Why Are My Cats Acting Aggressively?

CatChannel and CAT FANCY cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains why cats display redirected aggression.

By Marilyn Krieger, CCBC | Posted: September 9, 2011, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: I have three fixed cats. The oldest boy is 5 years old, one girl is 3, the other, 2 years old. Today there was a strange cat on my porch. All three were looking at it. All of a sudden my cats started fighting violently. They never ever fought like that before. Mia baby, the youngest is the most upset. Right now I have her separated from the other two cats. How do I get things back to normal?

A: Your cats are displaying redirected aggression. Cat redirected aggression occurs when cats are agitated by something that they cannot access. The neighborhood cat on the porch was the initial trigger for your cats’ aggressions towards each other. When your cats could not chase the intruder away, they took out their frustrations on each other. Unfortunately, Mia now has a negative association with your other cats. Even though she probably does not remember the initial triggering incident, she still responds fractiously to them.

Whenever there is a triggering event, such as a neighborhood cat, immediately separate the cats from each other. Be careful when separating upset cats because you can become the recipient of the aggression. Place the cats separately in darkened rooms and give them time to cool down. Sometimes it only takes a few hours for cats to calm down, but it can also take a few days, depending on the circumstances and level of aggression.

Because Mia has a negative association with the other cats, separate that cat from the others and gradually reintroduce her to them, one cat at a time. The first cat to re-introduce her to should be the cat she responds the least aggressively too. Depending on the intensity of the aggression, it may take a week or months to change the way she views her former cat friends. Monitor their responses in each phase of the introductions. If there are any signs of anxiety or aggression, slow the process down. When in the final introduction phase of supervised visitations, watch their body language. At the first sign of problems, separate the cats from each other. Watch for tails swishing quickly, fixated stares, dilated eyes, stalking postures, rippling fur, whiskers flattening against the face, ear positioning and of course vocalization.

In order to avoid a reoccurrence, address the causes of the redirected aggression. Make your yard and porch unpleasant places for neighborhood cats to hang out. There are a variety of deterrents on the market that will not harm cats, but will help keep them away from your house.       
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Reader Comments

MyKinKStar    North Central, FL

9/17/2011 3:02:07 AM

It's never as easy as it's written by so-called experts. Mostly it's true, but each cat or dog is different and responds to 'training' in their own way Or Not! We should all be so lucky as to be able to handle our fuzzy family members - even in the best of times. I have a somewhat dominate and very spoiled female cat in my clutter, who gets picked on all the time by the boys. Everyone is fixed, it's just bullying at it's worst and the best thing I can do is keep them safe and apart, or watch them to stop the stalking behavior.

Marek    Colorado Springs, CO

9/15/2011 10:40:20 PM

So what deterrent are available to keep other cats away from my house?

Karen    CBS, NL

9/13/2011 5:52:10 AM

good information to know in case we ever get another cat and they act aggressively towards one another. thanks so much.

Shirley    Tucson, AZ

9/13/2011 4:01:41 AM

Great advise. Thanks.

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