Cat Aggression: Is There Hope for a Mean Kitty?

I know first hand that cat aggression is one of the most frustrating, confusing, and upsetting issues for a pet owner.

Kitty Meltdown

Do you have a kitty who is a friendly companion one minute and an aggressive terror the next? Have you experienced nice bonding sessions with your kitty cat, during which your pet is purring and rubbing against you, but then all of the sudden he or she flips around and bites your hand? If so, you are very aware of the seemingly unprovoked cat aggression phenomenon.

My Personal Experience with a Mean Kitty

I had a terrible experience for about a year with one of my rescue kitties, who is now nearly 9 years old. I first met the soon-to-be-named Travieso (meaning “obnoxious” in Spanish) at the pound. He was a cute little black-and-white ball of fluff. When I walked back into the room full of caged kitties, Travieso announced himself with an ear-piercing meow, which was quite shocking coming from such a small kitten. Travieso was also relentlessly trying to get my attention by pawing at his cage. Who could have resisted that? I suppose I should have realized his behavior spelled trouble.

So began our adventure.

Meet Travieso

During the first week of our lives together, Travieso seemed to be transitioning into life in my small townhouse just fine. He was full of energy, very playful, and very affectionate—a seemingly normal kitten. We seemed to be bonding nicely.

However, our relationship gradually started to change as little Travieso started to exhibit signs of aggression. Travieso started to nip at my hand after I had been petting him for just a few seconds. He was also getting more aggressive—biting harder and using his claws. And then he started to attack me even when I wasn’t petting him. When I sat down to watch TV, Travieso would attack me for no apparent reason and bite me as hard as he could and then run away. This was much more than just kitten playfulness. He was obviously upset and angry, but I had no idea how to help him.

I started to resent and dislike Travieso. After a couple of particularly trying days, I made the decision to return Travieso to the pound. I loaded him up into his carrier and hauled him out to the car and we started driving. Each time I did this, though, my guilt got the best of me, and I decided to give Travieso one more chance. 

The situation with Travieso did not improve for about a year. Travieso had devolved into a nasty kitty, with some serious aggression issues. Our days were filled with the cycle of Travieso’s attacks and my locking him in a bathroom to “teach him a lesson.” I don’t think the “time-outs” helped at all. In fact, they made Travieso worse.

This is Travieso as a kitten. He looked sweet and innocent, but he had some major aggression issues.

Gradual Transformation

At about the one-year mark of living with Travieso, I decided I would adopt a second kitty. I’m not sure what gave me this brilliant idea. Things were not going well with my first cat, so adding a second one, for some reason, seemed like a good idea. However, this was the turning point for us.

Travieso was very unaccepting of the new kitten at first. Several times I thought he was going to do serious harm to the new kitten. For a couple of weeks, I tried to get Travieso to tolerate the new kitten. This involved a lot of frustration for all three of us, more time-outs, and several bouts of my wanting to return Travieso to the pound again.

But gradually Travieso came to accept the new kitten. It was almost as if the introduction of the second kitten into the house brought all of Travieso’s fear, anger, and uncertainty to a boiling point, and then he was able to calm down. This process took a couple of months.

Now it’s eight years later, and Travieso is a wonderful animal. He’s well-adjusted, loving, and accepting of people, including children, and other animals.

This is Nube, the second kitty acquisition, who helped Travieso work through his aggression.

Dealing with an Aggressive Cat

If you have an aggressive kitty, it is important to learn to recognize the warning signs that your cat exhibits before turning aggressive—laid-back ears, dilated pupils, twitching tail. Sometimes these signs are very subtle and difficult to detect. Since this is often the case, it is best to end petting sessions long before your kitty has the chance to turn aggressive. Never retaliate by hitting, reprimanding, or punishing an aggressive cat. This will increase the cat’s fear, anxiety, and agitation and make its aggressive tendencies worse.

I hope that I have offered some hope to those of you dealing with an aggressive cat. Travieso’s transformation from mean kitty to loveable, sweet kitty is still somewhat of a mystery to me. My gut feeling is that Travieso was not well-socialized when I adopted him. He had not learned to trust people or other animals. I think he was very scared at the pound and felt unsure of what life would have in store for him. He may have had a negative experience early on with a person. It took Travieso a little over a year to finally adjust to and accept his new environment and move past his intense aggressiveness. I think an aggressive cat requires its owner to show extra patience, love, and space for the kitty to learn to trust.

Here is Travieso as an adult cat. I have now acquired three more kitties, for a total of four cats. (I’m well on my way to becoming the crazy cat lady.)

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User Comments
  1. Tammy

    On August 21, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    Thank you for this article. My boyfriend and I brought a third cat into our home about a year ago, and he’s very aggressive with us and one of our other cats at times. We would never get rid of him, but it’s good to know there’s hope he’ll change =D

  2. WriteEditSeek

    On August 22, 2009 at 12:43 am

    Hi, Tammy. Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it. I’m not sure if you know about and/or have tried the product called Feliway. It’s supposed to ease a cats’ anxiety. I’m not sure if it’d be useful in your situation or not, but it might be worth a try. I hope things improve with your kitty. Cat aggression is a really frustrating problem to deal with.

  3. Lostash

    On August 22, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Cats? Take ‘em or leave ‘em with me! Far too independant!!!

  4. Pastor Curtis Barnett

    On August 22, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    Great piece, you are so versatile in your writing. I enjoy each piece. It is so nice to have hope for my cat’s & newly (un)welcomed kittens.

  5. ajosephine

    On August 24, 2009 at 11:11 am

    I enjoyed reading your story, mostly because I have a cat who is very much the same. Very loving cat, but when you give him attention he turns evil. He lives a good life and has the benefit of his own room which is onnected to a large balcony. Very spoiled but still evil in his own way. I am happy to know my cat is very nornal.

  6. Ruby Hawk

    On August 24, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    Sounds like good advise for cat people. I am allergic to animals myself.

  7. Michael Degenhardt

    On August 26, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Sorry, but this too sounds like my wife LOL Kidding aside, this is a very good article. It’s detailed clearly, has the problem and help to offer a solution or a better approach to the situation. Though I am not a fan of cats, I am a fan of pets and I think you handled this pet perfectly. Michael

  8. WriteEditSeek

    On August 27, 2009 at 3:05 am

    @ Lostash — LOL, you just need to give the kitties a chance. They’ll grow on you. :)

    @ Curtis — Sorry to hear that you’ve got some unwelcomed kitties. Hopefully you’ll be able to find them good homes.

    @ ajosephine — Sorry about your possessed kitty. I’ll cross my fingers for you that he grows out of it.

    @ Ruby — I’m allergic to cats, too. I just sort of deal with the sniffles.

    @ Michael — I like your wife already. :)

    Thank you all for your kind comments.

  9. Jenny Heart

    On September 4, 2009 at 6:58 am

    I’m going to let my sister read this article. She has a cat that looks like yours. The eyes look identical. It can be aggressive. It’s calming down some. Thanks for this thought provoking article. Love it!

  10. Guest

    On September 16, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Just give the cat a good smack upside the head if it bites you.

  11. Frances Lawrence

    On September 27, 2009 at 4:07 am

    It is always worth getting the cat checked over by a vet if there are problems with unpredictable aggressive behaviour, We adopted a stray cat who would suddenly turn angry and scratch or bite. The vet found that he had dental problems, once they were sorted out he was a much happier cat.

  12. Gavin Cowie

    On October 5, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Maybe useful – a question someone posted on Zootoo about how to modify aggressive behaviour in cats, particularly the older/younger cat dynamic in multi-cat households.

  13. Katie

    On October 13, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    My cat is 1 and a half years old, and at first he was the best cat in the world, we got him from my grampas house in Ohio. Our family thought we could handle decaff but once my parents divorced a 8 months ago we were forced to live in an apartment. We decided for him to not be a outside cat so we kept him inside the house. Sometimes decaff would get out and that’s when things went wrong. Once he got outside it was terrible, he wouldn’t come back in so naturally we picked him up and put back inside the house, note that he didn’t mind ever being held. Soon he started getting visious once he was accedently let outside he would start hissing and once or twice started attacking us. By attacking I mean hooking himself onto our arms and climbing up it while biting us. We would have many scars and it sometimes got infected. Then it escalated where he would just be on the porch and start attacking us for no apparent reason, and then inside the house. But the problem with that cat is I love it, it has gotten me though my parents 8 month divorce and a nasty one at that. It is not neutered and I think that’s a contributing factor to its behavior but we cannot afford it. Things have been really tough and we can barely afford getting my moms tags renewed. I am saving up from babysitting jobs but its just too expensive. I really love my cat, but everyone is suffering from it. Help us. Please.

  14. M. A.

    On December 2, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    No, actually this article wasn’t one bit helpful. You gave absolutely no suggestions, other than “stop petting before the cat turns aggressive, and never reprimand.”

    Yeah, that’s helpful. *rolls eyes*

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