Has your cat suddenly become aggressive towards yourself or other people or animals in the household? A lot of times, suddenly occurring behaviour problems in both dogs and cats are prefaced by various warning signs that can go unnoticed. Many developmental events occur early in a feline’s life that can predispose to behaviour problems, and these combined with certain negative experiences later on in life can allow behaviour problems such as aggression to a surface.
For example, many of your common indoor cats come from an unknown background: we don’t know if their parents were fearful and aggressive, and we don’t know what their early life experiences were like, specifically with respect to socialization. Many studies have been performed looking into socialization, and have found that simple five minutes of human interaction daily from 2-7 weeks in kittens has shown to increase friendliness in these cats when they are older. Because many kittens are not adopted until after this time period, it’s hard to know or guarantee whether they have received this socialization.
Cats are very sensitive to any environmental changes. Something as simple as a member of the household being home more often, or even away more often, can elicit stress and anxiety in cats. If your cat is regularly on neighbourhood watch at a large window and sees a new cat wandering the neighbourhood, this can elicit fear and anxiety. The signs of fear and anxiety can easily go unnoticed. Cats will use “distance increasing signals” such as hissing, cowering, and flattened ear position in order to communicate with whatever is scaring them to back off, however, most people are unable to recognize these signs. Eventually, cats will switch to more offensive signals to communicate their fear with translates into aggressive actions: swatting, biting, and attacking.
If you have noticed your cat to be recently aggressive, ask yourself a few questions. What has changed in his or her life recently? What has changed in your life recently? Has he or she been giving you any indications that she is fearful? Consider these questions, and consider normalizing your cat’s environment if possible. If these changes are permanent, consult with your veterinarian for appropriate next steps specific to your lifestyle.
Written by Dr. Justine Antunes, DVM