Domestic cats are not afraid to use their claws and teeth when threatened, but why do they attack unsuspecting owners for seemingly no reason?
Because your cat can’t react directly to the object affecting them (like an outside cat), they redirect the aggression to someone nearby (you).
There’s more to learn about redirected aggression. Below, we talk about why your cat attacks and what you can do to help your cat.
Why Does My Cat Attack Me Randomly?
It may seem random to you but cats misbehave because of how they handle changes. These changes can be happening in their body, in the house, and outside the territory.
Random attacks may stem from redirected aggression, which occurs when a cat is aroused by another animal, person, or event, but is unable to direct aggression toward the stimulus, as defined by the VCAHospitals. It only requires a stressor, an agitated cat, and an unsuspecting victim to complete the scenario.
For example, your cat is sitting by the window and watching another cat outside (stressor). Because your cat can’t approach or intimidate the stray, it becomes agitated. By chance, you walk into the room, and then you (unsuspecting victim) are attacked.
What Causes Redirected Aggression in Cats?
Redirected aggression can be anything that stresses or causes extreme reactions in cats. Check out the list below to see if your cat has been around the following stressors:
- Prey animals or other cats outside. The presence of a smaller animal excites their predatory urge to hunt. However, they can’t access the prey and may turn to you or another pet companion as a substitute.
- Loud and startling noises. Heavy objects falling to the floor and sudden booming sounds from outside trigger fear and surprise that may lead your cat to assume that you have created the stressor.
- Discomfort and pain. When your cat is hurting and you’re around most of the time, it may negatively associate you with the pain. PetMD lists medical origin as a common cause of aggression, usually in older cats that were always calm. Trauma, infections, dental disease, cognitive decline, and a loss of normal sensory input are also listed as factors.
Why Is My Cat Attacking My Other Cat?
There are several reasons why cats attack their fellow felines such as overcrowding in a small space, lack of socialization among the cats, and the improper and sudden introduction of the new cat into the home.
Cats aren’t pack animals and they adjust better when they grow up with another cat from kittenhood. In a smaller space with a few cats, they may fight for territory and compete particularly between tomcats.
What Are the Different Types of Aggression in Cats?
- Petting-induced aggression. When you are just hanging out with your cat, stroking its fur for minutes and then your cat turns hostile. Cats attack with a scratch or a bite to warn the owner to stop but some cats become aggressive from the overstimulation of being touched.
- Territorial aggression. You may expect this to happen between unneutered tomcats as each tries to defend its territory. It can also be directed towards the owner and fellow pet companions.
- Redirected aggression. When the cat can’t reach or access the stressor, it misplaces aggression towards the owner and other pets. Cats attack to show that they are agitated by something.
- Fear aggression. A perceived threat makes cats insecure. It will exhibit defensive or offensive aggression where you could be the target yet again.
- Play aggression. This behavior involves stalking, chasing, ambushing, and attacking the owner. This rough play should involve two cats but your feline may try to do it with you. It happens more frequently with younger cats two years and below.
- Pain-induced aggression. An ailing cat will express frustration, agitation, and confusion at the pain and discomfort it’s feeling. This type of aggression can be mistaken as something else because the cat can’t verbalize how it’s feeling.
- Idiopathic aggression. ASPCA states that this aggressive behavior can’t be determined by a medical exam or history of behavior. These cats are deemed dangerous and will bite repeatedly and remain aroused for long periods.
How to Stop My Cat from Attacking Me for No Reason?
- Consider getting your cat spayed or neutered. VCAHospitals lists the benefits: reduces or eliminates spraying, aggression, roaming and sexual attraction. This practice may be deemed cruel by some but there are other ways of dealing with cat aggression.
- Don’t miss out on vet appointments. Bring up this issue with your veterinarian and discuss possible medical problems.
- Investigate the cause of stress. It can be anything, the squirrel outside the house that it sees through the window or a loud noise. You can set up a curtain over the window and only allow a few hours of window-watching for your cat.
- Be consistent with playtime and provide a stimulating environment.
- Reward your cat when it’s being gentle with you. When usually it attacks you during a certain interaction like petting, praise and give rewards to encourage positive behavior.
- Start socializing at week 2. Some cats are adopted at a later age but ASPCA assures that cats can still be socialized for up to 14 weeks. With adult cats, it takes a lot more effort to work with them. Start introducing them in a new environment such as taking them out on cat walks around the neighborhood or in your yard with a harness on.
Another tip: every time your cat attacks, jot down on a virtual notepad why you think it’s attacking, when it happened, and how long it lasted. Within a week, review the notepad and it will help with coming up with a solution for the problem. For example, your feline attacks your hand when you put down the food bowl almost every time. You may then opt to set down the bowl and then call for your cat to avoid being scratched.
What to Do If Your Cat Suddenly Attacks You?
The attack could include biting, scratching, and a combination of both. Lean into the bite as opposed to pulling away to confuse the cat. Make a loud noise to startle it.
If it still doesn’t work, it’s best to hold the cat by the scruff and put a distance between the two of you or leave it in a room for a minute. Wash off the bitten area.
How to Know If the Aggression Makes the Cat Wants to Play or Attack?
With a keen eye, you can predict what type of aggression your cat is exhibiting. Play aggression is a rough play that the cat initiates with the owner which involves stalking and pouncing, and ambushing. The intention is to interact with you playfully, with the tail or bottom wagging.
The other type of aggression is done to attack you or the cat defending itself as you are the perceived threat. The intention is to hurt you. It’s easy to distinguish this from play aggression as it involves hissing, directly attacking your face, flattening the ears, and arching the back with raised fur. The pupils of the eyes are dilated or constricted.
Although it may seem that cats attack their owners for no reason, it is likely related to a type of aggression caused by stress and changes. Redirected aggression happens a lot with domestic cats. When they see something that excites or triggers them and they can’t access it, they misplace the aggression with someone nearby. A way of combatting this is to properly socialize your cat at a young age, consider neutering and spaying, and provide plenty of stimulation to keep them happy.