Celia Haddon - Cat Expert

Understanding animals through their behaviour


Willie crouches in fear. He bites when feeling cornered.


Aggressive cats are usually, though not always, frightened cats. Never ever punish: it is likely to make aggression worse. Read Cats that are aggressive to humans. Nipping when the skin is not broken is not biting. Biting must be taken seriously when the teeth go right into the skin. The deep bite usually needs antibiotics before there is any sign of swelling.

Frightened cats will often be crouched with their legs and tails tucked under the body. Before your cat scratches or bites, there will be warning signs. Though petting and biting cats seem to switch without warning from purring to biting, this simply means that we are missing the warnings which can be quite subtle. They are:

a) Dilated pupils.

b) Tail twitching.

c) Freezing. These are mini freezes. For a second or two the cat goes completely still. Most people miss these but they predict trouble. Try to learn to spot them.

d). Ears back. Easy to see. Whiskers stiff. Less easy to see.

e) Hissing, spitting or growling. This is bad and it is important to KEEP OUT OF RANGE. This is like a dog’s growl before a bite. It is a warning.

f). Lifted paw. This is a paw ready to scratch – not a cat wanting to shake hands!

g). Cats that are chattering their teeth at birds or who are highly excited by pouncing games, may turn on you if you get in the way. Let them calm down before handling them.

h). Fighting cats. You will get severely bitten if you intervene.

i.) Head lowered, body sometimes lowered, before the cat pounces on you – this only applies to cats who are hunting/attacking their humans as if they were mice! Bored cats may do this kind of aggressive play. It’s a different kind of aggression.


a) Think out what you want to do with the cat, and work out how to do it.  IN ADVANCE. This might mean getting help from a friend if you have to corner and pick up a feral cat. Or it might mean training a cat with food to tolerate brushing. Or training the cat to enter its carrier by feeding the cat in it.

b). Use food or toys to move your cat around (for example off kitchen surfaces) without handling or grabbing. Maybe even teach him recall, ie to come when you call him.

c). If you must handle the cat, wear gloves, long thick sleeves and thick trousers. Put on glasses, sun glasses or DIY eyewear, the sort used with strimmers  – this is very important if you are handling a feral.

d). Be patient. Take advice. Don’t grab at a cat.

e). If you lose your temper or things go wrong, wait till you have cooled down. Also give the cat time to cool down.


a). These cats are frightened and frightened cats are aggressive. They easily feel threatened. You can reassure them by ignoring them as much as possible. Don’t even stare – staring is a threat to cats. Pretend they are invisible.

b.) Try always to leave them a way to escape or move away from you. Cats prefer flight to fight. Cornered cats, however, have no option but to fight.

c). If you come across them, you should retreat if possible or stand still. It is reassuring and rewarding for them if you step back.

d). Get low down so that you do not tower over them (though not if you think they are going to attack you!).

e). Glasses intensify your stare. If, and only if, you are a safe distance try taking off your glasses. If there is any question of attack leave them on as they will protect your eyes.

f.)  Do not speak loudly, shout or squeal with pain.


Children should be kept away from frightened and aggressive cats. Even friendly cats should not be left with babies without human supervision. Unpredictable noises and movements by toddlers can be very scary for frightened cats, which should never be left alone with them without supervision. Very difficult or aggressive cats will be happier in homes without young children.


a) Do not pull your hand or limb away from the cat. Let it go floppy. This is difficult to do but if you do pull away, the scratch becomes longer and bigger. A bite also does more damage if you pull away. Wait for up to several minutes until the cat withdraws its teeth or claws.

b) Do not hit or punish the cat. It will get more aggressive out of desperation. You will get even more severely attacked. This is for your own safety! It is also pointless, as a highly aroused cat will learn nothing from punishment.

c.) Clean scratches with soap and water and put on disinfectant type stuff like Betadine.

d.) Go to minor injuries clinic or doctor if bitten. Cats’ mouths have bugs in them.

e.) If you have a compromised immune system (HIV, cancer treatment, elderly, already ill) ALWAYS get medical advice for any cat injury, even a minor scratch.

f.) Keep tetanus vaccinations up to date.




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