Excessively rough and persistent play is called play aggression. Play aggression amongst cats may create a problem when a very vivacious cat pounces on a less playful cat making that cat fearful or aggressive. Inadequate or inappropriate early socialization may be a contributing factor in the development of play aggression. Naturally, a mother cat tends to institute boundaries on what is considered to be acceptable “cat behavior.” Bottle-fed babies without a parental influence tend to be the worse offenders.
Predatory aggression concerns the natural instinct of cats to hunt. Cats in a predatory response may stalk silently crouching or in a slow walk, often followed by a short run. Hunting skills don’t necessarily need to be learned from their mother. Hunger is not a prerequisite for hunting but will certainly encourage the response. The natural prey of cats are rabbits, small rodents, insects, lizards, and birds.
When threatened and afraid, any cat may become aggressive, especially when they cannot escape from the situation. Cats may become afraid of people when being reached for, cornered, or otherwise restrained. In general, the less stressed a feline is, the more tolerant it will be. Cats may become afraid of other cats as well as other animals in various circumstances. Illness may change the threshold for this response by making a cat more irritable.
Territorial aggression involves displays intended to exclude a cat from a particular area and often occurs when a new cat is introduced into a household. Individual cats may vary in their tolerance of other cats in the home. The introduction of a new cat to the household is easier when at least one of them is a kitten or juvenile. Assimilation is also easier when all the felines are well socialized to their own species.
The second most commonly reported feline behavioral problem is that of aggression. It is estimated by behaviorists that aggression represents approximately 13% of their feline case load. The display of aggression in cats is influenced by the environment, heredity, and early experiences in the life of the cat.
A good medical examination by your veterinarian and history of the behavior in question are important to the diagnosis and treatment of the behavioral problem. Situations that create or contribute to the anxiety should be duly noted.
Queens may show aggressive behavior to toms before delivery of kittens as well as while kittens are suckling and dependent. Infanticide (killing of kittens) has been observed in free-roaming farm cats and it is possible that queens treat toms as potential predators.
Some queens, typically friendly to people, may be protective of their kittens in the presence of human intruders. This behavior typically subsides as the kittens become older.
Beaver, Bonnie. Feline Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians. W.B. Saunders Co. 1992. Pp. 97-115.
Redirected aggression occurs when an aroused cat in an aggressive state attacks a person or other animal that was not the original cause of the aggression. The original target has become inaccessible and the cat directs its attention to a new target or individual. An example would be where an outside cat visits the sliding glass doors to a home housing two additional cats. The two indoor cats typically get along but when aroused into a frenzy, due to exposure to the wandering outside cat, suddenly turn their aggression on one another or alternatively, a human in the area.
One of the most frequent forms of cat aggression toward people is biting or scratching while being petted. This type of aggression often results from a mismatch between the owner’s and pet’s desire for physical contact. Warning signs may include twitching of the tail, restlessness, and “intention” bites where a cat moves as if to bite but doesn’t.
In any stable household environment cats will develop a hierarchy of personalities and form dominance relationships. Sometimes these relationships will be subtle while other times they may be problematic or worse. Often, the alpha cat is not aggressive unless challenged or while protecting desirable resources. Family members may suddenedly be in flux when a family member becomes deceased or a new family member is introduced. This may result in the remaining family members vying for dominance.