One of the best ways to handle an aggressive cat is to leave him alone and let calm down. But as you share your home with an aggressive cat, you will inevitably come to a point where an interaction must take place.
Below you’ll find several tips for owners of aggressive cats. You’ll learn to handle your uncontrollable cat with safety and confidence. Note: These tips are directed to people whose cats are manageably aggressive in certain situations. If your cat growls and spits every time you enter the room, your best bet is to seek professional help.
- Learn what is causing your cat’s aggression. If your cat is aggressive towards you, the most probable causes are fear, stress, or pain. Learn about other causes of cat aggression here. You must actively work to minimize the source of your cat’s aggression, but that is a long-term goal. Meanwhile, depending on why your cat is aggressive, there may be some adaptations to what’s described below, so be guided by common sense.
- Don’t be aggressive yourself. Unless it’s a military conflict, aggression is rarely solved by aggression. So if fear or stress is the source of your aggression, it won’t decrease if a cat is hit, scared, or punished. Assume your cat is a little child who needs help.
- Create a space for your cat. No, not “give space,” though you should at times—create it. For example, get a tall cat tree and place it in a convenient spot where your cat can observe what’s going on in your life but feel undisturbed at the same time. It’s best if your cat can have more places like this in your home. Make a promise to yourself, and to all family members, that you won’t unnecessarily disturb your cat when he’s on that cat tree. At times you might need to, but over the long run, you cat will learn that this is his retreat—his space. Even if both of you come into “military conflict” at some point, don’t be the invading side. If your cat has chosen to retreat into his territory, this is where the conflict ends.
- Handle your cat at times when he is calm(er). Never pick up or hold a cat when he is agitated. Learn to recognize signs of aggression and arousal, and you will notice that there are times when your cat is less likely to be aggressive than others. Identify these times, and interact or do manipulations with him then. Also remember that maintenance tasks are best done only when absolutely necessary. For example, bathing is not recommended unless the cat has smudged, whereas claw clipping can prove a beneficial thing to do for an aggressive cat.
If you don’t have time to wait for your cat to calm down, for example, your vet is within a few minutes, the best strategy is to corner the cat, place a blanket over him, and wrap him inside of it. If your cat is under the bed or hiding in another spot, don’t shove your hands and head in first. That is suicidal! Either lure out him using a toy or food, or if you absolutely have no time, use an object such as a towel to drive him out of there. Don’t push or shovel at him. You don’t need to even touch your cat with the item.
- Learn to hold and restrain a cat. If you need to do something with your cat, it’s best that you understand what you’re doing. It’s good if you have a friend to assist, such as by holding the cat while you trim his claws. There are several ways to hold a cat depending on his aggression level, your preferences, and the sort of manipulation necessary. You can hold your cat’s hind and front paws in each of your hands and restrain his body against yours; you can also restrain a cat by holding him down on a surface or wrapping him inside a towel. Your veterinarian can teach and show you how to restrain a cat. Scurfing, though often mentioned as unnecessarily harsh, can be useful when handling an aggressive cat. Don’t apply too much force, and avoid unnecessary pain—and never pick up and carry an adult cat by the scurf.
- Be gentle and confident at the same time. Avoid painful restraints, as they elevate aggression in all animals. If your cat has an injury or a weak spot, keep that in mind. Simultaneously, be confident about your actions, and do not release your cat upon his showing dislike or aggression, as it will only teach him that it is useful. Though it may require steel nerves and rubber skin, your calmness will also make your cat calmer.
NOTE: The more aggressive the cat, the more forceful and presumably harsh the restraint will be. This is no time for slogans about being patient, gentle, and loving with every cat. An aggressive cat is an aggressive cat. There’s a fine line between spreading love to everyone and traveling to hospital for stitches. At the same time, you should restrain an aggressive cat only when it is absolutely necessary.
- Keep your vital organs at a safe distance. And by that we usually mean the face. As you hold an aggressive cat, resist your urge to lean in for a better view, especially if you’re only an assistant in the whole process. There’s no reason to list all the benefits of keeping your eyes more than a paw’s length away from an aggressive cat!
- Play with your cat often. This has numerous benefits. On the surface, it physically discharges your cat: low batteries equal lower aggression. Below the surface, it’s mental stimulation that lets your cat find out that there’s more to life than growling at everyone. Similar patterns apply to petting, talking, and interacting with your cat in other ways.
The above tips are great ways to assist the day-to-day handling of your cat’s aggression. They’re likely to improve your communication and the effectiveness of how you pick up, hold, and restrain your cat.
Meanwhile, you do know that it doesn’t end there. It doesn’t even start there! If your cat is aggressive towards you, learn about possible causes and solutions to cat aggression—and, given the complexity of cat aggression, we always encourage people to seek advice from a professional cat behaviorist or a veterinarian.