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Brentwood Family Pet Care

What to Do About Dog and Cat Aggression

Dog and cat laying underneath blanket

If a dog becomes stiff or rigid and snarls or lets out a low, guttural bark, you should be on your guard. This could lead to more destructive and dangerous behavior, like snapping and biting. Even the most gentle and loving dog can be provoked into an aggressive response. After all, dogs descend from wolves, and aggression in the wild is about survival.

Aggression in our companion canines, however, is usually about something in their environment that they don’t like or can’t control. Dog aggression can many different forms, including:

  • Fear-, frustration-, and pain-based

  • Territorial

  • Protective

  • Possessive

  • Defensive

  • Social

  • Sex-related

  • Predatory

Some aggressive behaviors are the direct result of a medical condition, so you should always begin by consulting your veterinarian. We can help you either rule out or diagnose disease, illness, or chronic pain as the root of the problem.

If the issue isn’t physical, we recommend that you consult a professional behavioral counselor, who can help pinpoint your dog’s specific triggers and develop a treatment plan tailored to your pet’s needs and lifestyle.

Aggression in cats is typically the result of fear and the responses can be offensive or defensive. A cat on the offense wants to make himself seem larger and more intimidating. To that end, he might hiss, spit, growl, scratch, or even bite if he feels threatened or trapped. You might also notice a stiff tail or legs and constricted pupils. A defensive response is more about trying to seem smaller and to lure a person or other animal into a false sense of security.

Signs of defensive behavior in cats include:

  • Crouching

  • Flattening of the ears

  • Tucking the tail

  • Pupil dilation

  • Rolling onto the side

Like dogs, cats can also be territorial. Sometimes they prefer one member of your household over another, and they don’t always get along with other pets in the home. Redirected aggression, or that which is inspired by one thing but then taken out on someone or something else, can be particularly damaging and frightening because it seems to come out of the blue. Your cat might also attack out of pain, annoyance, or the maternal or predatory extinct. Finally, there’s the maddening chance you might never know exactly where your cat’s aggressive behavior comes from.

If your cat becomes aggressive in the home, begin by leaving him or her alone until she calms down. Then consult your veterinarian who will, as in the case with canine aggression, refer you to a behavioral counselor. Neutered males also tend to be less aggressive than unaltered males, so “fixing” your male cat will cut down on problematic behaviors.

Have questions? Think your pet might need to be examined for a possible underlying condition or might need behavioral counseling? Don’t hesitate to give us a call at (925) 240-7387. We would love to help in any way we can.