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Feline Aggression: Best Ways to Approach and Calm an Aggressive Cat

9 Jun 2023.

It can be incredibly frustrating to approach an aggressive cat, especially if you don’t know what’s causing the behaviour. It’s important as both a fur parent and a cat sitter to understand what to watch for and the best ways to approach an aggressive kitty. After all, you don’t want an irritated feline turn their sharp claws and teeth on you! Below, Cat in a Flat explains the major signs of aggression and what you can do when faced with an aggressive cat. 

What to look out for in an aggressive cat

signs of an aggressive cat

Felines communicate both verbally and through body language. Understanding what a cat’s meows or body language means is one of the best way to figure out why they may be behaving aggressively. If you’re not sure what the signs of an aggressive cat are, here are some red flags to watch out for: 

  • Hissing and growling: These are defensive vocalisations and signs a cat is feeling upset or aggressive. 
  • Swatting or biting: It can be hard to know the difference between play swatting and aggressive swatting, but we’ll dive into that below!
  • Puffed up tail or fur: A cat will puff up their fur or tail to make themselves look bigger. This happens when a kitty is feeling threatened, afraid, or angry.
  • Dilated pupils: Take note that your furry friend’s pupils will also likely dilate when they’re playing or in hunting mode. Hence, dilated pupils without any other signs of aggression can be a natural reaction.
  • Ears flattened against head: A sure sign of an aggressive cat is when they flatten their ears back along their skull. 
  • Arched back: Felines arch their backs when they’re scared. However, like with dilated eyes, a cat may also arch their back when playing. 
  • Tail flicking: When a cat aggressively wags their tail this is a sign you need to back off and give them space. 
  • Stalking or pouncing: It’s normal for a kitty to stalk or pounce when playing or hunting. However, an aggressive cat may also engage in these behaviours because they’re agitated or anxious. 
  • Excessive vocalisation: Intense meowing or yowling can also be signs of an aggressive cat. 

What triggers aggressive behaviour in cats? 

aggressive cat triggers

If a cat has been aggressive in the past, or you’re worried they may become aggressive in the future, it’s important to stop and take stock of what could be upsetting them. One of the first things you should do before approaching an aggressive cat is to contact their paw parents. Ask for some insight into Mr Whiskers’ behaviour. Here are some reasons why a cat may be acting aggressive: 

  • Pain or discomfort: Aggression is one of the ways some felines express pain or discomfort. Make sure you know how to recognize the signs of a sick or injured cat, and basic feline first aid. 
  • Fear or perceived threat: Some kitties are easily frightened and may react aggressively to changes in their environment. This includes a new cat sitter! To minimize the possibility of an aggressive cat client (and to get off on the right paw), make sure you read up on tips for approaching a cat for the first time
  • Overstimulation: Sometimes felines can become overly excited while playing. Suddenly, from one moment to the next, you’ve got an aggressive cat on your hands! To avoid overstimulating your furry friend, be sure to only use appropriate cat toys for play time. NEVER use your hands or feet to play with a cat. And if you notice your fur friend displaying multiple signs of aggression (raised fur, flat ears, dilated eyes), stop playing immediately and give the kitty some space. 
  • Boredom: Just like a feline can become overstimulated, they can also grow bored from lack of stimulation in their environment. Cats will sometimes become aggressive when expressing their frustration. To relieve boredom, make sure to set aside daily play time with your feline or feline client. This will help them let off steam and engage in natural hunting behaviours. You can also try hiding treats around the home, so your furry friend has an activity to do when you’re not around. These are great boosters for a kitty’s mental and physical health! 
  • Lack of socialization: A cat can become aggressive when they aren’t socialized enough as a kitten. If a feline lacks socialization, they are more likely to see strangers and changes in their environment as threats. 
  • Aging and cognitive decline: A kitty’s behaviour can change as they get older. If you have and elderly cat that is acting aggressive, this could simply be one of the symptoms of aging or cognitive decline. As always, check with your cat’s vet or your furry client’s paw parents to make sure this is the case. 

Fur parents:  When booking a cat sitter, always make sure to be up front and honest about any potential aggression or triggers your kitty has. It’s vital your sitter has all the information so they can provide the best possible care and know how to look after your cat. 

How to handle an aggressive cat

If your cat or cat client is acting aggressive towards you or other pets and people, there are a few steps you can take to approach and help calm them down: 

Give the cat space

It’s important that you don’t console an aggressive cat. The feline will interpret this as approval for their aggression and continue to behave accordingly. You also shouldn’t retreat or show fear, as this will also reinforce the negative behaviour. Instead, calmly back away and give the cat some space, while remaining in the same area. Avoid making direct eye contact, as this can make a cat even more aggressive. 

Identify the trigger

Stop and think about what happened right before your furry friend started acting out. Was there a loud noise? Did they spot a strange cat outside? Were they feeling overstimulated by aggressive play? Identifying the trigger will help you to understand what the kitty is feeling and how you should react. 

Create a safe space

When a cat is feeling aggressive or frightened,  they may want to retreat to a safe space. Always make sure your fur friend has easy access to plenty of hiding spots. Their sitter should know where these are. Never try to coax a shy or aggressive cat out from their hiding spot. This can make them feel cornered and upset them even more. 

Use positive reinforcement

As mentioned above, the first thing you should do is give your fur friend the space to calm down. Once Mr Whiskers is behaving in a relaxed and peaceful manner, reward them with some treats or playtime. This will reinforce positive, non-aggressive behaviour. 

Seek professional help

If you’re a fur parent with a cat that continues to be aggressive no matter what you do, it may be necessary to seek professional help.  Once you’ve ruled out any potential health issues with the vet, consider getting in touch with a cat behaviourist. (Your vet can usually refer one to you.) A cat behaviourist will observe your cat, identify what may be causing the aggression, and teach you ways to manage it. 

Want to learn more about feline behaviour? On the Cat in a Flat blog we answer your top questions about cat behaviour and show you how to avoid these 6 things cats hate.

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