Cats are beautifully inscrutable creatures. They’re curious, loving, often playful—and notoriously difficult to calm when angry or upset.
What works for one cat won’t necessarily work for another, and that’s part of the challenge for new pet parents learning the personality and needs of their felines. Here’s what pet parents need to know about how to calm cats that are anxious, angry, or aggressive—starting with how the cat got that way.
What Triggers Cat Anxiety?
Just like human anxiety, all cat anxiety has a cause. Sometimes it has to do with something that happened to the cat in the past. Other times it’s just based on how the cat is wired. Some common triggers of feline anxiety include:
Changes in routine
Cats are very sensitive to habit. A small change can make them nervous. Sometimes the culprit is something as simple as the pet parent working different hours or rearranging the furniture.
Cats can develop age-related memory loss and confusion, and this is just as distressing for kitties as it is for older humans.
Pain or illness
Many cats get nervous when they don’t feel well. If a normally calm cat seems out of sorts, look for other signs of kitty illness like lethargy and lack of appetite.
Like humans, cats can become anxious if something triggers a trauma from their past. Look for patterns—do they get anxious right after something specific happens? Do they dislike certain people, noises, or sounds?
Some cats, especially those that have been abused or repeatedly surrendered, develop separation anxiety. These cats will follow their pet parents around and will become distressed when they see signs that their parent is about to leave.
Calming a cat is much easier when the problem is clear. Watch for patterns and look at what the cat does naturally. Do they crawl into a human lap or go off on their own to hide under the couch?
Cat Anger and Aggression Triggers
Anxiety isn’t the only reason a cat might need to take a time-out. Just like some cats have nervous dispositions, others have hair-trigger tempers and are quick to anger. Fear often turns into aggression, but there are other common triggers for cat anger as well. They include:
Handling-induced aggression - Getting angry when they’re overstimulated by petting or grooming.
Pain-driven aggression - When something hurts, a cat may attack if they think something will make it worse.
Redirected aggression - The cat gets excited and can’t respond directly, so they act out against another cat or a human.
- Status or territorial aggression - Cats act out against other cats to establish dominance.
If something makes a cat aggressive, it’s best to keep the cat away from that situation. If that’s not possible—for example, if the cat acts out against another cat in the house—consult a veterinarian for behavior management tips. Fuzzy offers 24/7 Live Vet Chat support for these types of questions.
Anxiety vs. Aggression: What’s the Difference?
Managing an angry cat is different than managing an anxious cat, even if the anger comes from an underlying fear.
An anxious cat:
- Avoids eye contact
- Flicks their tail
- Hisses, spits, or growls
- Pulls their tail close to their body
- Shies away from what scares them
An angry cat:
- Looks ready to attack—fur standing on end, head tilted, ears back
- Has dilated pupils
If a cat has crossed the line into anger, don’t try to cuddle or pet them. The latter may come across as approval of aggressive behavior. Instead, step away from the cat and give them some space. Once the cat is no longer actively aggressive, it’s possible to address and soothe the underlying feelings of anxiety or anger.
Soothing a Cat: How to Do It?
Soothing a cat is all about finding out what triggers them, keeping them away from that situation as much as possible, and finding the right calming technique to use when needed.
How to Calm Cats
Effective methods, apart from keeping them away from what triggers them, include:
- Alone time, if the cat feels more comfortable solo
- Good old-fashioned cuddles, if the cat is amenable and not feeling aggressive
- Pheromone sprays
Prescription anxiety medications
When something works, stick with it. And don’t overlook those calming aides like chews, catnip, familiar scent sprays, and good old fashioned affection.
Catnip 101: Calming Cats
Catnip can be a great tool for calming cats. Even if it makes a cat excited at first, they’ll usually calm down after that first hyperactive half-hour. It’s a chemical reaction that works for 70% to 80% of cats—so it’s definitely worth a try.
Need Professional Help Relieving Cat Anxiety?
Because cats are so different, it helps to talk one-on-one with a qualified veterinarian. To get answers, become a Fuzzy member today and use our 24/7 Live Vet Chat to learn in real-time about how to calm a nervous, angry, or aggressive cat.