Feline aggression is a serious concern and, left unchecked, poses a danger to people, animals, and the aggressive cat themself. Calming an aggressive cat, however, requires that you first know what prompted their behavior.
The effective resolution to a cat’s aggression depends on what caused their aggression. We have compiled a short guide on the more common causes of feline aggression and how best to manage each situation.
How To Calm An Aggressive Cat
Common causes of feline aggression include:
- Aggression against other cats.
- Redirected aggression
- Maternal instinct
- Territorial behavior
- Play “aggression”
- Idiopathic aggression
Signs of Aggressive Cat Behavior
An aggressive cat displays their aggression through vocal and body language. Signs you may notice include:
- Arched back
- Hair raised along the back
- Dilated pupils
- Ears flattened against the head
- Swatting with claws extended
- Physically attacking others without provocation
Calming A Cat That Is Being Aggressive With Other Cats
Aggression between cats is seen most frequently between two unneutered male cats. The two cats standoff against each other with their backs arched, their hackles up, staring at each other, hissing and growling. One cat may eventually back down, or the two may both start to fight.
When two cats fight, do not put yourself in the middle of them. Use something like a large piece of cardboard to separate the cats.
Corral one of the cats into a separate room (or a carrier so that you can take them to a different room.) If you need to pick up one of the cats, protect yourself with gloves.
Only once separated and out of sight of the other cat cat-aggressive cats begin to calm down.
If you plan to reintroduce the cats, consult a behaviorist or experienced trainer familiar with feline/feline aggression. They will show you how to limit undesirable behavior by slowly introducing the cats. This type of desensitization is a slow and gradual process, so be patient!
Calming a Fearfully Aggressive Cat
Fearfully aggressive cats react to threatening situations with aggressive behavior. To calm a fearfully aggressive cat, you must make the situation less threatening.
A threatened cat will crouch with their ears back, they will hiss, and they will swipe with their paws. Do not approach this cat! Walk away slowly and leave the room to give them time to calm down.
Giving a fearfully aggressive cat more space makes them feel less threatened, and they are less likely to attack.
Calming a Cat That is Redirecting Aggression
When a cat is stimulated by something but cannot aggress towards that stimulus, they may redirect their frustration onto something or someone else.
For example, a cat startled by a loud noise may react aggressively to someone sitting beside them.
If your cat is too over-stimulated in this situation, it is best to move away and give them time to calm down. However, if your cat is reacting to a one-time incident – for example, waking up startled by a loud noise – offer reassurance in a calming voice and wait a moment for them to come around.
Since redirected aggression is often spontaneous, note what caused the behavior so that you can try to avoid it in the future.
Common causes of redirected aggression include:
- Seeing other animals through the window
- Loud noises
- Roughhousing with siblings
- Waking up with a start
- Waking from a bad dream
Calming An Aggressive New Mother Cat
A new mother cat has natural mothering instincts to protect her kittens. If she feels that you are threatening her kittens or coming too close to them, she may (at the very least) warn you to back off. New mothers can become quite aggressive, however.
If you have a queen that has recently given birth, give her a quiet private place to tend to her kittens. If the mother does display maternal aggression, disrupt her and her kittens as little as possible.
As kittens become more independent, maternal aggression does wane. In the meantime, any time you do have to step in, keep your distance and wear protective gloves!
Calming an Aggressively Territorial Cat
Male and female cats are territorial and can become aggressive when another cat passes through or moves into their territory.
A territorially aggressive cat will stalk the cat that is trespassing, growling, hissing and, even swatting with claws. Males may also spray urine to redefine their territory.
The trespassing cat may leave, or they may engage and challenge the territorial cat. If the two cats engage, refer to the de-escalation tips for cat/cat aggression.
If your cat displays territorial tendencies, you have a couple of options –
- You can keep your cat as an indoor-only cat without adding more pets to your family.
- You can keep your cat as an indoor-only cat and work with a behaviorist to slowly desensitize your cat to other cats.
Even if you choose not to add more pets to your family, it is a good idea to consult a behaviorist to work on your cat’s aggression. If left unchecked, your cat’s territorial aggression can worsen, and you can become a target yourself!
Calming a Cat That is Aggressive During Play
Kittens can be rough when they play together, and when they interact with humans, they often try to play in the same way they would with siblings.
It is crucial that kittens roughhouse with each other because it teaches them valuable social skills like the difference between play biting and full force biting.
It is also important that kittens (and older cats that did not learn this in kittenhood) learn to temper their behavior when interacting with humans.
As your cat’s owner, you must teach them what is and is not acceptable behavior; you can do this by:As your cat’s owner you must teach them what is and is not acceptable behavior, you can do this by:
- Applying aversive products to your hands (we recommend Granick’s Sour Apple Spray!)
- Immediately stopping play when things get too rough.
- Redirecting your cat’s attention to an acceptable target like a toy.
Also, remember to reward your cat for positive behavior to reinforce repetition.
Calming An Aggressive Injured Cat
When dealing with an injured and aggressive cat, your safety should still be a priority.
- Approach the injured cat slowly and cautiously.
- Talk to them calmly as you approach.
- Assess whether it is safe for you to pick up the cat and seek out veterinary care.
- If it is not safe to pick up the cat without injury, call animal control or a wildlife rescue for help. (You may have more luck getting immediate help from a wildlife rescue. We recommend the Animal Help Now app. for finding local wildlife rescues!)
- If it is safe to approach and you have gloves available, wear them to pick up the cat.
- If you do not have gloves, use a thick towel to gently pick up the cat and wrap the towel around them while being careful not to cause them any pain.
- Once you have picked up the cat, gently put them in a carrier (or hold them if you have them swaddled in a towel) and take them to your vet or the emergency vet clinic.
Calming a Cat That is Aggressive Without Explanation
Usually, when a cat is aggressive, you can pinpoint (or at least guess) what got them so worked up. But when a cat is aggressive without explanation, knowing how to correct that behavior is difficult.
Begin by taking stock of the situation –
- Is there anything immediately apparent? For example, was your cat sleeping a moment ago, and now your four-year-old is next to them, and your cat is awake?
- What do you know about your cat that could apply to the situation? For example, are they fearful of loud noises, or do they dislike having their belly rubbed?
Once you have more information about the situation, take the most appropriate approach of those we discussed above.
- If your cat is aggressive with another animal, move one of the animals to a separate room to calm down.
- If your cat is jealous of another animal in the house (or even a new baby!), contact a behavioral trainer right away.
- If your cat is aggressive with you, stop interacting with them and walk away. Let your cat calm down before re-engaging with them.
- If your cat is fear aggressive, walk away and give them time to calm down.
- If your cat is a new mother, let her and her kittens have space and time without hovering over them.
- If your cat is territorial, work with a trainer ASAP!
- If your cat is not overly aggressive – for example, play aggression – try to redirect their attention to something else.
- If your cat is in pain, seek out veterinary attention or if it is unsafe to help the animal yourself, call in an expert.
Even though they may be small, cats can inflict significant damage when they become aggressive. If your cat is being aggressive, you must address the problem behavior ASAP by consulting a professional trainer.
If someone else’s cat is being aggressive, remember that your safety comes first! Never approach an unknown aggressive cat even if you have the best of intentions! Call on a professional for help instead!