Cats, like humans and other animals have a wide variety of personalities. Some cats are very cuddly with their owners and other people, while some cats are aloof and do not care to be touched.
Often the cats that are aloof were not handled and socialized as kittens which could contribute to this type of behavior. Therefore the best thing a person can do is to handle and socialize their kittens to prevent problems later in life.
The most critical time to handle kittens is between five and twelve weeks of age. This is the age where it is optimal to get your cat used to grooming, nail trimming, teeth cleaning and any other handling needs you have or anticipate. This includes learning to ride quietly in a vehicle and different modes of travel. Walking on a leash and harness and feeling comfortable in a carrier. Since cats do not like change, this type of handling should be done on a regular basis, ideally once a week if not more often for the rest of the cat’s life.
Do not encourage kittens to pounce or claw your hands or any part of your body. Redirect this behavior toward toys that are acceptable. This way your kitten will learn that humans are not playthings to be bitten or scratched.
In the event that a person adopts an older cat, or did not socialize their kitten and the adult cat starts to exhibit aggressive behavior, there is still hope.
If the cat has been adopted it is best to leave the cat alone for a few months. The cat has no idea why he was re-homed and has not had a chance to bond with his new family. Be there for the cat but let the cat make all of the advances. Talk soothingly to the cat but avoid handling, petting, or any other physical contact. Do play with the cat but let the cat set the rules. If you try and force handling at this point you can start a pattern of aggressive or fearful behavior in your cat.
To avoid being bitten or scratched it is important to recognize the warning signs of aggression in cats. If the cat is frightened they will often crouch, ears are back against their head, their tail may be curled inward toward the body and their body tilts away from the object that they are afraid of. Often their eyes will be dilated and they will hiss, show their teeth and raise the hair on their back and tail. If the cat changes his body position to a forward stance, he is likely to move forward to attack.
If the older cat is not socialized, the first thing to do is to establish a play routine so that the cat can learn how to interact with a person in an acceptable fun manner. When you find the toy or object that the cat likes to play with (my cat loves to chase and attack belts that are snaked along the floor) you can do this a few times a day. This will allow your cat to associate having fun during human interaction.
When the cat is calm and contented, start scratching gently around the ears and under the chin. Do this for very short periods at first. If the cat does not like your hand going near his face, try using a soft bristle brush and gently rub under the cat’s chin. As the cat becomes used to being touched and enjoys it, you can slowly rub/scratch other areas of the body, such as the top of the head, the cheeks and behind the ears with your hand. The key word here is slowly, over a period of time. Finish each petting session with a treat.
If the cat exhibits any type of aggression toward humans, the first thing to do is to determine what causes the cat to become aggressive, what is the trigger? Even the most social cat may become aggressive if they are frightened. If this is the case then the owner should pay close attention to what frightens the cat and try to avoid those circumstances. If the fear is a visit to the veterinarian, ask the veterinarian if there are calming medications that might help the cat relax before he is taken to the veterinarian.
If there are objects or circumstances that frighten a cat it is possible to desensitize the cat to the troublesome object. In these cases the best thing to do is consult with a certified feline behavior consultant for a specific plan for your cat’s needs. You can find a certified feline behavior consultant at www.iaabc.org.
Cats can also exhibit redirected aggression. For example if a cat sees another cat outside of a window and the owner tries to pick the cat up, the cat might bite or scratch the owner. If this is the case, do not try to handle the cat until he has calmed down. When cats redirect their aggression, it is a reaction and not a premeditated act to be taken personally. If possible, remove or chase away the object that has upset the cat.
If your cat sees the object through a window, try lowering the shade/blinds or otherwise blocking the cat’s view. Holding a towel over the window until the cat calms down can also work. Once the cat has calmed down, try to gently interact with the cat by offering a special treat or toy. It is important to reestablish your relationship with the cat if the cat attacked you in a redirected situation.
Sometimes a cat will solicit petting and scratching but after a period of time, will bite the person petting him. This is because the cat has had enough. The person should watch for any signs that the cat is becoming annoyed and stop while the cat still enjoys the attention. Some of the signs are a twitching tail, flattened ears, twitching ears and they may even move their head toward your hand. One of the things that makes it difficult for cat owners to spot the point where the cat has had enough is that the cat may purr up until it bites. The signs can be very subtle and easy to miss.
Some cats do not like to be touched on certain parts of their body, such as their tummies. Once you understand where you cat likes to be petting and where the cat does not like to be touched, respect your cat’s wishes.
If the cat is not neutered or spayed, too much tactile stimulation can arouse the cat sexually and they will sometimes drool and then bite because the mating ritual between cats involves biting.
Some cats can be territorial and will attack someone who comes to visit that does not come to the house often. In many cases the solution is to make the entrance of the non-resident person a special treat for the cat. If the person who comes to the door offers a treat to the cat, the cat will soon realize the special treats are rewards for letting someone enter the home. This is best done in a controlled, planned manner. To start, the owner can direct the cat’s attention to the treat just before the visitor comes to the door. Just as the visitor opens the door the owner will give the cat the treat. As the cat comes to expect the treat, the visitor can offer the treat to the cat. The owner can also use a calming pheromone such as Feliway before a visitor comes to the door. Your veterinarian can recommend products to use.
Some cats can display dominance aggression toward humans. This is when a person will try to move a cat out of a chair or bed and the cat will attack the person for trying to move him or share space with him. Sometimes the cat will block a doorway showing signs of aggression.
The best way to handle bossy cats is to withhold all affection, treats and play until the cat is calm and pleasant. By doing this you are rewarding good behavior and the cat will learn to associate the good behavior with the things he likes. Products like Feliway that are used around the house may help the cat stay calm.
If your normally passive, pleasant cat becomes aggressive or aloof for no apparent reason, it is time to take your cat to the veterinarian. In almost every situation like this, there is a medical reason for the change in your cat’s behavior. Cats will often hide their illnesses until they become critical. For this reason, even if your cat is not old, a yearly check with the veterinarian is essential. As your cat ages, six month checkups and tests are the best preventative thing you can do.
Feeding your cat a good diet is also essential. Cats can feel poorly when they are fed low quality food which over time can cause aggressive or aloof behavior in a cat. In my experience discount stores and super markets do not carry the high quality food that a cat needs.
The three most important things to remember when dealing with any type of aggression in cats is to 1) never yell, punish or treat the cat harshly. The only thing this will accomplish is to make the aggression problem worse and destroy any positive relationship you have with your cat. Remember, aggression + aggression always = aggression! 2) Never give up. Changing an aggressive cat can take a long time, but persistence almost always improves the situation. 3) All cats need exercise. Do your best through play or controlled outdoor activity, to have your cat exercise daily. There are special cat containment systems that can allow a cat to exercise outdoors safely. Exercise can help reduce frustration and pent up energy that can contribute to a cat’s aggressiveness.