Why Is My Cat Mean?

Asking yourself, "why is my cat mean?" Let's get to the root cause of your cat's aggressive behavior.

Cats are known for being skittish and unpredictable at times. However, experiencing mean or aggressive cat behavior can be confusing. You may even think to yourself, “Why is my cat mean?” This behavior is even more surprising if your cat is usually friendly. But don’t worry! In this article, we will discuss your cat’s strange behavior and talk about how to make things better. 

4 Potential Health Issues

Sometimes, cats can behave aggressively because of health problems. Let’s look at some common issues:

1. Feline Cognitive Dysfunction (FCD): This affects the cat’s brain. Like people, cats can experience memory and behavior problems as they get older. FCD affects more than 50% of cats aged 11 to 15 years and rises to 80% in cats 16 to 20 years old. This condition can make them more irritable and aggressive. Signs include confusion, making more noise than usual, or getting easily annoyed. [1]

2. Arthritis: As cats age, arthritis may develop which causes joint pain and inflammation. When they are in pain, they might act grumpy or aggressive. Watch out for signs like not being able to jump, not wanting to play, or changing their grooming habits. [2]

3. Hyperthyroidism: Hyperthyroidism happens when a cat’s thyroid gland becomes too active. It can make them feel restless and irritated, leading to aggression. If your cat seems more grouchy or restless than usual, it’s important to talk to a veterinarian. [3]

4. Dental Issues: Cats can have dental problems too, like cavities or gum diseases. Imagine having a toothache all the time! Cats in pain might become aggressive, especially if you touch their mouth or head. Look for signs such as bad breath, drooling, or difficulty eating. Routine checks with your veterinarian is a way to reduce the chance of dental pain occurring in your cat. [4]

If your cat has none of the health related issues above, keep reading.

9 Different Types of Aggression

Aggression in cats can come in different forms. Let’s understand a few of them:

1. Play Aggression: Kittens, in particular, have a tendency to play in a rough manner. Play aggression is the most common type of aggressive behavior that cats show towards their owners. It involves behaviors like those used during hunting and play, such as stalking, chasing, attacking, running, ambushing, pouncing, leaping, batting, swatting, grasping, fighting, and biting. Long hours spent alone without playtime can also contribute to play aggression. To prevent any harm while your cat learns to play, redirect their play towards appropriate toys and be careful to keep your hands away from those sharp claws! [5]

2. Fear Aggression: When cats feel scared or threatened, they may display fear aggression. This can include hissing, growling, or swatting as a way to defend themselves. Fear aggression often arises in unfamiliar situations, like encountering new people, animals, or loud noises. It can also occur when a cat associates an experience with unpleasant events, such as going to the veterinarian or taking a bath. To help your cat feel more secure, it’s important to create a calm and safe environment. It is crucial not to console an aggressive cat, as it may be seen as approval of the aggression. Additionally, it is important not to retreat or show fear, as this might reinforce the behavior if the cat wants you to back away. Instead, providing less attention is a better approach to handle fear aggression. [6]

3. Petting-induced Aggression: The exact reason behind this type of aggression is not fully understood. However, it is believed that some cats have a limit to how much they enjoy being petted. When they’ve reached their limit, they may become aggressive. It’s their unique way of signaling that they want the petting to stop. Look out for signs like a twitching tail, flattened ears, or a tense body, and be sure to respect their boundaries. It is especially important to supervise cats showing this type of aggression when they are around young children who may not recognize the warning signs of impending aggression. Owners should attempt to keep young children away from cats with a history of petting-induced aggression. [7]

4. Territorial Aggression: Cats are very territorial creatures. They might act aggressive when they feel like their space is being invaded, especially by other cats. If you are planning on introducing a new cat to the family, you might witness this type of aggression. Signs of territorial aggression include spraying, growling, or marking with urine. Remember to take it slow when introducing a new cat to your home. Keep them in separate rooms at first, and then slowly begin to have your cats meet in a controlled way. Always remember, if your cat is being physical with another cat, it is best not to intervene so you don’t get seriously injured. [8]

5. Redirected Aggression: Sometimes, when a cat is frustrated by something they can’t reach or interact with, they may redirect their aggression towards you or another pet. This happens when they can’t get to the source of their frustration. An example of this might be if your cat sees another cat outside of a window, your cat may feel stimulated and may lash out towards you to release their frustrations. It is recommended to look for signs of stress in your cat before petting it. Also, if you see the source of the stimulation, it is best to separate the cat from the stimuli. In the example with the cat outside a window, close the shades so your cat can not see the other cat. [9]

6. Pain-induced Aggression: If a cat is in pain due to an injury or health problem, they might become aggressive as a way to protect themselves. This type of pain is hard to identify, but simply look for clues that indicate that your cat is in pain such as limping, unable to jump, lethargy, etc. It’s important to address their pain and seek proper veterinary care. [10]

7. Status-induced Aggression: When multiple cats live together, they might compete for resources or establish dominance. This can lead to aggression between them. Some examples of this aggression are blocking the doorway with their bodies or swatting at you or other animals for no apparent reason. Providing separate resources and spaces for each cat can help reduce this type of aggression. The most effective approach to deal with status-induced aggression is to completely ignore the offending cat. Any form of attention, including playtime and food rewards, should only be given when the aggressive cat is in a relaxed state. [11]

8. Maternal Aggression: Mother cats, also known as “Queens”, can become aggressive when they’re protecting their kittens. It’s a natural instinct to keep their babies safe. Make sure to provide a calm and quiet area for the mother and her kittens and keep visitors to a minimum. This type of aggression will normally subside as the kittens age and become more independent. If the behavior continues, see guidance from your cat’s veterinarian. [12]

9. Inter-cat Aggression: Cats in the same household might not always get along. This type of aggression is more commonly seen in male cats approaching the age of maturity (Between 2 and 4 years old). Female cats may also demonstrate this aggression, but it is less common. Inter-cat aggression can include fighting, hissing, or blocking access to resources. Territorial aggression, as outlined above, may also be playing a role. Since sexual hormones may play a big role in this type of aggression, you should consider neutering or spaying your cat to address this behavior. If neutering or spaying does not work, separate the cats by providing individual spaces and begin slow introductions in a controlled environment until the aggression stops. [13]

Recognizing Signs of Aggression

Understanding your cat’s body language can help you recognize signs of aggression. Here are a few important cues:

1. Dilated Eyes: When a cat’s eyes look bigger than usual, it might mean they’re feeling aggressive or threatened.

2. Flattened Ears: If a cat pushes its ears back flat against their head, it’s a sign they’re feeling defensive or scared.

3. Erect Tail with Raised Hair: When a cat hold up its tail high and the fur along its length stands up, it’s a sign of aggression or fear. It’s like they’re trying to make themselves look bigger.

4. Arched Back: When a cat arches its back, it means they’re in a defensive posture. The raised fur makes them look larger and more intimidating.

Safety Measures and Treatment

If your cat is acting aggressive, there are several ways you can help them. Here are some things you can do:

1. Consult a Veterinarian: If you notice consistent or worsening aggression in your cat, it’s important to talk to a veterinarian. They can check for any medical issues that might be causing the behavior and recommend the right treatment. This should be your first plan of action.

2. Environmental Enrichment: Cats need mental and physical stimulation. Provide toys, scratching posts, and interactive playtime to keep them engaged and prevent boredom or frustration that can lead to aggression.

3. Behavior Modification: If your cat’s aggression is related to territorial issues, redirected aggression, or problems with other cats, consult a feline behaviorist or trainer. They can give you guidance on how to change their behavior and make them feel more secure.

4. Medication: In some cases, a veterinarian may prescribe medication to help manage aggression, especially if it is caused by an underlying medical condition. Always follow your veterinarian’s advice and keep an eye on your cat during treatment.

Final Thoughts

Understanding why your cat acts mean or aggressive is the first step to finding a solution. By considering health issues like feline cognitive dysfunction, arthritis, hyperthyroidism, and dental problems, and recognizing different types of aggression, you can address the root cause.

With proper veterinary care, environmental enrichment, behavior modification, and, if needed, medication, you can help reduce aggression in your cat. Remember to be patient, show love, and create a safe and nurturing environment for your feline companion.


No, please do not punish your cat when it is mean! You need to find out why your cat is behaving this way. Try some of the safety measures/treatments listed above. Trying to punish your cat would likely make her more aggressive.

This is a common myth, but it is not necessarily true. Certainly in some cases a female cat will be meaner than a male, but it really depends on the personality of the cat and how easily aggravated it is. 

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