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Old 03-08-2010, 12:08 PM
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Types of Cat Aggression, the signs and how to combat

Since being on this forum I have noticed so many threads about cat aggression. Here is a guide to knowing your cat, its body language and warning signs.


Know your cat

Cats body language - their tail

A cats tail like a dogs gives many different messages to other cats and their owners. The following is a basic guide to reading your cats mood via the way they hold their tail. Obviously all cats are different and different factors/environments may change how they react.

1, Tail curled slightly downwards and then curved at the tip ( think of an elongated S shape ) = Cat is very relaxed an content.
2, Tail is erect but not ridged and has a curved top ( think of a ? shape ) = cat is friendly and greeting.
3, Tail is limp but the end is flicking = cat is getting agitated, the more the tail flicks the more annoyed the cat is getting. Beware that pushing the cat further when showing this twitching tail can possibly result in the cat being aggressive.
4, Tail is erect and bobbing/dancing = cat is showing sheer affection.
5, Tail is swishing from side to side ( think of an S shape again ) = This cat is VERY angry
6, Tail is erect and the hair is sticking out ridged - this is normally towards another cat = Showing aggression do not approach.
7, Tail is arched ( n shape ) and hair is sticking out ridged - this follows point 6 = Cat will attack. normally the cat also is standing on tip toes and has a sideways stance.
8, Tail is between their legs = the cat is giving in / scared / submissive
9, Tail is slightly raised but not ridged and the hair poofed out = cat is playing / often chasing.
10, Female cat tail held to one side with bum in the air = cat is flirting and is in call. ready to mate.

Cats body language - Ears

1, Both ears flat each side of their head ( -o- shape ) = normally with dilated pupils the cat is intrigued and playful.
2, Both ears are pointing back and flat = cat is annoyed and angry an ready to pounce.
3, One ear side ways one ear forward = cat is relaxed this is a waiting position.
4, Both forward = cat is alert and focusing on a noise.

Cats body language - Eyes

Dilated pupils - Playful and in extreamly dilated cases agressive.

Cats body language - Whiskers

Normally whiskers are spread out at the side of the face. If a cat is agitated they will move back with the ears.

Cat body language - Head, legs and body

Legs - stiff walking along side the fact that the back leg follows the front shows awkwardness in the cat. This cat is stressed

Head - lowered head is a cat about to pounce or can also show submissiveness

Arched body - cat is getting ready to attack and defend itself.


Here are some different types of common aggression factors and how to try to combat the behaviour.

Kitten & Adult Play Aggression

cats are naturally predators. This instinct will never die and due to the nature of the animal will never be "bred out". Nature created a cat with teeth and sharp claws to prey/ defend themselves and attack. Every cat has these natural urges to stalk and pounce.
Some cats get pleasure in attacking feet, sleeping owners and the odd little animal. Cats love to explore, stalk anything that moves, and bat and pounce on small objects that they pretend to be prey. This mostly is seen in young kittens during their learning period but many adult cats still love to play hunt.
Kittens learn their limits of what is and isn't acceptable between the ages of 5 and 13 weeks of age.
Kittens play and attack one another often they quickly learn the limits of biting and scratching. Their litter mates bite back when play gets too rough.
Kittens taken from the litter before this do not have this option and transfer this play attacking on their owners. This is natural for them and don't see themselves as doing wrong.
How to spot it:-
Play aggression is easy to recognise by the cat/kittens body language.
They crouch, flatten their ears, their pupils dilate and their tail swishes back and forth while they stalk or pounce at the owner. Before pouncing they normally wiggle their back end a little.

How to combat :-
Not allowing the kitten to get into the habit of stalking you. Once you recognise this body language in the kitten distract the kittens attention to a fishing rod type toy or ball. Drag string along the floor or dangle a toy on a string for it to play with.
Never encourage the kitten if they are pouncing on you by running, making quick movements or fighting the kitten back. Never encourage hand play. This will only encourage the kitten to stalk you more as they think you are playing with them.
Do not condone rough play at all between a human or kitten - this extends to all family members.
If a kitten is to attack you in this manor play dead and don't move. They will soon get bored of you and walk off when they do get a toy for them to play with. If you are petting your kitten and they try to play bite you, say a firm NO and remove yourself from the kitten and ignore the behaviour. From this the kitten will realise what they have done.
If all this fails a bottle with coins in to shake will startle the kitten and stop this behaviour. Warning IMO this latter bottle shaking can produce a shy jumpy kitten. I myself have never used this type of aggression technique as i feel the other methods work better.
NEVER PUNISH. Always encourage good play with lots of treats and verbal encouragement I.E "your such a good girl/boy" etc
You can also hiss at the cat a a mother cat would. simply making a hiss noise with your mouth isn't realistic enough. Get saliva in your mouth and inhale quickly sucking the saliva back with bared teeth. this creates a more realistic noise and gets the kitten to stop what its doing. It will normally back off and sulk for a little while but remember what he did wrong.

Some people will suggest the old technique of removing the cat/kitten and placing it into "time out" IMO again this seldomly works, and can mentally disturb the cat giving it anxiety problems

Territory Based Aggression

Cats are one of the most territorial of animals, in some cases even more so then dogs.
In the wild cats are solitary hunters and hunt within their own territory.
Cats will be territorial as indoor or outdoor cats. Territorial aggression normally starts when a cat reaches adult hood ( 1-2 yrs of age ) but can also be present in kittens.
Outdoor cats can become extreamly territorial of the area surrounding the house. Should they see another cat/dog/bird or other animal in their territory they can become upset. In these situations your kitten/cat can indeed transfer his aggression out on their owners or other pets. This same agression also occurs with indoor cats.
How to spot it:-
When territory aggression occurs cats/kittens will hiss, spit and make growling or warning noises. This can be either to its owner or another litter mate or cat.
Cats can attack. Normally in this type of aggression the cat will attack the hind quarters of the other cat. Wounds will occur on hind quarter legs and tail of the more submissive cat, and on the face nose and neck area of the aggressor.
In indoor cats the aggression behaviour can differ. Multiple cat households can live completely at ease with cats sharing each others territories at different times of the day. This can be upset by a number of different things I.E moving household furniture, getting a new sofa, moving the room about or even moving cat trees. Adding a new kitten/cat will also upset this balance.
Spotting it in the home can sometimes be more difficult. The aggressive more assertive cat will guard favoured places and objects by growling and or threatening to attack the other cat/person. Stressed territory based aggression can also be spotted through hiding toys, walking round with toys in their mouth, spraying urine and excessive licking or grooming.

How to combat :-
Multicat households need 1 litter tray for every cat plus one spare, these need to be put in different areas of the house.
Cats dont like sharing eating/drinking areas so give each cat its own food and water bowl and feeding space.
Provide territories for your cats give them places to hide and chill out and retreat. Boxes behind sofas or on top of shelves, radiator beds, pryamid type beds up high and down low. Sometimes coloured toys work - ie red toys for one cat blue for another yellow for another etc only play with each coloured toy with the correct cat and don't mix. Allow cats to gain access to high up areas.
When introducing new cats keep the new cat confined to one room at first. Allow the other cats to smell under the door. spend time with the new cat and allow the older cats to get used to the sent of the new cat on your clothes.
Over a period of time allow the new cats area to become larger. when the old cat is sleeping in a different room or put into another room an the doors closed allow the new cat to wonder and smell this area, allow the older cat into the new cats room to also do this. Never put a new cat straight into your home and expect things to be hunky dory. A slow integration period must occur first. Be patient.
Another good way to combat this aggression is a feilaway diffuser.

Aggression Towards Humans/Fear Aggression Also related to kitten aggression

This normally occurs when a kitten has been taken at an age that is too young, and hasn't been correctly handled, petted and socialised when they were between five and twelve weeks of age.
These cats are normally fearful, shy, wary of new people, easily angered and upset.
Cats that are frightened can be misinterpreted as an aggressive cat.
How to spot
Uptight and Frightened cats crouch with their ears laid back, their tails curled inward and they tilt their bodies away from the threat. They will lash out and claw or bite anything that approaches them. Also the way they walk is a big clue to how a cat is feeling. If the cat has a ridgid upright tail with the back right leg and front right leg moving at the same time the cat is stressed. This behavior often occurs when the cat is in new surroundings or being approached by a stranger. Before attack the cats pupils will often dilate and they may hiss and show their teeth. The cats fur will stand along their back, and they will stick their tail up vertical.

How to combat:-
Kittens need to be socialised and handled from an early age. When getting a young kitten get them being used of being touched every where. To get them to allow them to let you touch them wait until they are relaxed and content ( purring ) one way of getting the socialisation period started is to provide the cats favorite healthy treat on the floor infront of you. whilst eating start off by slowly scratching the head and cheeks. Do not make any jerky or sudden movements. Try to progress down the cats back and tail. As you are doing this talk to the cat. Look for signs of the cat becoming agitated. You can tell this as they stop purring and the end of their tail starts flicking. If this happens don't continue for the time being and allow the cat to relax again. Give food treats after the kitten has allowed you to pet them. Slowly the cat will like being touched and relate it to being treated and being calm.
For socialisation allow your kitten to come into contact with LOTS of different types of people ( different races, male/female, tall, short, fat, thin, young and old. )

Fear aggression is really hard to combat in older cats but can be done slowly with time and patience. This is because the cat has an inbuilt fear that has been intergrated into the cats personality. With adult cats that have fear aggression never approach it. Everything has to be done on the cats terms. Let the cat approach you. Always have treats available to reward when it does come to you this encourage it to come to you again. Take baby steps each time the cat comes to you. slowly raise a hand towards it to allow it to get your smell. With lots of treats and encouragement the cat will eventually learn to gain trust and allow you to pet it. Never push the boundrys if the cat shows any signs of hostility or agitation stop what your doing and allow the cat to relax again.

Redirected Aggression

This happens when someone strange or a strange animal or situation/smell that the cats not used to upsets it. Instead of taking its aggression out on the perpetrator they take it out on their owner. When its not happened before this can break a lifelong bond with a cat.

How to combat:-
Find the trigger as to why this is happening and remove it. If its a stray cat in your garden shut the curtains/blinds and shoo the stray away. If the cat shows aggression towards you leave it to calm down! Never shout or punish the cat in this situation it will only fuel more hostility and aggression towards you. Interacting with a cat with this aggression is counter productive. Once the cat is calm and comes to you reward its calm behaiviour with treats and play.

Stop stroking me biting!

This is cats that seem immensely pleased by your petting only to suddenly whirl around and bite you. These cats purr up to the moment they attack. This is due to the cat’s short attention span. That there is a fine line between what is pleasurable and what is annoying. Sometimes these displays occur when a sensitive area on the body has been touched. Some cats will beg for attention only to sink their teeth into you a few minutes later.

How to combat:-
Release your cat at the first sign it has had enough petting. Some signs that you are approaching the limits of the cats tolerance are restlessness, tail twitching, flattened ears, twitching ears and a tendency to move its head toward your hand. One can attempt to desensitise these cats by feeding them a tasty treat just before you think they might attack and move away.


Dominance based Aggression Also relates to territory

Some cats will treat their owners as another cat and attempt to dominate them.
These cats may growl or hiss when you join them on the bed or attempt to move them. Some will block doorways and show the typical signs of aggression such as tail switching, dilated pupils, flattened ears, and hissing and spitting.

How to combat :-
Ignore the cat. Do not give it any attention, withhold treats and petting until the cat has calmed down.
Feilaway diffusers are good to combat this aggression.
Don't give a cat treats when it is being aggressive this will teach the cat to bully you when it wants food.

None Recognition Aggression

This commonly occurs in a multi-cat household.
For example one of the cats needs to visit the vet to be spayed. The cats that are normally victim to this type of aggression are those that have been to the vet. These cats are victimised as they return home with a different scent. The cats remaining in the household do not recognise the unfamiliar smell so think that a new cat is intruding into their territory.

How to combat :-
If one of the cats needs to go to the vet take the others along too in different carriers.
upon returning home take the cats into a neutral area of the home and leave them in the carriers side by side for up to half an hour. Give each cat a bowl of the same food ( nice stinky tuna as a treat ) and once they have finished eating let them out. Also using a feiliaway diffuser in this situation helps too.

Medical based Aggression

Sometimes some cats aggression does not fit into any of the above categories.
They may growl and hiss when you pick them up, or touch a certain part of the body. If this occurs get the cat straight to a vet to be checked out. It may be unclear that your cat is ill but cats are strong willed and rarely show that they are in pain. Get your vet to do a good check on the cat and an X-ray to rule out any health problems.

Cats with a high fever show signs of aggression and irritability.

Some cat behaviours also may be down to diet. Some commercial foods have cerials and grains that in rare incidences can cause different behaviour problems in the cat. Get this ruled out by a vet also.

Further more some cat aggression can not be "fixed" it is purely down to the genes that they have been given. This is also rare but does sometimes happen.


hope this helps!!
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Last edited by luisa; 21-08-2010 at 12:10 AM..
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Old 03-08-2010, 12:29 PM
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Re: Types of Cat Aggression, the signs and how to combat

Very useful thread .Will be of value to many, but sadly in some cases of aggression it is in the kitten/cats hard wiring where the problems lie i.e.bad breeding.Most of the methods to combat this kind of aggression,(predatory,interactive ) may have limited effect.With kindness, patience and perseverance behaviour can be improved but not always rectified.
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Old 03-08-2010, 12:37 PM
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Re: Types of Cat Aggression, the signs and how to combat

Quote:
Originally Posted by buffie View Post
Very useful thread .Will be of value to many, but sadly in some cases of aggression it is in the kitten/cats hard wiring where the problems lie i.e.bad breeding.Most of the methods to combat this kind of aggression,(predatory,interactive ) may have limited effect.With kindness, patience and perseverance behaviour can be improved but not always rectified.
Yup agreed. There will always be one offs and some that dont get better no matter what you do, although most of the time its how we react to them etc.

its all down to the owner and the kitten/cat itself
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Old 03-08-2010, 08:51 PM
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Re: Types of Cat Aggression, the signs and how to combat

Really great thread, very helpful! Vote for STICKY!!
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Old 03-08-2010, 11:22 PM
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Re: Types of Cat Aggression, the signs and how to combat

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Originally Posted by sarah28 View Post
Really great thread, very helpful! Vote for STICKY!!
thank you !! took me long enough to write it out haha

i should really add more i havent covered everything just the main types. If i get time tomorrow ill definately finish it off!
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Old 04-08-2010, 12:02 AM
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Thumbs up Re: Types of Cat Aggression, the signs and how to combat

Good stuff Lusia, really useful.
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Old 04-08-2010, 12:09 AM
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Re: Types of Cat Aggression, the signs and how to combat

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Originally Posted by Ivybuttons View Post
Good stuff Lusia, really useful.

Thank you

ill try and expand more when i can xx
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Old 04-08-2010, 10:35 AM
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Re: Types of Cat Aggression, the signs and how to combat

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Originally Posted by sarah28 View Post
Really great thread, very helpful! Vote for STICKY!!
same here, great post Luisa and should definitely be stickied!!

(that then makes it easier to just refer people to it ... as in "go to the training and behaviour section, read the sticky at the top of the page, then if you have any specific questions just ask" )

so much easier than repeating all the time

Good work Luisa.
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Old 04-08-2010, 01:17 PM
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Re: Types of Cat Aggression, the signs and how to combat

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Originally Posted by Tje View Post
same here, great post Luisa and should definitely be stickied!!

(that then makes it easier to just refer people to it ... as in "go to the training and behaviour section, read the sticky at the top of the page, then if you have any specific questions just ask" )

so much easier than repeating all the time

Good work Luisa.
Thank you

i got bored of saying the same thing to everyone so thought this could help


How does it become a sticky ?
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Old 04-08-2010, 02:57 PM
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Re: Types of Cat Aggression, the signs and how to combat

This is really good advice! Thanks for taking the time to get it all down, it's definitely a keeper xxx
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