Saturday 23 April 2022

Aggressive behavior in a cat - focusing on psychological damage

Aggressive behavior in a cat is almost always going to be because of something we (as humans) have done, on the basis that the cat is healthy. If she is sick or injured, she may be aggressive for that reason. Note: this article was initially published on Jan 19, 2008 😊. It remains useful particularly for the section about a cat being psychologically damaged which results in what humans would regard as untoward behavior. It comes from first-hand experience.

I believe that she had experienced mistreatment by her previous owner which came out in mild aggression under certain circumstances
I believe that she had experienced mistreatment by her previous owner which came out in mild aggression under certain circumstances. I loved her and rescued her from a neighbour who had abandoned her. Photo: MikeB. She was about aged 15 at this time and it was about 2008.

I have a quick fact check page on feline aggression which covers all the causes and treatments for cat aggression which you can read by clicking on the link below:

A lot of people have misconceptions about cats and being scratched and bitten by them. Aggressive behavior in a cat is often misunderstood I feel. My partner (human partner I mean) had misconceptions until she met my girl cat and learned how to interact with her and communicate with her. She now loves her whereas before she loved only dogs.

I really have to draw on my own experiences here. They are usually the best way to learn about cats. I currently have two cats, or perhaps one and half cats. My second cat is a stray (as was the first), but the second is not quite settled in yet (comes and goes).

See a new page on Aggressive Cat Behavior which significantly expands on this page.

Cat has psychological issues due to past experiences?

My first cat, a girl (now about 15 years of age - as at 2008) is slightly mentally damaged. She has nightmares. I can tell because she constantly wakes up with a start, sometimes with a shout or scream. It is the same nightmare each time I think (the signs are it is anyway). I'm not particularly observant but it pays to get to know cats generally and your cat well, as it avoids problems.

I decided that my damaged girl cat was hit by her previous owner, probably on the backside near her thighs. This may have happened when she sat on the person's lap as she does not go on laps and she does not like to be touched too much or in certain ways on the rear of her body. I think the sensitivity to touch at that position and her nightmares are possibly linked.

I might be wrong but I am always careful when I stroke and comb her. This avoids irritating her which in turn avoids her being aggressive towards me; an aggression born out of a bad life experience. Although her aggression is a mild form of aggression. Aggressive behavior in a cat is as I say above a reactive action. It is not something that comes from the cat as an instigator of the action.

Sure, she may be damaged (by a human perhaps) which makes her more sensitive (but aren't we humans all damaged too to some degree). It is up to us as the supposedly more intelligent animal to behave in a manner that does not provoke our cats natural instincts.

Cat aggression towards humans
Cat aggression towards humans. Montage: MikeB. See link below.

Play - a well-known source of aggression

Sometimes, for example, I can play too firmly with the boy cat. There is a moment in play (if you are doing it with your hands) when you should sense that you have gone far enough because play is a form of hunting training for a cat and play can turn to the point when your cat starts hunting and killing your hand :)

Our boy cat is young and strong so if I go too far, I pay for it. And that is correct. Personally, I see no need to reprimand my cat for overstepping the mark in play - it's my fault. Nor should you hit your cat or cuff your cat in my opinion. Cuffing is recommended by the cat expert. I disagree with her. The idea in cuffing (as a mother cat would) is to train your cat not to scratch or bite your hand. It is almost impossible to replicate what a real mother cat would do and reprimanding or punishing a cat can alienate that cat from its human caretaker.

It is us who actually need training and not the cat - cat behaviorists nearly always alter human behavior not cat behavior. It is worth noting that when a cat bites or scratches in play it is usually not "full-on" but tempered (less effect). When my cat oversteps the mark, I sometimes just make a certain noise, not aggressively but a noise that she recognizes as a request to stop, please.

If you do that and let your hand, go quiet and dormant, she will calm down fast. Don't pull your hand away as you will do more damage to it.

In conclusion, love and understand your cat, she is at heart a wild cat, and make sure her reactions are the ones that you want to see. We dictate the reactions, the cause and effect.


Update: If we are behaving correctly and our cat is still aggressive despite being in good health (we think) it may be stress. Your cat may be in unfamiliar surroundings, for example, or in hunger and/or physical discomfort and stress. In which case a cat might demonstrate defensive aggression. We should also remind ourselves that we are giants to cats. It is not easy for us to frighten cats simply on the issue of our size and movements.


There is also, of course, the issue of socialization. Cats when young should be familiar with and comfortable in the company of people. If not it will produce stress and defensive behavior. Feral cats are aggressive sometimes but there are many tales of people rescuing feral cats and the cat becoming the best friend they ever had. It is a form of late socialization but it is possible and very rewarding, of course. See the feral cat page and the submissions by the visitors on the main site. Submit something yourself, why not? Here is the link: Feral Cat Submissions.

An illness that can cause aggression is thyroid problems. One last point. You should not try and forcibly try and calm a cat down. The best thing to do is to leave her or him alone, create calm surroundings and speak quietly. This is on the basis that the cat is not ill. A vet should be consulted if in doubt. Aggressive behavior in a cat always has a reasonable cause as is not simply a cat being nasty. Cats are not "nasty" in a human sense.


Your comments are always welcome.

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