Imagine this scenario. You’re dozing peacefully. The soft sound of the ceiling fan lulls you. As you gently shift positions, your silent slumber comes to an abrupt halt by two fangs, ten blades and the frantic shriek of a thousand cawing crows. Your bed sheets are in shambles. Your calf is on fire. And it’s about then that you realize “my cat from hell” isn’t just from TV.

Your average house cat is still, by nature, a feline—relative of the lion, the tiger and the cheetah—each with primal instincts that establish its territory, provide its food and protect its young. On this quiet, average evening, your leg might as well have been a fawn in the tall grass on the savannah. But, more likely, there’s an underlying cause for this apparent overreaction.

Though the feline species are territorial by nature, most domesticated cats have adapted well to spending everyday life around other breeds, other animals and of course, their humans. Aggression has become more of the exception than the rule. So when your newly adopted Maine Coon has the family walking on eggshells or your typically frisky Ragdoll has suddenly become a grumpy cat, it’s time to figure out what’s going on.

Types of Aggression

Cats display aggressive behavior for many different reasons. Some cats play rougher than others. This is particularly true for feral cats that lack socialization skills. In a multi-cat or multi-pet household, territorial and social dominance is a common cause of the chaos. When a cat experiences something unfamiliar or exciting, adrenaline-provoking fear or anxiety drive unwanted reactions. When a seemingly relaxed cat changes personalities without warning, pain-based aggression caused by sickness or injury is suspect. And, you don’t want to mess with a mama kitty’s maternal instinct to protect her litter.

Body Language

Recognizing the signals your cat is sending before an aggressive situation escalates can provide clues to help you understand the reasons behind the contention. Changes in the eyes, ears, fur, and posture are all signs of a cat’s mounting offensive or defensive strategy.

Offensive signals include:

  • Direct stare
  • Constricted pupils
  • Upright and slightly rotated ears
  • Stiff, lowered tail
  • Stiff, upright posture

Defensive signals include:

  • Lowered head
  • Dilated pupils
  • Flattened ears, sometimes facing sideways or backward
  • Fur standing on end
  • Crouching posture
  • Hissing or spitting

If you witness an act of aggression underway, try to make note of your cat’s body language, the circumstances involved and any other environmental factors that might justify a cause for the behavior. And by all means, share these observations with your veterinarian.

Working with Your Vet

Dogwood Veterinary Hospital is here to help you solve the mystery behind your feline friend’s difficult behavior. Make an appointment with us today, especially if you suspect illness or injury is the root cause of your cat’s sudden and unusual aggression. If medical reasons are not to blame, we can refer you to a cat behavioral specialist who can help with intervention. Give us a call to set up your visit at (919) 942-6330. We look forward to working with you.