Fear aggression occurs when your cat believes something is threatening it and is about to attack. This could be a person, another animal or even a toy. I have heard of cats that are fearful of the TV when loud action type movies are on.
Signs of fear aggression are ears flat against the head, fur fluffed out to make itself look larger, arched back, tail thrashing back and forth and dilated pupils. Your cat may also move back slowly but be prepared for an attack at any moment. In extreme cases, the cat may lie on its side with all four paws up and ready to lash out. Make sure your children are aware that this pose is not an invitation to play! It means the cat will attack and scratch and bite.
Remember, just like us, the cat will decide what is frightening and what is not. Some people are afraid of mice or snakes, a cousin of mine is terrified of frogs. Personally, the only thing I'm afraid of is spiders and even this is becoming less these days. Your cat will be the same. It will choose what it is afraid of, not you.
If a kitten has not been socialized properly while still with their litters, it has a much higher chance of it showing fear aggression later on. If they are removed from this natural and normal environment before they are eight weeks old, the chances are that they will grow into fearful and timid adults.
Just like with us, bad experiences will also trigger fear aggression. If a young kitten is frightened by a dog, it will probably always be frightened by dogs and show fear aggression around them. Cats have amazing memories and will be fearful of someone or something that has hurt them for a long time. Cats that have been teased by children may show fear aggression towards all children. They are worried that the teasing will occur again.
If your cat is fearful, there are some things you can do to help it.
- Instead of allowing visitors to pick up and pet your cat, have them offer trips instead.
- Make sure you bring your new kitten into a quiet and predictable environment, not one with lots of unpredictable goings on. If you are planning to move, postpon getting your kitten until you are in your new house. Bringing a kitten into a chaotic house full of packing boxes and furniture being moved is a recipe for disaster.
- Make sure that your children do not chase the cat or tease it.
- Keep the kittens food and litter tray in a quiet area without much traffic. A good idea is the laundry or basement but not close to washing machines or dryers.
- Choose your kitten carefully. Make sure it has been socialized with different people from around two weeks old. Be wary of getting your kitten from friends, especially if they are a 'working household' as the kittens may have had little or no human contact.
- If you are choosing a kitten in a pet shop, ask how long the kittens have been in the shop. If it is longer than a few days, you can be fairly sure they have not had much human contact over that time. Instead, they have been in a glass 'cage' with strangers staring at them and tapping the glass. This would be terrifying for a kitten.
- Never take a kitten that is younger than eight weeks old. It needs this time with its litters to socialize properly.
- Choose a kitten that looks confident, curious and friendly. If it appears at all timid, look for a different one.
- Socialize your kitten as much as possible when you bring it home.
By being aware of your kitten or cat's body language, you will be able to be prepared for any signs of fear aggression. If you notice your kitten or cat is showing signs of becoming frangible, talk to it in a gentle voice and get down on the same level by sitting on the floor. Do not be too close as you do not want to frighten it further. Keep talking to it gently and when it calms down, reach out your hand and let it come to you. By doing this when your kitten is afraid, it will learn to trust you and will then be able to create a bond with you. With patience and love, your scared kitten will grow into a well adjusted cat that will be a joy to your family for many years.