Cat Aggression Toward Caretaker

August 2019

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Your feelings may be hurt if your cat hisses at, growls at, scratches, or even bites you, especially after bringing them home from a shelter. It is important to understand why cats act aggressively toward us and address it so that the relationship between you and your cat can start to blossom.

Aggression is one of the most serious behavioral issues in cats and is more common than one may think. Aggression towards familiar people always needs to be taken seriously, since you interact with your cat daily. We need to be aware that aggression is a symptom of an underlying problem. Aggressive behavior can be seen in cats of any breed, size, age, or gender, and it can stem from many different motivations. The most common include:

Handling issues are also very common. Many cats are naturally reluctant to be picked up. They often don't like having their bodies touched or manipulated in certain places or in certain ways. If cats are not taught early on to enjoy handling, they may scratch, hiss, or bite in this context.

In order to avoid any injury to you, understand what aggression looks like so you can avoid doing things that lead to aggression. Be careful if your cat's pupils are dilated, ears are back, and their tail is twitching or waving, as the situation may escalate, and your cat may start to growl or even start biting you. Even if it starts out with play, it can quickly turn to overstimulation in some cats, resulting in biting and scratching.

A nervous or fearful cat presents differently. A nervous or fearful cat has their ears sideways or back, their pupils are dilated, and their tail may be low or tucked between legs. Don't follow or force your cat to interact when their body posture is low or if they slink away, run away, or hide. This may lead to injury to you.

How to address aggression. Even mild forms of aggression, when not properly addressed, can evolve into serious aggression. To address aggression, always work with a professional who looks at the context in which it happens. Never use a punishment technique as it will make the situation worse.

This document created by the San Francisco SPCA with a grant from Maddie's Fund®

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