I had to lock myself in a room to write this. My cat, Calvin, chased me in here, trying to attack me.
Calvin has sent me to the minor med twice and the hospital once.
I have scars on my body that will always be there — including one from an attack that nearly cost me my eyesight in my left eye.
There are mental scars, too. It took me a long time to fully trust Calvin again after these attacks. Repairing our relationship was no easy task.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a cat lover, so I know what you’re thinking.
Call Jackson Galaxy to tell this person why they’re a terrible cat owner, and everyone can live happily ever after. End of story, right?
Here’s how it happens.
Maybe we have company over — people who don’t know that you can’t laugh too loudly at a joke or scream out in pain when you stub your toe.
Or maybe my partner sneezes.
Perhaps the teakettle whistles just as we’re winding down for bed.
Sometimes when Calvin attacks, I’m singing loudly (and badly) while playing my ukulele loudly (and also badly). Having to get a tetanus shot over something like this makes the whole thing a lot less hilarious than it probably sounds.
The sounds of human life aren’t the only things that trigger his aggressive behavior, though.
It’s often triggered by other animals — whether that’s a neighbor’s dog or cat or a robin or squirrel perched on our deck. Sometimes it’s even a cat meowing in a funny TikTok or Youtube video.
So what is causing all of this violent behavior from such a sweet and cuddly grey baby boy?
It’s called feline redirected aggression.
Feline redirected aggression occurs when a naturally calm, good-natured cat encounters a stressor that’s out of their reach. These triggers can be sights, sounds, or even smells.
Once triggered, the cat will haul off and violently attack the nearest living thing — often, humans or other household pets.
Without knowing how to manage this condition, it can be hazardous for everyone involved.
Redirected aggression is different than directed aggression in which the cat will attack the cause of their stress directly due to easy access.
Sadly, according to an article from Cornell University, “a recent study reported that 27 percent of cats relinquished to shelters for behavioral reasons were surrendered for aggression.”
Fortunately, we can easily manage feline redirected aggression so that cats, their furry siblings, and their humans can live happy lives together.
What can you do to prevent feline redirected aggression?
- Monitor your cat’s behavior closely to learn their triggers.
My cat’s main trigger, for example, is loud, high-pitched sounds. Calvin also gets triggered by seeing other animals through a window. But I had to find this out the hard way.
Cats generally warn us they’re upset with their body language and meows. Redirected aggression, however, can often occur with minimal warning signs.
If your cat exhibits feline redirected aggression symptoms, be sure to record everything you can remember that was happening when they lashed out. No detail is too small. Sometimes it can be just one thing, or sometimes it’s a combination of many.
- Out of sight, out of mind.
Be sure to cover all of your windows with sturdy blinds and curtains. If the interior of your home has french doors containing windows, be sure to cover those too if there are other pets or humans inside that room.
Since cats don’t have object permanence, window coverings can help enormously by removing unpleasant visual stressors. Even if they can still hear another animal through a door, removing one sensation can make the other more tolerable for them.
- Try catnip, pheromone diffusers, or in extreme cases, an anti-anxiety medication.
This one might seem obvious. Sometimes your furbaby just needs a little chemical help.
Your vet can help with this, or you can buy things like catnip or Feliway over the counter.
These methods can help with directed aggression if your cats tend to bicker with each other or with your dog.
- Play music made with cats in mind.
Thanks to the magic of the Internet, you can now play music scientifically engineered just for cats with binaural technology — from any speaker you like. The tempo of some of these “cat songs” mimic purring or nursing sounds.
Make a playlist and play them at a low volume all the time if you’d like. Who knows, cat music might relax you too!
What should I do when my cat is upset and ready to attack?
If you notice one of their triggers happening, watch closely for the telltale signs they’re about to become aggressive — arched back, puffy tail, growling, backed ears, etc.
Physically separate the aggressive cat from all humans and other pets immediately.
Scoop them up as fast as possible. It usually helps to grab them gently by the scruff of their neck to immobilize them.
Don’t hesitate or show them you’re afraid. When my cat notices I’m scared, he seems to match my energy, making him even more upset.
Put them in a darkened room until they calm down. Putting your cat in a cat carrier is usually NOT enough unless you cover it with a blanket. The best strategy is to give them a room of their own.
This process takes time. I usually give Calvin at least 30 minutes (you know, about the amount of time it would typically take one to write a blog post *side eye emoji*).
How should I reintroduce my cat back into the household once they’re calm again?
Get pets acclimated to each other again slowly. Rushing into things before they’re ready can start the whole thing all over again.
Depending on how far the aggression escalated, it may be best to start this process with a closed-door or other barrier between them. This way, they can only smell and hear each other. Like I mentioned earlier, they have no object permanence.
Use petting, playing with toys, or feeding them treats to comfort them through this process. If you can combine the three, it’s even better. Once everyone is calm, remove the barrier. Continue with the petting, playing, and treats until things are back to normal.
Aggressive cats can be scary, especially if it’s a pet who normally loves you unconditionally.
My mom told me after Calvin attacked me that I should have him put to sleep. He was too dangerous.
I’m so glad I didn’t listen.
As pet owners, it’s our responsibility to respect and care for the animals we bring into our lives.
It’s easy to manage a home with a cat that has feline redirected aggression with a little effort.
Before you know it, your furbaby will be purring in your lap again in no time.