August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

Fear is a debilitating feeling and can lead to very serious behavioral issues in cats. It is an underlying reason for aggression and always needs to be taken seriously. Fear behavior can be seen in cats of any breed, size, age, or gender. Fear can lead to flight, freeze or fight. It can be defensive or appear to be offensive.

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

When your cat is nervous and fearful: Ears sideways or back, pupils dilated, tail low or tucked between legs. Low body posture, wants to hide, turns away.

When frightened and might be easily 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.

To prevent injuries, avoid anything that has caused the aggressive behavior in the first place. Provide your cat with a safe hiding place, and do not approach them when they are hiding. Use food treats to reinforce non-aggressive behaviors.

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 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®.