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My Pet World: Tips for working with and helping an aggressive cat

Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

Why is my cat so mean? I adopted him from a shelter when he was six weeks old. Due to illness and age, I had just put down both of my cats (18- and 19-year-olds). As a senior lady living alone, a pet is great company for me. He was so cute as a kitten, but not too friendly.

He doesn't sleep next to me or likes to be held. He was never abused. I used a spray bottle and swatted him with a newspaper to correct him at times, but that made him more aggressive. He is 16 months old and has a skin problem, so I have to put salve in his ear every day, which isn't fun for him or me. He attacks my feet, jumps on me when I answer the phone, and has a bad attitude.

He has never been out, as I live upstairs in a condo with just a few visitors. He is afraid of others. He was mean before his skin problem, but it seems to be worse now. I love him dearly, but I had hoped to have a lovable cat, so I started with a kitten. He has cat toys galore and access to an enclosed patio where he can look out. What else can I do?

— Phyllis, Las Vegas, Nevada

Dear Phyllis,


Aggression is usually the result of fear or pain, or because the cat may be slightly feral (born on the street, but picked up and placed in a shelter because he was fine around people). While it could be any of these things, the good news is there are ways to help your cat be less aggressive.

First, you say he was mean before the skin condition. But he likely had the skin condition long before the diagnosis, and pain can make animals act aggressively. I hope the medication works because that could reduce aggressive behavior.

Second, is he fixed? I assume he is fixed because you adopted him from a shelter, but if he is not, please get him fixed immediately. Sometimes, intact animals can get aggressive when focused on mating.

Third, fear can be triggered by many things, including strangers (your friends) or negative corrections, like the spray bottle or newspaper swat which can actually increase aggression. So, give him a chance to escape to other rooms when your friends arrive, and don't use negative corrections anymore.


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