Cat aggression towards owners is a common problem and can be very distressing, not to mention painful! There are a range of reasons why your cat might be doing this. If you can identify the cause, then a solution is more likely to work.
If your cat has recently become aggressive, he or she may be in pain. No doubt you are pretty grumpy when you have a headache or toothache, and cats can experience these things too. If your cat has a condition like osteoarthritis, it may be more uncomfortable later in the day, and this may be when she becomes aggressive.
If your cat is fairly young, he or she may actually be playing with you. Kittens are most likely to play fight. Theories suggest that it helps kittens to strengthen their muscles, develop eye-muscle coordination and learn gentle social play. As the kittens get older, the amount of play aggression increases and gets rougher, eventually leading to the dispersion of the litter. Owners often find young cats sneaking up, biting and ambushing passing ankles instead.
You will need to redirect the cat’s behavior towards inanimate objects instead of you through active play with toys that move. When the cat becomes aggressive, a squirt of water or startle noise can help them learn not to attack you. You might consider introducing another cat of about the same age so that the play occurs between the cats instead of involving you.
The instinct to hunt is triggered by the sight or sound of moving prey. Hunting behaviors are instinctive so eliminating them is not possible. They can, however, be directed into acceptable outlets. Encourage active play with moving toys and direct the behavior toward objects that can withstand claws and teeth. If your cat is allowed outside, it can expend some energy hunting insects instead of you.
When a cat becomes upset, it would normally direct the aggression toward the source, however, if the source is not accessible, the cat may redirect the aggression towards something closer such as you, a dog or another cat. Unfortunately, the association between a victim and a stressful event can stick for a long time, so that every time the cat is around the victim, it is reminded of the incident and may attack again.
Prevention can be easier than cure. Don’t try to calm or handle an upset cat. There are times, however, when this is impossible. The most common solution is long-term separation of the cat from its target, but this can take a long time. Alternatively, your vet can prescribe anti-anxiety medications that you can combine with gradual reintroduction and rewards. If the victim is a cat that has become excessively fearful of the aggressive cat, it can also be treated to reduce its fear and increase its boldness.
Mother cats with young kittens are naturally protective of their young. Hormonally-influenced aggression is strongest during the first week after birth and gradually diminishes as the kittens get older. This is normal behavior. If you need to handle the kittens, try to keep a kitten between you and the mother cat. It is unlikely that the new mother will go over a kitten to attack you.
If you have an ongoing problem with cat aggression, it is best to speak with your vet to discuss various behavioral solutions. Medication is usually only for extreme cases, but can be helpful until behavioral measures are working.