When the Claws Come Out: cat-owner aggressive behavior

Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Nov 09 2012

There are many possible motives for why cats may bite or scratch their owners, and it’s important to figure out what might be bothering your furry friend – fast. An upset cat can do a lot of damage, not to mention that bites can easily become infected and can transmit zoonotic disease.

So consider these common causes to try and determine the reason for your cat’s fit of fury:

  • Play aggression: This kind of aggression is common and is most often displayed by kittens and young cats. Stalking and pouncing are featured with play aggression, and this kind of behavior can be seen in litter mates as they explore normal social interactions. Usually, bites are inhibited and the claws are retracted so as to not injure their housemates, but when play is uninhibited, serious injury can occur.
  • Redirected aggression: Sometimes your cat can become really worked up over something he sees outside, such as a bird or another cat. When a cat becomes agitated, yet unable to vent his frustrations appropriately, his owner may inadvertently be the subject of attack. This kind of aggression is the most dangerous, as the attacks tend to be both sudden and vicious.
  • Petting-induced aggression: I consider this to be the most frustrating type of aggression. Your cat jumps up into your lap, looking for love and attention, yet seems to fly off the handle mid-pet and attacks your hand. These cats seem to have a threshold for the amount of attention they can handle, but they are unable to express their feelings appropriately.
  • Pain-induced: Painful cats are more prone to lash out if provoked. Even an innocent petting session can accidentally set off a painful cat if a sore spot is approached.

If your cat is displaying aggression of any type towards you, there are a few things you can do to try to thwart it. Most importantly, pay attention to his cues. Watch for changes in his body language, such as dilated pupils, fluffy hair, ears pinned back and a lashing tail. These telltale signs let you know that he’s not happy.

Get Exclusive Offers & More

Get Exclusive Offers & More

Be the first to hear about pet-specific news, health tips, exclusive offers and more! Unsubscribe at any time.

Try engaging your cat in more play. Sometimes this form of environmental enrichment is all it takes to curb bad behavior. Choose toys that are fun for your cat that can be held away from your body and hands. Fishing pole-type toys or toys that you can throw are best, so your cat doesn’t mistake your hands for toys. Never engage your cat in rough play, as this only will encourage bad behaviors.

Keep a blanket handy, in case you need to throw it over your cat in the event of an unavoidable attack. Cat attacks can be dangerous, and you’ll need to protect yourself without injuring the attacker.

Keep a record of attacks to see if you can determine a pattern. This will help determine the nature of the aggression. Take this with you to your veterinarian or animal behaviorist when you’re discussing the problem with him or her. You’ll want to make sure that your cat gets a thorough exam – older cats with arthritis or hyperthyroidism may have a medical reason for their aggression, in which case your cat insurance from Petplan can help.

Cat attacks are no joke. If your kitty is getting wild-eyed, it’s time to back away from the situation and call your veterinarian.

Protect your pet today

Get the most comprehensive pet insurance in one simple plan