My Pet World: A seven-year-old cat suddenly shows signs of aggression
I have a seven-year-old male mixed tabby cat named Sam that I have had since he was five months old. He is neutered. For the past two to three months, he has started biting me after being in “lovey mode,” where he purrs and rubs against my head, neck, face, or chest. These attacks seem to be happening more and more often these days. He mostly lays around the house and occasionally plays.
Then, out of the blue, he will launch himself directly at me and bite down hard, and boy, does it hurt. Sometimes, he will dig his claws in me as well. I have tried spraying him, yelling "no," and batting him away, but nothing works. Also, I usually never know when he'll do this, so I don't always have a spray bottle near me. Sometimes, he is biting so hard that it's difficult to get him to let go without making him think we're playing. Is this something I need to address with a vet?
— Caitlin, St. Louis, Missouri
Yes, a medical exam is essential for all aggressive cats – especially cats who have not displayed this behavior before and who are suddenly doing it at seven years old. I know from experience that getting bitten by an aggressively behaving cat can be very painful.
There are many reasons cats can be aggressive that need to be considered. Pet-induced aggression is relatively common and occurs when repeated petting arouses, irritates, or excites them in some way. They bite or swat you to tell you they have had enough. In these situations, you must learn how many strokes it takes to trigger the behavior and keep your contact with him under that limit at all times.
Redirected aggression is where an external stimulus causes him to lash out at the nearest bystander because he can’t get to the source of his agitation. An example of this would be your cat seeing another cat outside and then turning and expressing his frustration toward you with an unexpected swat or bite.
However, since he didn't behave like this as a kitten and has only been doing it for a few months, I would be concerned it's a physical or mental health condition, like thyroid or orthopedic problems, adrenal dysfunction, cognitive dysfunction, or neurological disorders, to name a few. Even food or medication can cause aggression issues.
So, please take Sam to the vet for a thorough exam to see what is going on. The sudden onset seems to point to a health problem, but if the doctor thinks it's a behavioral problem, he can prescribe medication and recommend a behavior specialist for a consultation.