw and drew blood.

I am feeling uncomfortable about this cat and think there is something wrong with it. As I said, I’ve had strays before but never felt afraid of them. What might be going on? I do not trust this cat to be safe, even though it only shows itself for food.

Thoughts? Thanks,


Hi Karen.. Thanks for helping stray cats. I’ll try and kick the discussion off. I believe that the causes of cat aggression will be the same whether the cat is a domestic cat, stray cat or feral cat (and generally speaking even for the wildcats). They are all inherently the same animal.

The circumstances under which feral cats live results in aggression being demonstrated more often.

I am not sure that the cat you refer to is any different except that there may be a compounding factor: pain or discomfort. And (s)he may be more fearful than others. The fact that he came to your back door indicates that hunger overcame fear and is the beginnings of socialization, I think.

What happens is that the cat comes up for food and in an overly defensive manner (proactively) hisses and if a hand gets too close, slaps it. This is instinctive.

My impression is that in time it will improve and perhaps your understandable emotions (slight anxiety about being hurt) may feed the anxiety in the cat.

I would feed this frightened little cat and give plenty of space and progress slowly. If the chance arises it may be appropriate to trap, neuter, health check, return him or her. But I don’t know if you are into that sort of thing. It is a level of involvement up from simply helping a feral cat.

Feral cats will be aggressive due to:

lack of socialisation – defensive behavior expressed in aggression

and (in this case) pain/discomfort (possibly).

See Aggressive cat behavior

Hope this helps a bit. They are simply my immediate thoughts – thinking aloud.

I too would welcome some comments that may well improve on mine.

Michael Avatar

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A question about a feral cat’s aggressive behavior

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Nov 08, 2010 been there
by: Kathy W

Your feral cats behavior sounds exactly like our first Savannahs behavior. I couldnt even get her to take a treat from my hand. She would come out and swat at my hand and growl. I too have a feral cat Im trying to befriend. Hes been around for two years and just last spring I finally coaxed him to come and eat. Hes been coming now on a regular basis and you couldnt even get 5 feet to him The other nite I saw him out there and went out with his food. He forgot himself and came running over by me. When he ralized how close he was he stopped and ran away hissing. Lately he has started meowing to me when he sees me. Last night he was laying down waiting for me. When I went out there he let me get within almost two feet to him. I did what the other lady suggested I talk to him very quieltly. I tell him what a handsome boy he is and what a good cat. He probaly was abused or chased by people. Its thrilling for me to see him letting me get closer. I want to try to make a shelter for him for the winter but I dont think he would trust going inside one. Just be patient and maybe back off a little bit so you dont get hurt. JUst do the talking and put the food down and when it starts eating talk to the cat let it know you mean it no harm. It may take a long time but hopefully the aggresiveness will calm down. Mr Grey still hisses at me every now and then but I think its his way of telling me Im close enough.

Nov 01, 2010 Feral cat Cecil and his behaviour
by: Susie Bearder

Somewhere on the site is some discourse on Cecil (after Cecil Aldin)the feral cat who still doesnt quite know how to behave despite being with four other cats and coming into our house and that of my mother in law. Generally he is very good with the humans and likes his attention when he feels safe ie the dogs are definitely not around. He will give little nips and I think Michael is right and its his way of showing affection. Think about what a healthy male cat will do to a female when she is on heat.! But if he feels threatened ie by the sudden arrival of trouble he will hiss and scrabble to get out of my arms and the claws come out and want to put himself in a defensive place where he can run.

Cecil is by now the largest cat and putting on his winter fur and he gets rough in play with the female cats who cant quite make up their mind if they like it or not. The fellas on the other hand are quite sure and they dont. We have moved so far now that I am preparing to visit our Spanish vet. It will be interesting to see what difference it makes.

Oct 31, 2010 To Karen
by: Ruth

I’d only add to the very good advice already given to talk to the cat all the time he is near you, just very quietly, hardly louder than a whisper. Even better sing to him, get him used to the sound of your voice, it sounds daft I know but it does help to calm cats down.
I’m a bit worried that it’s only the last 3 weeks he’s been demanding and aggressive as it could be a sign he’s in pain.
Try to get help from a local cat Rescue if you can to borrow a trap cage and get him to a vet for neutering and a check up. But do be very careful as it has been known for a frightened cat to attack especially if he has been abused by people.
Good luck.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Oct 30, 2010 You’ll get the baby calmed eventually
by: Joyce Sammons

Just don’t ever let him bite. My Furby is a reformed feral and in the beginning when we would play with him he’d bite and not let go.

Even now he’ll ATTACK me over a piece of cheese. I’m talking swiping hard with claws out. I guess he’ll always have a little feral in him and he’s been with me almost a year. He was a baby when I found him (about a month old).

Just put the food close and sit on the ground with the kitty. It won’t take long until you’re good friends.

Oct 30, 2010 Thanks Martha
by: Michael

Thanks Martha for a welcome comment based on first hand experience.

Oct 30, 2010 Cat’s Aggressive behavior.
by: Anonymous

Hi Karen, i have had ,and still have stray cats i feed that act this way but i can assure you that he is more scared of you than you are of him. Cat’s ,like humans have their own way of asking for things and again like humans they can be very sociable or very withdrawn.

The poor little fellow has never received love so obviously he hasn’t got a clue on how to give it. If you have the patience and really want to make friends with him you may try something that i have been doing for years with a good measure of success. Stuff a rubber glove with tissue paper to make it look and feel like a hand and then tape it very tightly to the end of a broom stick.

Put down a tasty plate of food about three feet away from you so that the cat has his back to you while he is eating. When he starts eating and is engrossed , try petting him very gently along the back with the rubber glove . He may move away the first time but hunger will bring him back and once he realizes that being stroked is a good feeling he will relax a bit. If this is done every day at meal times you will find that he will become less and less aggressive, that is as long as there is nothing else bothering him health wise. As i said, you need patience to obtain results but it will be satisfying when you see the cat relax and start to trust you.Good luck and let us know how it goes.

Martha from KITTYAPPEAL.

8 thoughts on “A question about a feral cat’s aggressive behavior”

  1. Thanks to all for your replies on this kitty’s and my situation. I am trying to go slow but when a stray cat that you know nothing about is trying to scratch and swipe at you, it brings on fear.

    I know that an un-neutered male cat is often aggressive and I’m sure that contributes to his aggression. I’m sure he thinks of me as a constant food supply and when I don’t put food down for him he gets ill.

    I do plan on having him neutered. There is an animal agency not too far from me that has helped a relative trap and neuter cats in the past. The man that does it is a dedicated cat person and gives his all to helping cats. I don’t know if he would have to actually trap him. It might be that the cat would go into my cat carrier without trapping, but I don’t want to be the one to try to get him in there at this time. Cats can sense fear. I’ll leave it to the pros.

  2. Good morning. Reading these posts have been helpful to me, as I have been feeding a stray since late summer 2014. I thought he was feral at first, but in the past 2-3 months he slowly let me pet him.

    Now, his aggression towards me has me overwhelmed and I am on the verge of calling Animal Control to pick him up. I can’t go out in my yard to do anything because he’s there waiting on me, but most likely waiting on food, even though he’s just eaten. I cannot walk in my yard for him winding back and forth in front of me and slapping at my legs and hissing. Then he rolls over at my feet and swats at me again when I try to get by him. I slap my hands at him but it doesn’t phase him.

    I don’t know what to do at this point and it’s stressing me out to the point of feeling sick. I know calling Animal Control is almost a guaranteed death sentence and I hate the thoughts of that.

    This kitty appears to be an un-neutered male. Approx. one year old. Picture attached.

    1. Karen, don’t call Animal Control. He is like any person. Unsure of everything.

      You are at the beginning of a relationship. He is unsure but he likes you. Give him time.

      I slap my hands at him but it doesn’t phase him.

      Please don’t do this. Everything you do should be to calm and reassuring. Your objective is to get him the point where he trusts you. More patience. Patience will win. Time will win. Override your desire to throw in the towel (give up). When you get there you’ll be the happiest person. He wants to trust you and you want him to trust you. This is the best foundation. You have asked me – good. Give it time and think about how people learn to trust people. They reassure. They are patient. They accept. They go on. Don’t stop.

      You’ll get the best relationship you ever had. DW cares for a beautiful ginger tabby. You will not get a better relationship. You care. That is obvious. Just control that stress and frustration. Please.

      Thanks for visiting.

      it’s stressing me out to the point of feeling sick.

      You want to get to get to know him. Give it more time. The time frame of people has speeded-up. We need to slow down.

  3. Hi Ginny.

    My name is Dee and I have been caretaking feral colonies for many years. I hope I can help.
    Your comment warmed my heart, because it is clear to me that you are doing an excellent job in gaining trust. Being swatted by a feral isn’t foreign to me. I’ll try to explain what I believe is going on.

    Your cat is growing fond of you. He is beginning to trust. The fact that he comes that close to you and, actually, touches you is very positive. He doesn’t feel safe enough to do it up front yet though. He, also, doesn’t know that he is hurting you or drawing blood. His intention isn’t to attack. I have never been attacked by a feral. Sure, there has been plenty of hissing, spitting, and growlling., but that is often calmed by maintaining a quiet, slow, non-threatening manner. They are fearful of us until we prove ourselves to be harmless.

    I understand that this has frightened you, but I hope you can accept that you are nott under attack.
    You are making a huge breakthrough. Shooing him away will cause a step back for him. If you remain afraid, put his feeder down further away from where you were putting it and walk away instead, always facing him. I hope your fears subside, because he has been more afraid of you than you could ever be of him, until now. You are doing a great job.

    I’ll add that, when I am out with ferals, I always wear long pants even though I live in a tropical climate.. It’s good practice.

    The best to you. Keep us posted on how things are going.

  4. I have been feeding several feral cats for about 2 years, one has just come up recently, about 6 mos ago. He always hisses and spits. At first I just talked sweetly to him and tolerated the hissing and spitting. He began to get a little closer to me gradually while I setting out the food and I thought this was a good thing. The other night, as I was bringing out the food, he swatted me in the leg as I went by. I thought maybe I was too close to him. A couple of nights later, while I was setting the food down, he came up behind me (I did not see him) and swatted me in the calf and brought blood. Now when I go out, I shoo him away until I put the food down. Don’t trust him now. I am 70 years old and have befriended many cats, never had one attack me like that. Anyone have any ideas? I am a little afraid of him now.

    1. Bless you Ginny for being so good in helping feral cats. I am no expert on handling feral cats but I would think that if you shoo him away it may make him more aggressive towards you. If you can simply put the food down when he is not in the vicinity to protect yourself and then gradually with gentle sounds etc. become friendly he may become less aggressive over time. Some ferals never domesticate but I sense that 90% do eventually if fed and treated nicely because they learn to trust. I’ll ask Dee to write a comment too. She is American and cares for feral cats.

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