With COVID-19, the world is slowly shifting to remote work. Businesses are all shutting their office doors and having their entire workforce work remotely from home. What you may notice is your kitty is starting to get more aggressive as you spend more time at home. This unprovoked aggression can be scary but in this piece, we’ll explain why your cat acts the way it does and ways to minimize its aggression and calm it down.
What is aggressive behavior?
Cats can display aggression in many ways. Not all of them hiss at you and there are levels of aggression that can be displayed. Cats will use their eyes, ears, voice, and tail to communicate how they feel. Understanding this can help avoid escalating their aggression and also to calm them down. Here are some tell tale signs of aggression:
Claws are out
Open mouth with canines exposed
Ears pointed backwards and flat
Stiff body posture
You’ll find cats have different activity levels. Some cats will naturally play bite and jump at you. Others, especially at night, will dash around and be energetic, pouncing on their toys and humans. None of this indicates they’re upset and it can just be their playful nature.
However, if your cat does exhibit repeated clear signs such as those listed above and you haven’t seen such behavior before then it could be aggression. If it’s not immediately obvious why your cat is aggressive there may be underlying medical conditions and it’s important to see a veterinarian. If your vet notices nothing wrong, then it’s most likely some aspect of their environment that annoys them - something that can be remedied.
Causes of aggression
Age and your cat’s stage of life matters
Cats display levels of aggression naturally depending on their stage of life. For example, if your cat is pregnant or just recently had a litter of kittens then her maternal instincts are going to make her a lot more aggressive. This is normal. Similarly, if your cat is young and less that 2 years of age, then they’re going to be more aggressive and playful - it’s just a natural part of their developmental years. A lack of socialization can also lead to some cats being aggressive. If you picked up an isolated young feral cat then there’s a chance it’s not used to humans and will be more aggressive in nature.
Now if the above don’t apply, then here are some typical reasons for why your cat is aggressive:
Playtime taken too far
Yes, sometimes cats can get carried away with being playful. Especially when you engage back. A cat can get overstimulated by the engagement and can take it too far by starting to get aggressive and biting or scratching you. You’ll find with younger cats this is more common as they still haven’t understood the boundaries that separate playing from hurting. You can tell when your cat has gone too far if their pupils dilate and ears flatten.
Hostility to other cats
Another reason for cats displaying aggression is if they are in the presence of other cats. If you have more than one cat in the house, it’s common to see hostility towards each other due to either territorial protection or differences in their temperament. Even cats that do get along may suddenly turn aggressive due to changes in how one cat smells, such as after visiting the vet or taking a bath.
Fear or territorial protection
Cats can also be territorial against humans. If you cat suddenly growls or swats at you it may be cause it feels you’re encroaching on its personal space or area. This can sometimes happen if its grown fond of a certain area or furniture item that you’ve started to use more often. Cats are also not friendly to visitors sometimes for the same reason. This protection is a defense mechanism to avoid danger and one that slowly over time you can ease them into being okay with you living in the same space.
Calming an Aggressive Cat
Now that you’re aware of why cats are aggressive it’s time to learn of the strategies that can be used to calm them down. Generally there are two approaches: Leave the cat alone or ease them into the situation.
Leaving a cat alone works when you know their behavior is warranted. For example a recent mother cat that’s aggressive around her kittens is perfectly normal and there’s no need to intervene. Give the cat its space.
If your cat is blurring the line between playing and aggression, then it’s helpful to try and de-escalate the stimulus you’re providing when you notice the cats getting aggressive. The other approach is to redirect their energy to something that isn’t you. For example, you could offer them a stuffed toy that your cat takes a hold of instead of leaving it jumping on you to release its energy.
When it comes to territory, cats will try to defend their space and assert authority. This will apply even to humans. It’s their nature but there are ways to mitigate this. For example, try to set zones within the home for your cat and respect it. Always try and make sure where you cat eats, sleeps, or poops is inside this zone. Over time, your cat will grow to understand that the area is its space, while the rest of the home is shared with others. When introducing other cats into the home, make sure they don’t wander into this zone and provide them with their own that’s not close by.
Sometimes, preventative methods don’t apply and an aggressive cat can be harmful to both itself and others. If your cat is quite aggressive and begins fighting or attacking other cats or humans then try to startle them with a loud noise or a similar distraction. This will temporarily pause its activities. You may also try and console your cat by approaching but its important to leave them alone and not touch them until they calm down. When they’re calm, they’ll naturally approach you again just like normal.
Remember that any form of behavior modification whereby you’re scaring your cat can cause it to respond in fear. If you punish them for being aggressive when they play with you then this may cause them to stop doing so in the future. Rather, treat such cases in a way where you don’t scare your cat but disengage and walk away to let them calm down.
Seeking Veterinary Care
With all this being said, sometimes abnormal patterns of aggression can be due to medication conditions. Cats can’t communicate what’s wrong with them in a way we understand and this means they may display aggressive behavior as a way of dealing with their health issues. Conditions such as FIV, hypertensions, trauma, dental disease, and even diabetes can cause aggression in cats. Because of this, if you notice aggressive behavior that can’t be explained, visit a vet immediately.