Tips on How to Calm an Aggressive Cat after Adoption

The adoption process brings trauma to a cat. One thing you have to know about shelter cats is that they have a sad, and sometimes violent, background. Some are surrendered due to neglect, lack of funds, or abuse. The experience of being left behind in a strange place (shelter) is enough for a cat to develop negative behavior. And even after adoption, such behavior could linger. In this post, I will discuss tips on how to calm down an aggressive cat after adoption based on my experience.

What causes cat aggression?

how to calm down an aggressive cat

When we adopted our three-year-old tabby cat, Toby, the shelter warned us that he’s not the cuddliest cat in the bunch. He’s aloof and can be quite aggressive if you try to go near him. It went like this for over a year until Toby softened up and now enjoys couch cuddles.

So what caused this aggression? Toby came from a violent household. His former owners will beat him up for peeing inside (due to lack of litter training). And when he’s rescued, the aggression only worsened due to lack of human interaction.

Other factors can also lead to cat aggression.

Some cats may become suddenly aggressive while being petted. This is due to overstimulation and the cat’s effort to dictate when petting ends. It can happen as well during grooming, bathing, or nail trimming.

Generally, cats are on the edge of aggression if they are threatened or fearful. If your cat is in pain or a distressing situation, it can strike back with an aggressive response.

Territorial cats will try to impose their dominance on the new cat. This could be in the form of aggression, which can be fixed through proper socialization. 

In this video, Jackson Galaxy helps a couple deal with their cat, May, who suddenly had unexplained aggression:

Why aggression can be a problem

Although cats are known to be calmer than dogs, they tend to pose harm to other people if they have aggressive behavior. Such aggressiveness can also put the feline’s life in danger.

Hostile cats are also uninviting to guests. Your neighbor may also call the animal control bureau if your cat is already causing disturbances and harm to other people and pets in the area.

Moreover, it’s difficult to maintain a multi-pet household if your cat is aggressive. You’d always have to break fights and cure wounds. Worse, smaller pets can be harmed fatally.     

How to Calm Down an Aggressive Cat

how to calm down an aggressive cat

Knowing how to calm down an aggressive cat takes patience and knowledge. Instead of reacting with an equally negative stimulus, you should consider the following tips:

Avoid uninvited petting

Is the cat in the neighborhood too cute to resist? Before you charge toward the cat, remember that uninvited petting can end up in cat bites.

If you want to pet a cat, call its name or attention, and let it come to you. When the cat is calm (relaxed ears, body, and tail), you can pet it slowly. Start below the jaw and work your hands up to the top of its hand. This way, the cat will not feel like you’re about to grab its face.

If you’re in a public place, ask the cat owner first if you can pet the feline.

Find the source of aggression

If your cat is suddenly aggressive for no apparent reason, you must identify what triggers the behavior. The only way to resolve the aggression is to know its root cause. From there, you can formulate a plan on how you can help the kitty mellow down.

The following are some of the leading causes of aggression in cats:

  • Maternal instincts, especially right after birth
  • Conflict with fellow cats
  • Irritable petting
  • Pain and health problems
  • Territorial aggression
  • Defensiveness
  • Lack of human interaction

Your cat’s veterinarian can help a lot in identifying the root cause of the problem. It will also help if you ask for a general checkup to rule out any cat health problems.

Interrupt the behavior

Aggression in cats has several body language indicators: stiff body posture, bared teeth, pinned ears, hissing, direct stare, and so on. If your cat is directing this aggression to someone or something, you can distract the kitty with a whistle or by calling its name.

When interrupting an aggressive behavior, never try to touch or move your cat physically. Doing so may only cause harm as the cat may redirect its aggression to you. Just try to diffuse the situation with non-physical means.

Keep your cat active

For cats deprived of physical and mental stimulation, aggression is often their way of releasing their extra energy. It will help a lot if you socialize your cat slowly. You should also set up a play spot with a scratching post, climbing tree, and perches. All of these will engage your cat’s senses and keep them off their aggressive tendencies.

Your cat must have a spot where it can curl up and rest peacefully. If you are to play with the pooch, let the kitty invite you. Hold a toy and see if the feline will come to you.

However, if the cat exhibits play-induced aggression, you must end playtime and go back once the pooch is relaxed. If the cat stopped the aggression, reward with a small treat or a piece of kibble. This will let your pet know that negative behavior isn’t tolerated and not rewarded.

Promote behavior modification

If your cat’s behavior isn’t improving, you can seek the help of an animal behaviorist. The expert will help modify your cat’s behavior gradually through positive reinforcement.

If your cat gets aggressive in the presence of a stranger, the behaviorist will alter this behavior by attaching something positive to what’s causing the aggression.

This process can take long and should be done correctly to avoid fueling other negative behavior.

Use calming scents

Some cats may react to overstimulation with aggressiveness. To help the kitty tone down, you can diffuse some calming oils. It will soothe your kitty and help it calm down. This will also help your cat sleep. Just make sure that the oils you will diffuse are pet-safe.

If in doubt, you can always ask a veterinarian for some suggestions. As much as possible, avoid administering medications to your cat with the hopes that it will calm down.

Consider giving catnip

If you’re yet to book an animal behaviorist appointment, a temporary way to calm your cat is by giving it some catnip. This will help counter the negative behavior and distract them from being aggressive.

However, catnip is never a permanent solution when it comes to cat aggression. Training and proper activities should be your main priority.

In this video, veterinary behaviorist E’Lise Christensen gives us more tips on how to deal with an aggressive kitty:

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why is my male cat aggressive toward my female cat?

A: Male cats tend to impose their dominance on female cats. This can result in catfights. When this happens, it’s best to separate the two cats so they can establish their own territory.

Q: Should a cat be put down if it bit someone?

A: Some kill shelters will euthanize a cat if the feline is extremely aggressive and a threat to other animals and people. This can be administered by an animal health professional or an in-house veterinarian of a kill shelter.

Q: Why does my cat bite me even if I’m not provoking it?

A: It could be a sign of the cat imposing its dominance. Your feline is trying to show you who the alpha is. Sometimes, it can also be a playful bite as a way to get your attention and start playtime. However, if the biting is becoming incessant and hurtful, you must seek a veterinarian’s advice.

Q: What should I do if a cat bites me?

A: If a cat bit you, wash the wound right away using running water and soap. Bandage the area and head to the nearest animal bite center to get anti-rabies shot. On your way, keep the affected part elevated to prevent potential infection from spreading.

Final words

Knowing how to calm down an aggressive cat will make a well-rounded pet owner. It will also help you understand your pet’s behavior and what’s causing it in the first place. So the next time your cat acts aggressively, you’ll know what to do. You should also seek the help of a veterinarian and an animal behaviorist for the worst cases of aggression.

Have you encountered cat aggression before? Share your experience with us!