If a previously friendly cat starts biting or scratching you it is essential that you should take it to the vet. A cat in pain from dental disease, arthritis, cystitis, arthritis or injury may bite when handled. It may bite if it is seriously ill or if it has a brain tumour. Pregnant cats or cats with litters are aggressive in defence of their litters. When the kittens have grown up, the mother’s behaviour usually alters.
NEVER punish or chase. This will intensify aggression. Ignore bad behaviour by walking away, keeping silent (no screams), withdrawing eye contact, no confrontations. Reward calm behaviour with cat treats. Avoid situations which will result in cat aggression. The difficulty for owners is working out what kind of aggression they are dealing with. This is where help from a cat behaviour counsellor can be essential to help reduce and manage the aggression.
Aggression to human often results from fear. The problem may arise from a dysfunctional kittenhood. The kitten is brought up without enough contact with humans, and therefore will never become wholly domesticated. To be truly domesticated, kittens need to be handled before the age of eight weeks. Relatively socialised cats may still bond, but probably only to close family. It will be best to give this kind of cat plenty of space and independence. Allow the cat to initiate contact with you (Heath, 2005), as this freedom to choose will result in more, rather than less, affection.
Cats that are under stress may also become aggressive to their owners. In general try to reduce the stress in this cat’s life, so it becomes less anxious.
More on cat aggression next week
Thanks to Celia Haddon for her input.