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  1. cats training and behavior

My Cat Is Aggressive Towards Guests: What To Do During Holiday Gatherings

Posted by Dr. Roth on November 22, 2022

Wellness Care
Training & Behavior
What to do if?
Stress & Anxiety
My Cat Is Aggressive Towards Guests: What To Do During Holiday Gatherings

A sweet cat can change their behavior in minutes when visitors arrive, making their parents wary of inviting guests over for special occasions.

Fuzzy members can learn several positive strategies detailed below to help their cats adapt to having company over. Pet guardians who know how to calm an aggressive cat can create a safe home for themselves and their visitors.

Why Cats Sometimes Get Aggressive Around Visitors

Cats are often aggressive toward people who they don't know. This is especially true for adopted cats who were abused or neglected. When their new guardians host an event, they might discover their cat is aggressive toward guests even if the cat has never displayed this behavior before.

There are several types of aggression, and it's important for pet parents to discover and treat the specific cause of aggressive behavior, especially if they want to have guests over for the holidays.

If a cat is suddenly aggressive toward one person or several people, there could be numerous reasons. Cats display territorial aggression, so they could simply be protecting their home from invaders. They live in a small territory and expect their environment to be consistent. Cats with a tendency toward territorial aggression may also display guarding behavior, such as protecting their litter box.

Like people, some cats don't like being touched without permission. A cat might have petting-induced aggression if they become upset when a visitor tries to pet them. If a cat has kittens, they're likely to show maternal aggression. 

All cats may display pain-induced aggression if they're silently suffering from a previously undetected ailment, such as arthritis. Their discomfort might make them irritable, and they might become aggressive when a visitor touches a sore area.

How To Help Your Cat Cope With Guests

Ideally, cat parents should train kittens to be open to changes in their environment from three weeks old. If a kitten starts life by interacting with people, they'll be more accepting of strangers as they grow older.

However, cats can be introduced to pleasant experiences with new people at any age, teaching them that visitors are a good thing.

Introduce Friends and Family Members in Smaller Numbers When Possible

A cat will adjust to having visitors around if they have a positive interaction with a new person or a few people before gradually meeting larger groups of people. Pet parents should ensure that the person they choose for their cat's first meeting is someone who is comfortable around cats and knows how to respond to them.

Their guardians can also request that visitors avoid strong fragrances like perfumes or tobacco since these unfamiliar scents increase a cat's stress levels.

Learn Cat Body Language To Know What's Normal and What Isn't

Pet parents can look for signs of aggression in cats, such as changes in their body posture. A cat could be feeling nervous, anxious, fearful, or irritated if they show any of the following signs:

  • Whiskers held flat against their face

  • Ears held back against their head 

  • Tail bristling or twitching back and forth

A cat might be so scared of a visitor that they'll dash away when the guest arrives. If the person attempts to get closer, the cat might scratch at them to protect themselves from a perceived threat.

Be Proactive With Positive Reinforcement Training for an Anxious Cat

Positive reinforcement training can help an aggressive cat deal with stress in a healthy way and change the way they respond to anxiety stimuli.

For example, cat parents can pair a guest's arrival with something their cat enjoys. A visitor could sit far away while a cat eats a treat or plays with a toy. The cat will eventually learn to be more relaxed around visitors if they associate them with something good.

A veterinary behaviorist can help pet parents identify anxious behavior and reduce physical contact before a cat becomes aggressive. A cat should be allowed to escape to a safe space whenever they show signs of anxiety. This gives them time to calm down and react in a more desirable way to perceived threats.

Desensitization is a training strategy that repeatedly exposes a cat to a specific anxiety stimulus under controlled conditions. Cats are exposed to this stimulus slowly, so they learn not to respond with anxiety. That exposure is accompanied by rewards whenever a cat stays relaxed and doesn't display aggression or fear.

For example, cat parents could allow their cats to sit safely inside their home and watch visitors in their yard from a distance.

Try Cat Stress and Anxiety Medication

Cat anxiety medication can help mitigate a pet's stressors. Veterinarians usually prescribe these only in severe cases. Some medications, like antidepressants, take time to work. Others are fast-acting, and cats can take them right before a triggering event.

Veterinarians might recommend that cats try calming aids such as pheromone collars before using medication. Pheromone collars, sprays, and diffusers mimic cat pheromones and help calm pets by telling them that their environment is safe. Pet parents can use sprays on scratching poles and other areas around their home to calm anxious or aggressive cats.

Create a Holiday Environment That's Safe, Comfortable, and Cat-Friendly

Many cats respond well to behavior modification, so their guardians can use training to create a holiday environment that's safe for everyone in their family. Parents should also have rules that protect their cat whenever anyone visits.

Pet parents should not allow visitors to scold, reach for, or touch their cat. They should also provide a safe and quiet place their cat can escape to if they feel overwhelmed.

Prepare for the Holidays With Proper Cat Training Exercises

Many cats become anxious whenever their environment changes, but their parents can use proper training exercises to help them overcome it. When necessary, anti-anxiety medication can be used before an event to decrease a cat's distress, or pet parents can discuss long-term medication with their vet.

Sign up for a Fuzzy membership today and talk with a veterinarian in minutes about training and other strategies that help reduce cat anxiety.

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