Not fluent in meow? Our feline friends aren’t always the best communicators. So, what are they really trying to tell you?

Questions?

Q

I have noticed that my normally super chill cat can get very aggressive when new people come into our home and try to pet him. He has random freak outs and will try to chase after people, he has also shown aggression with his voice and has bitten people before. He isn’t a very affectionate cat in the sense that he doesn’t like to cuddle or be picked up, but he likes being around people and my husband and I can usually pet/scratch him for a short period of time. I’m just wondering why his behaviour changes around new people? I thought maybe he could be a little socially awkward or he’s uncomfortable? And what would be the best way for him to introduce/make him feel more comfortable around new people?

A

Managing a cat with aggressive behaviours is challenging. In determining what type of strategy will work best, the first step is determining what type of aggressive behaviour is going on. Medical concerns, especially those that cause pain (such as joint ache or dental disease) must be addressed as pain lessens our tolerance to stressful situations. Assuming a clean bill of health, a current rabies vaccine is important for public health and safety.

When focusing on the behavioural side of aggression towards strangers, a sit-down with your veterinarian is essential to determine what type of aggression we are dealing with. Not all cats are “social butterflies” and do get stressed when there is company. Just as some people handle stress by shutting down and others gear up for a fight, cats will have innately different responses to stressful situations. Assuming a less social base personality, the hisses and growls are warnings that, if “personal space” is invaded by an unfamiliar hand with unwanted cuddles, there will be a aggressive (physical attack) response. If this type of attack has proven “successful”, and the cat is left alone, then the attack response gets reinforced as being a good strategy for the next time company comes calling.

Again, a good sit-down with a veterinarian is essential to look at the fine details and determine possible risk factors (such as age or gender of the visitors) that need to be taken into consideration in a behavioural care plan. Your vet is an excellent resource to talk about reducing anxiety in your cat when company comes over (such as using treats or a time out room) and developing strategies to keep everyone safe.

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