Cat Aggression Toward People

August 2019

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

Aggression is a serious behavioral issue in cats, and unfortunately it is not uncommon. Aggression is a symptom of an underlying problem and always needs to be taken seriously. Aggressive behavior can be seen in cats of any breed, size, age, or gender. It can stem from many different motivations. The most common include:

Read your cat's body language to learn what aggression looks like.

Irritated, over-stimulated: Pupils dilating, ears turning back, tail twitching or waving. In this situation, your cat may growl or put their teeth on you as a warning to stop. Intense play such can quickly turn to overstimulation in some cats, resulting in biting and scratching.

Nervous, insecure, fearful: Ears sideways or back, pupils dilated, tail low or tucked between legs. Low body posture, wants to hide, turns away.

Frightened, startled: Ears back and flat against head, whiskers back, back arched, fur standing on end, tail erect or low. May yowl, growl, hiss, or spit.

Fearful, aggressive: Crouched position, ears flattened, whiskers back, tail between legs or wrapped around body, pupils dilated. May meow loudly, growl, hiss, or spit.

Aggressive, offensive: Ears back, pupils very constricted, tail up or down with fur standing on end. Hard stare or growl, hiss or swat.

Even mild forms of aggression, when not properly addressed, can evolve into serious aggression. This is why it's important to assess and tackle any change in your cat's behavior right away. To address aggression, always work with a professional who looks at the context in which it happens. Never use physical punishment to discipline your cat.

To prevent injuries, avoid anything that has caused the aggressive behavior in the first place. Provide your cat with a safe hiding place. Do not approach them when they are hiding until you can address the problem with a professional.

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

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