Felis ISSN 2398-2950

Aggression: towards people

Contributor(s): Sarah Heath, H Ellen Whiteley

Introduction

  • Intolerant behavior directed towards humans.
  • Can be directed towards members of the household or strangers.
  • Feline aggression towards people should not be underestimated, cats can do a great deal of damage with claws and teeth.
  • Young children and elderly people with frail skin are particularly at risk.
  • Cause: various.
  • Signs: can vary in intensity from hissing and spitting to inflicting physical injury.
  • Treatment: varies according to cause.
Print out owner factsheet Tips for interpreting sign of aggression in cats Tips for interpreting signs of aggression in cats to give to your client.

Pathogenesis

Etiology

  • The aggression is often a natural defense reaction which is inappropriate either in its intensity or its context.
  • Fear is often implicated and may stem from lack of appropriate socialization and habituation as well as from specific traumatic experiences.
  • There is often a learned component to the behavior.
  • The aggression is the result of a number of interacting factors including the genotype, phenotype, neurophysiology and hormonal status of the cat and factors from the environment.

Petting and biting syndrome

  • The aggression in these cases is believed to be linked to a conflict between adult characteristics and perpetuated juvenile characteristics.

Misdirected predation

  • Lack of opportunity to engage in normal feline behavior. This sort of aggression can also occur as a result of inappropriate learning where kittens are encouraged to play with peoples' hands and feet.

Frustration-related aggression

  • Often associated with hand rearing where kittens do not learn to cope with frustration.

Fear-related aggression

Redirected aggression

  • The aggression may have a variety of etiologies unrelated to the person who attacked - the person is simply an available target.

Predisposing factors

General

Petting and biting syndrome

  • Lack of appropriate types of handling from 2-7 weeks of age. Kittens need to learn to tolerate restraint and close handling.

Misdirected predation

  • Lack of opportunity to engage in normal feline behavior. Inappropriate play with peoples' hands and feet.

Frustration-related aggression

  • Hand rearing.

Fear-related aggression

  • Lack of socialization and habituation from 2-7 weeks of age, previous traumatic experiences involving people, lack of opportunity to escape from threatening situations.

Redirected aggression

  • Lack of access to the original trigger for the aggressive response.

Pathophysiology

  • There are various potential causes of cat to human aggression.

Diagnosis

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Treatment

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Prevention

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Outcomes

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Schwartz S (1998) Animal behavior case of the month. Aggression of a cat toward its owner when cleaning the cat's litter box. JAVMA 212 (9), 1384-1385 PubMed.
  • Crowell-Davis S L, Barry K & Wolfe R (1997) Social behavior and aggressive problems of cats. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 27 (3), 549-568 PubMed.
  • Taliaferro L & Beaver B V (1996) Animal behavior case of the month. Aggressive attacks by a cat against its owner. JAVMA 209 (1), 66-68 PubMed.
  • Ban B D (1994) Cats need friends, too. Examining aggressive behavior in the cat. JAVMA 205 (7), 946-947 PubMed.
  • Beaver B V (1994) Differential approach to aggression by dogs and cats. Vet Q 16 (Suppl 1), 48S PubMed.
  • Reisner I R, Houpt K A & Erb H N et al (1994) Friendliness to humans and defensive aggression in cats - the influence of handling and paternity. Physiol Behav 55 (6), 1119-1124 PubMed.

Organisation(s)

  • For veterinarians wishing to refer cases on to a behavioral specialist:


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