Category Archives: aggression

Why Cats Bite and How to Prevent the Behavior

By Julia Williams

My girl kitty Annabelle is the sweetest cat I’ve ever known. Normally, she can’t get enough of my lovin’, but if I try to pet her immediately upon waking, she will nip me. Not break-the-skin bites, but a clear signal for me to stop. I don’t know why she hates being touched only at that time, but I joke that “she’s just not a morning cat.” If people can be anti-morning, why not cats? Thankfully, it’s the only time she bites, and as long as I resist the urge to pet her upon awakening, it’s not a problem.

Others aren’t so lucky. According to feline behaviorists, biting is the second most common problem for cat owners (peeing outside the box is the first). This issue needs to be corrected, because cat bites are not only painful when they occur but they can cause serious infections. I’ll discuss three of the most common reasons why cats bite, and what you can do to reduce or eliminate this problem behavior.

Petting Induced Aggression

Scenario: You’re sitting there petting your cat who is purring away and seemingly enjoying the attention when all of a sudden she whirls and sinks her teeth into your hand. What just happened?

First of all, let’s be clear. In most cases, your cat’s transformation from friendly Dr. Jekyll to psychotic Mr. Hyde was not instantaneous. Your cat’s body language was telling you it was time to stop petting; you just missed the signals or misinterpreted them.

These signals include tail lashing or thumping, ears flattened or twitching, shifting body positions, eyes focused on your hand. She stops purring and may even meow or growl.  If you don’t heed your cat’s warning(s) that she’s had enough, she goes to Plan B – the bite – and voila, petting stops.

Some reasons your cat wants the petting session to end:

1. Overstimulation – for some cats, there’s a fine line between what feels good and what doesn’t. They can only handle so much stimulation before sensory overload occurs.

2. Not in the mood – sometimes what your cat wanted was to play, not to be petted. They may tolerate your petting for a little while because they love you, but then they just want it to stop.

3. Sensitivity – some areas of a cat’s body may be more sensitive than others, and being touched there is uncomfortable. Individual cats may also have specific areas of the body where they like being petted and others where they don’t. It’s up to you to figure out which is which, by paying attention to their body language.

Learning the sometimes subtle “stop it” cues your cat gives before they have to resort to biting you, will enable you both to enjoy the petting session and have it end on a positive note.

Play Aggression

Many people unwittingly encourage their cat to develop a habit of biting them during play, by engaging in roughhousing and offering their hands, fingers and toes as “toys.” Sure, it seems really cute and innocent when they’re a tiny kitten, but this type of play has Cat Bite written all over it. Your cat isn’t able to discern how rough is too rough. If you want your cat to stop biting you while playing, never use your body parts as toys. That means no tickling them, no moving your finger for them to chase, no tapping your toes as an invitation to pounce. And pass up products like gloves with balls on the end that encourages your cat to see your hand as a toy – they simply can’t understand that it’s only OK to attack when the gloves are on. Be sure that every family member follows this strict rule, or biting during play will continue, and one day it may go too far.

Cats are natural born hunters, and need to engage in “stalk and pounce” play for mental satisfaction. If your kitty likes to lie in wait and bite your ankles when you walk by, try carrying a small catnip mouse, fuzzy ball or other cat toy that you can toss away from you to redirect their attention. It’s also a good idea to provide plenty of interactive playtime with the appropriate toys (remember – no fingers!).

Redirected Aggression

Sometimes an agitated cat will lash out at a person or another cat in the household that had nothing to do with the reason the cat got upset. This is called redirected aggression. It can occur when your inside cat sees a cat outside – trespassing on “his” territory. It can also occur when you take one cat to the vet and he comes home smelling like “that place.” There are many other reasons that can cause a cat to take out his frustration on you instead of the person or thing that upset him.

Your best strategy is to try to figure out what the stressor is and take steps to remove it. For example, if a trespassing cat has your kitty in an uproar, find a way to either discourage the cat from coming around (such as installing motion activated sprinklers) or keep the curtains closed. It can take some fine detective work to figure out what’s causing the redirected aggression, but don’t give up. Also, don’t try to interact with your cat when he’s highly agitated, as this will almost certainly result in being bitten.

Top photo by Tnarik Innael/Flickr
Middle photo by Sam Howzit/Flickr
Bottom photo by d.i.o.d.e./Flickr

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How to Tell if Dogs are Playing or Showing Aggression

By Linda Cole

Two of my dogs, Keikei and Dozer, constantly play in a way that would likely cause someone who doesn’t know them to assume they’re in an all-out fight. There are growls, yips and direct eye contact as they jockey around for good attacking positions. I know my dogs well enough to understand there is no aggression present in what appears to be aggressive tussling. However, even though I know it’s play, I still keep a sharp eye on them when they’re play fighting to make sure it doesn’t escalate to the next level. There are ways to tell the difference between aggression and play.

Play is an important part of a puppy’s education. They learn about bite inhibition, social skills and boundaries by curbing rough play so it doesn’t escalate into a fight. Dogs enjoy playing, and it’s a fun way to get beneficial exercise and bond with us and other dogs – as long as things don’t get out of hand. Our job is to recognize the warning signs of aggression and slow things down or stop play when necessary. We also need to allow non-aggressive actions to continue and let the dogs involved sort things out on their own.

Everyone has boundaries, including dogs. There are some things we let slide, and some things we just won’t tolerate. We have a line that, if crossed, may trigger a forceful reprimand that could turn into a more aggressive response. Dogs can’t sit down and discuss objections, and their only option to make their desires known is by submitting or lashing out. In my dogs’ case, both of them love a full contact, high-paced game of “attacking” each other. Both have dominant personalities, but they know each other’s breaking point and when it’s time to back off. However, there are times I have to step in to control a situation when their body language indicates one of them has had enough, and the other missed or ignored the signals.

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Cat Behaviorist Jackson Galaxy Gets inside the Feline Mind

By Julia Williams

Have you noticed that “cat guys” are everywhere these days? They’re turning up in funny YouTube videos and TV commercials. British animator Simon Tofield produces the very hilarious Simon’s Cat cartoons featuring a guy and his quirky kitty. A pet food company conducted a nationwide search for a cat correspondent, and chose a man from hundreds of thousands of applicants. A kitty-lovin’ man hosts the hit new series Must Love Cats on Animal Planet, and now their newest show – My Cat From Hell – features yet another “cat guy.” Apparently, real men do love cats, and they’re not afraid to admit it!

My Cat From Hell premiered on May 7. It showcases cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, who works with problem kitties and their owners to resolve serious issues that threaten to tear the family apart. From aggressive cats that scratch and bite, to skittish kitties that cower in fear, to curious cats prone to mischief and mayhem – Jackson has seen it all. In many cases, the families are on the verge of giving up their cats, and Jackson is their last hope. He uses his unique understanding of the feline mind to analyze their behavior, assess the situation and recommend some solutions.

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