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Avoiding Cat Aggression

By Jenny Anderson


Special to Today’s News-Herald

There are many reasons interactions with our felines may become unpleasant.  Occasionally a cat will suddenly bite while being petted.  Other times it may show aggression, almost as if it is stalking or hunting.  It is important for owners to know when interaction is not a solicitation for petting.  Cats who have been handled and socialized as young kittens will tolerate petting better as adults.  Shelter volunteers spend hours each week trying to pet, brush, and gently handle the cats awaiting adoption.

Cats are funny creatures. It can be hard to read the signals when they’re upset. They may start out purring and rubbing against a person, and then suddenly exhibit a “go away” behavior by either fleeing or demonstrating aggression.  And not all felines want the same amount of affection, if any at all.  Some cats are downright stand-offish until they get to know you.  Not all cats will try to change the situation with an aggressive outburst, but they will usually let you know when the petting is no longer pleasant.  Others remain aloof on a permanent basis, so always let the cat seek out affection on its own terms.

There are subtle signs when a cat no longer wants physical contact.  We can easily miss these signals if we are inattentive.   Watch for slight changes in posture, tail twitching, ears flattened against the head, dilated eyes, or a tiny growl.  More obvious signs are vigorous tail switching, loud growling, yowling or hissing.    If you stop all interactions, the cat may become calmer.  However, in some situations the cat will bite and then move away; thus it is wise to be alert.

It may be impossible to know the real cause for aggression, so it is important to adjust the animal’s environment to make it as soothing as possible.  Pheromone sprays (Feliway) and diffusers are often helpful for an anxious pet.  Sometimes certain essential oil diffusers (lavender and chamomile) are calming.   Setting up the home so each animal has plenty of safe space and his own feeding bowl and litter pan is helpful.   My cats like a perch where they can curl up and observe (undisturbed) what is going on in their world.  Cats also like their environment kept consistently the same.  Even small changes will trigger an adverse response, so multiple pet households should be sensitive to any changes.

Dental disease, skin conditions, and other illness may cause irritability and also lower tolerance for handling.  Cats are masters at masking pain, and this definitely affects personality.  If there is any change in behavior, it may be wise to consult with a veterinarian.  As a medical professional, he (or she) may be able to provide helpful treatments.

Hunting and stalking behaviors are a natural part of normal cat behavior, and catnip infused toys will encourage this.  When a cat is displaying any of its stalking mannerisms, it may be best to steer clear and let it do its thing!  The last thing we want is to become the prey.  Infections resulting from cat bites are serious and do require medical intervention.

Most important, we want to avoid a potential situation before it happens.  It never works when we scold or try to discipline a cat.  When it snaps at us, it is trying to communicate something.  It is our job to figure out what it is trying to tell us.  Resolving this situation can make all the difference between being able to keep our pet or having to find another home for it.

Upcoming adoption events will be taking place at PETSMART:
Nov. 14th – Canine Adoption – 1:15pm – 3:30pm
Nov. 15th – Canine Adoption – 9:45am – 1:00pm
Nov. 16th – Canine Adoption – 10:45am – 2:00pm

The Western Arizona Humane Society is open Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., with kennel hours 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Call 855-5083 for details. For found or lost pets, call 855-4111. View animals found at


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