August 2019

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

It is very important to ensure happy and safe interactions between kids and cats. All cat aggression towards humans are serious. Cat aggression towards children is particularly dangerous. Many cats are naturally reluctant to being picked up or having their bodies touched. This can be problematic because kids like to pick up their pets and touch them everywhere. Consequently, aggression during handling is common and many cats may scratch, hiss, or bite children in this context.

Aggression is the most serious behavioral issue in cats. It is important to understand why cats act aggressively towards children. It is a symptom of an underlying problem, and it always needs to be taken seriously. Aggressive behavior towards kids of any age can be seen in cats of any breed, size, age, or gender. It can stem from many different motivations. Causes of aggressive behavior include fear, defense, territorial, redirected, play overstimulation, petting overstimulation, pain, and discomfort. A cat who is chased or picked up incorrectly when they are trying to get away is likely to scratch or bite by accident or in a defensive manner.

Provide a safe space for the cat. Whether it is at the top of a cat tree, or over a baby gate, all cats need to be able to get away when they want to. Teach your kids to respect these hideouts. A cat should know that they will not be dragged out of these special places. If you have toddlers, make these spaces inaccessible to them. For older children, explain the reasons and make sure they understand to follow these rules.

Teach kids to pay attention to your cat's body language. This way they will know when the cat is happy and when they need to be left alone. Involve all children, even the youngest, in cat care: helping with feeding, playing with interactive toys, cleaning litter boxes, or grooming. Having children give out tasty treats can also increase bonding and positive feelings. These positive interactions will benefit both the cat and child, and help prevent aggressive behaviors towards the child.

Even though children are well intentioned, always supervise their interactions with your cat. This is especially important if your cat has shown uncomfortable or fearful behaviors toward children.

If not properly addressed, even mild forms of aggression can evolve into serious aggression. It is important to assess and address any change in your cat's behavior right away. To address aggression, work with a professional who can look at the context in which it happens. Never use a punishment technique to discipline your cat.

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