6 reasons not to punish your cat for aggression

When your cat attacks you, do you flip out and want to get back at him? We bet it’s hard not to.

However, while punishing a cat can quiet him down, relieve your frustration, and make you feel better, it has disadvantages in the long run.

kitten running away from camera

Below, you will learn why you should not punish a cat for aggression, as well as what to do instead.

  • Punishment does not work. It may appear to be working on the surface, especially with aggression. But is it really? If punishment worked, your cat would have attacked you only once in his life and would have stopped after “learning his lesson.” That never happens. Your cat may stop for a while, but how long is that going to last? A day? A week? Even if all’s quiet for a month, if the aggression comes back, it means something is still wrong. Your cat was peaceful only because he was too afraid of the consequences, not because he wanted it that way.
  • Punishment intensifies defensive aggression. The majority of cat attacks on people are defensive in nature. Cat aggression is most commonly driven by fear, pain, stress, or over-alertness, and punishment only makes most of these factors worse. Your cat’s biting may have started as a show of dislike for painful handling, but if you beat your cat frequently, it may turn to your cat hissing, spitting, and pawing at you every time you come near.
  • Cats can redirect their aggression toward someone else. Just like when a businessman yells at his kids after being scolded by his boss, a cat can attack your kids after a scolding from you. It isn’t a conscious, planned attack; it just happens. When tension builds, it has to be released, either by hunting, running, playing, or attacking people. If the cat is afraid of you, he may choose a target that has not yet intimidated him–your spouse, kids, neighbors, dog, or another cat.
  • Aggression weakens the bond between pet and owner. Though every cat is unique and the attachment a cat forms with humans is also individualized, less punishment usually means more communication, higher petting tolerance, more acknowledgment of the owner besides food serving, less hissing, and more love. World peace! Not all cat owners deem this important, but some do (to varying degrees). If you don’t, then think through why you have a cat in the first place. The time when everyone had a cat to catch mice has long since passed.
  • Punishment is painful or at the very least uncomfortable. We mention it now, though it should have been mentioned first–punishment toward an animal in cruel. Even if you think that your reprimand is mild and does no harm, don’t do it. We’ve already explained that punishment doesn’t stop behaviors; rather, the punishment typically has to get harsher and harsher each time. And above all, if something isn’t working, then don’t waste your energy doing it.
  • It’s not your cat’s fault that he is aggressive. Punishment is cruel, but isn’t the cat attacking people even crueler? It doesn’t matter, because in the majority of cases, cat aggression is the owner’s fault. If your cat attacks you out of fear, that’s something you could have avoided. If you got bitten because you did not recognize your cat’s signs of irritation, you should paid attention to your pet. If your cat has learned that biting your hand gets you out of his way, it’s still you at fault. If you are your cat’s owner, you should have prevented your cat from turning aggressive or used your power to maintain control. If you haven’t, there’s only one person to blame.

What to do instead of punishing your cat

It’s easy to tell you not to hit a cat. Many internet sources already do, but what good is it if they don’t teach you what to do instead?

Instead, you must stop your cat’s aggression in some other way, which is certainly possible. Obviously, hitting does not work.

You must find and solve the underlying cause of your cat’s aggression. As we said, cat aggression toward humans is most commonly caused by fear, pain, or stress (though not exclusively).

You can learn about causes and solutions for cat aggression here.

Since aggression is a complex behavioral problem with many possible causes and many possible solutions that require attention to detail, we recommend involving a professional pet behaviorist or veterinarian in the process.

How to break a cat attack

But what do you do when your cat attacks you? If your cat launches an attack on you, you must startle him with the mildest possible interruption.

You can redirect your cat’s attention toward a toy, loudly clap your hands, or let out a high-pitched yell. If that doesn’t work, you can move an object in between you and the cat, like a pillow, chair, painting, or (let’s be honest) anything near you. You can also throw a blanket over your cat to block out his visual sense.

In extreme cases, you may need to be harsh and actually fight back. However, note that this is not in contradiction to the whole idea of this article. You should understand that it isn’t a punishment, it’s a defense, and the most important thing to remember is that it should never turn into a counterattack.

IMPORTANT: Once your cat’s attack has stopped, the situation ends. Don’t let it escalate, and don’t chase your cat afterward.

You can pretend that nothing happened or leave the area. At some point, it may also be beneficial to confine the cat in another room, but don’t use this as a jail sentence. It isn’t, and your cat won’t grasp the concept.

Confining is a temporary measure to prevent the situation from escalating, let your cat (and you) calm down, and prevent injuries to anyone in the house. Once everyone settles, you can release your cat and act like nothing happened.

In the meantime, finding the true cause of your cat’s aggression and making sure to get to the root of the problem is what you must focus on.

Punishing a cat for aggression may temporarily put a stop to it, but more punishment will be needed to keep it that way. On the other hand, if you deal with the root issue, no force is needed to sustain peace.