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Causes of Fear Aggression in Cats

Updated on May 23, 2009

While most cats upon feeling threatened will escape and retreat to their favorite hiding spot, when cornered with no outlet, a cat may resort to its last weapon of defense: fear aggression. Veterinarians know these fellows too well, they are the cats they meet in their practice that will use teeth and claws to avoid that painful injection and do what it takes to fight being restrained. As an owner, you want to stay away from a fearful aggressive cat, it is no secret that cat bites are one of the most likely type of injuries to get infected, and in some cases, cat bites have cost their owners one or more fingers, being amputated from a severe infection.

What Causes Fear Aggression in Cats

In order to be able to better understand the dynamics behind fear aggression, it would be helpful to understand the most likely causes of this fear. Fear aggression is pretty much a self explanatory term depicting a form of aggression deriving from fear. Cats are generally tranquil creatures that enjoy quiet and solitude. On the contrary, they dislike loud noises, confusion or anything that creates chaos in their lives. 

In nature, cats tend to avoid confrontation, often opting for raising the white flag and retreating. Their favorite areas they resort to when feeling defenseless are trees or small hiding spots where their opponents may have a hard time reaching them. However, in an urban environment, often cats have a hard time finding a place to retreat, and if cornered, they may attempt desperately to bounce of the walls or as a last resort, attack the offender.

The most common situations that cause cats to become fearful are the following:

-Finding themselves exposed to unfamiliar people/animals 

-Finding themselves in previously traumatic situations

-Finding themselves in unfamiliar territory

-Finding themselves cornered with no other options left

-Finding themselves under a highly stressful situation

-In some cases, no culprit is found

Types of Fear Aggression in Cats

-Redirected Aggression

A pretty common form of fear aggression in cats is called ''redirected aggression''. In this scenario, a cat becomes overcharged with fear and may then resort to attack anybody finding themselves nearby. A typical example is a cat seeing a dog from a window and then attacking its owner that is passing by in that moment.

This form of aggression is quite challenging to treat as it may take some time for the cat to quiet down ans resume normal behavior. The best way to deal with this form of fear aggression is to place the cat in a small,dark room allowing him/her to calm down. The cat should be opened only once he/she appears to be calm again.

-Pain Induced Aggression

This type of aggression is based from pain of being hurt. It is commonly seen in vet offices as described previously This form of aggression is hard to treat as well, because it is reinforced each time the handler retreats. For instance, a veterinary technician may be attempting to place a catheter in a cat's vein but the cat may suddenly growl and attempt to bite. The veterinary technician will therefore, let go of the cat which will escape and hide in a corner. Because, the technician let go immediately when the cat attacked, the cat willhave learned that this is an effective method to keep people away therefore,  he will  likely use this method in the future if needed.           In some cases, sadly,  pain induced aggression is a response towards owners that have mistreated the cat by using physical punishment..

-Maternal Aggression

This is a natural tendency of an overprotective mother trying her best to protect her little from intruders. The fear here is that her little ones may be harmed or taken away. Sometimes even well behaved cats that have been sweet with their owners all their lives may turn into panthers once they have given birth.

The secret in this case, is to give mother cat some time to bond with the kittens, and then slowly but steadily allow her to realize that you are not a threat. You will gradually come closer and closer to the kittens and then with time, you will try to touch the kittens while giving some high value treats to the mother. Slowly, the mother will learn that you have no bad intentions and that actually every time you approach her and the kittens, good things happen (ie, tasty treats).

While cats appear to strike out pretty quickly, in reality there are usually many warning signs that suggest the cat is getting increasingly ready to attack. These signs that precede an attack are generally as follows:

-Flattened Ears

-Dilated Pupils

-Lashing Tail




Should you cat get a hold of you, it is best to prevent further tissue damage by not pulling away. Rather, you should try to keep calm and wait until the cat will release its grip. This applies to both being bit or scratched. 

Rabies always remains on the top of the list of concerns when a cat injures somebody. It is very important to check if the cat attacking has been vaccinated against rabies, a potentially deadly disease. Proof vaccination is fundamental, and if the cat was a stray, animal control should be called immediately. 

Any time your cat exhibits sudden or unusual aggression, it is a good idea to have the vet see your pet to exclude some medical conditions. Indeed, there are some medical conditions that may cause aggressive behaviors in cats. These can be pain induced (like petting your cat's ears when your cat has an ear infection) or related to a condition such as a cat suffering from hyperthyroidism. Once any medical conditions have been ruled out, your vet may refer you to a cat behaviorist and your vet may also prescribe some medications to accompany therapy in order to make it more effective. 

As seen, cats may attack for several reasons, but the underlying cause remains always the same: fear. If your cat is generally fearful, try your best to ensure you provide a quite, calm and relaxing atmosphere. Using pheromone plug ins may be helpful at times. Last but not least, always remember to stay calm when dealing with your aggressive cat and to never punish a cat that is displaying aggressive behavior.: doing so would only aggravate the problem.

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etAlive Aggression Formula contains a unique combination of specially selected herbal and homeopathic ingredients well known to calm anxious and highly strung animals and also to reduce aggression levels and related problem behavior in highly strung and nervous pets. Especially aimed at pets that tend to bite, scratch or otherwise attack either humans or other animals, PetAlive Aggression Formula helps to treat the problem of aggression in socially stressed pets and allows your pet to relax and enjoy the company of other people and animals.


Do you own a psycho kitty?


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    • profile image

      8 years ago

      My brothers cat recently had a kitten... just one kitten. It's extremely cute but it's a little demon. It attacks whatever moves and that includes people's feet, hands, faces, mouth, and anything else that is capable of moving on the human body =D. The mother cat is named Oreo. Just the way Oreo looks screams "FEMALE." Oreo used to live on a farm but she was the only 'mellow' cat. She breed with this stray cat on are street that is a big wild cat... BIG wild cat. ...

      Oreo + Wild cat = LITTLE DEMON -puts fist in air- DEMON CAT WOOT!!

      ... the name of this demon cat you ask? Why none other than "Chunky Cookie Elbert Itty Bitty Kitty!!!!" -cheers-

    • Susan Ng profile image

      Susan Ng Yu 8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      When my cats were a few months old, they used to run and hide whenever my sister came to visit, probably because of the loud noise their Adventure made as it pulled in the driveway.  Now that my cats are more than a year old, they still run and hide at the sound of the Adventure pulling in the driveway, which is funny because they're fine with other people. :P