Some aggressive behaviour can be relatively low key and manageable, for example cats may attempt to bite once they have had enough of being stroked, sometimes barely even touching the skin. But other times, it can be very serious, with teeth and claws leaving significant injuries that can quickly become infected if not treated urgently.
Some aggression is actually play or misdirected predatory behaviour. In these situations, the cat is not intending to hurt the person, who has become the unfortunate target of natural feline behaviour. Feline hunting instincts are motivated by movement, so moving feet under the duvet, or animated hand gestures during conversations, are perfect for them to pounce on, grab and bite. This is more common when cats are younger, and is usually manageable (and even encouraged) when they are tiny, but quickly becomes painful when their teeth and claws are much bigger and stronger, but their drive to play has not yet declined.
These cats often need to be redirected on to a more suitable outlet such as toys. The best toys are small, prey sized items the cat can bite down on, such as a small stuffed mouse, and attaching it to a length of string means they can be moved along to make them more exciting. It’s also useful to provide as much stimulation as possible at other times, such as allowing them access to a safe and interesting outside space and placing their food in feeding puzzles, as well as frequent play sessions.
Other types of aggression can be more serious, such as when cats are not well socialised to people or they are uncomfortable with too much stroking or handling. Here it is much more likely for them to hiss, growl or yowl as a warning before (or as) physical aggression takes place. The cat may swipe, bite, grab with their front paws and bunny kick with their back paws - with their claws out. Cats that are fearful will also try to move away from the person at the earliest opportunity.
Any cat that is feeling unwell or stressed will be more at risk of displaying aggression so a vet should always be consulted first and any obvious sources of stress removed, particularly if the aggression is sudden or out of character. Reducing aggression in a fearful cat or those who lash out when being handled involves giving them space and keeping interactions on their terms. Finding out what they are comfortable with and understanding when they have had enough. Every cat is different.
It is important to seek medical attention if someone has been bitten or scratched by a cat, particularly if they are vulnerable, such as children, elderly people or those with compromised immune systems. If you are concerned about your cats aggressive behaviour and would like professional help, you can find a list of accredited behaviourists at www.abtc.org.uk.
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