Fear aggression is the most common type of feline aggression. A percentage of cats simply inherit the "shy gene" and aggress every time they become frightened. Poor socialization also results in fear aggression, and punishment makes it worse.
Cats may develop "stranger danger" fear of people, places, other cats, certain noises, or even odors, and react with aggression. They can generalize one scary experience (like a car ride to the vet) with all future car rides.
A single "bad" episode with a longtime feline friend can turn the relationship sour and prompt inter-cat aggression.
Recognizing Cat Fear Aggression
Scared cats quickly learn that aggressive behavior makes the scary "thing" go away, and use it repeatedly to warn off strangers, for example. Affected cats may turn from offense to defense and back again during the arousal. They display a mix of defensive body signals (ears flattened sideways, tail tucked, crouching, and leaning away) and aggressive signals (fluffed fur, showing teeth, hissing, growling, swatting, biting, and scratching). Usually, the pupils of their eyes dilate wide with no relation to the amount of light present.
Ways to Soothe Cat Fear Aggression
If the cat's fear aggression is mild and you can avoid the triggers that make your kitty aggress, no other treatment may be necessary. These tips can help diffuse the fear.
- Figure out the cat's tolerance levels and reactive distance. For instance, kitty may be fine as long as the 'scary person/animal' stays six feet away, but reacts with fear at five feet. Avoid situations by maintaining an appropriate distance between the fearful cat and potential triggers.
- Increase the numbers of quiet areas and hiding spots. Elevated perches such as shelf space and small boxes to hide make cats feel more secure.
- Create a house of plenty by providing lots of toys, scratching posts, and litter boxes (at least one per cat, plus one) to reduce competition with other cats.
- Visual contact heightens cat arousal and can increase aggressive episodes or make them worse. So separate cats with solid doors to calm the angst. Use Feliway or a similar cat pheromone product to ease stress in the cat's territory.
- Rescue Remedy or other flower essences can help shy and fearful pets, so add several drops to their water.
- Use interactive play to build feline confidence. A fishing pole toy or the beam of a light pointer allows the cat to have fun with you, but from a distance not likely to trigger an attack.
- Training cats to do tricks builds confidence and helps improve the bond you share. You can use clicker training to communicate with your cat.
- When the cat's fear aggression focuses on another cat, use positive reinforcement and counter conditioning techniques to reduce the cat-on-cat aggression.