Just like other animals, cats exhibit different types of aggression.While it may not matter to the person or cat on the receiving end just what type of aggression caused the attack or reaction,understanding the motivation and cause can be vital in trying to prevent it in the first place.
We are happy to accept some forms of aggression in our cats: we don’t mind if they chase other cats out of our garden; we understand a mother being defensive of new kittens, and we even understand that we may have had a hand in the problem when our cats grab us while we are tickling their tummies!
We know ourselves that if we are stressed we may become much more reactive to small things – we can be very bad-tempered if we feel that we cannot cope. Earlier, we looked at the idea of cats having a field of aggression, or aggressive field, that surrounds them.
This field can be smaller than the cat itself, in which case the cat can be approached and fussed and will be quite happy. Or it cangrow considerably if the cat is feeling under threat or unhappy sothat anyone or any animal that comes within that zone is likely tobe hissed at or scratched.
This is an excellent way of thinking aboutcats and how quickly they can react if they feel threatened. If a catis feeling agitated, it may well strike out at anything that comesnear it – for this reason, it is very unwise to try and lift one of a pairof sparring cats out of the way – it may simply react and scratch orbite. Better to distract them both with noise or water and try to putsome space between them.
One of the most common ‘aggression’ problems behaviou rists are asked about is known as ‘petting and biting’ syndrome. The name describes the problem. Owners start to stroke their cat and it turns and grabs their hand, often holding with its front feet while kicking with the back ones.
Cats vary in the degree of stroking or tickling required to elicit this response. Very reactive cats may react after merely having their head stroked for a short period – others arevery laidback and can be tickled all over before they even think about getting upset. Some of the answer lies again with that old chestnut security.
The cat has to trust you as it sits on your lap andrelaxes. Accepting stroking is a learned response rather than a natural behaviour and cats are literally putting themselves in ourhands. Some may not have had much handling as kittens. Feelings of pleasure and relaxation suddenly conflict with feelings of vulnerability and the cat snaps back to attention and reacts with defensive aggression, grabbing the hand that is stroking it.
Occasionally, cats go beyond reactive or defensive aggressive into proactive aggression. In such cases, owners remark that their cats attack them without provocation or prevent them from going to various places in the house – they may try to stop them from going upstairs, for example.
Often these cats are kept permanently indoors. They watch birds or other cats in the garden and become excited. However, there is no means of getting rid of the pent-upenergy or adrenaline and they become ‘wound up’. Seeing a movement (for example, the owner walking past) may well trigger a reaction and the cat attacks.
While some cats are happy with a completely indoor existence, others become very stressed – some people say it is caused by a ‘profound lack of visual stimuli’ – i.e. the highly movement-motivated cat is suffering from a lack of stimulation. Such cats may have mad dashes around the house with very high levels of activity (such as kittens exhibit) and may become aggressive to owners.