Aggressive and Assertive Behaviour in Cats

Aggressive and Assertive Behaviour in Cats

Coupled with the very expressive vocal communication of the cat and the use of the tail as a flag or weapon, there are other recognizable ways in which cats can express their mood. Notable is the bunching together of the four paws, the arching of the back and the overall erection of hair, particularly along the spine, with the head drawn in and the ears flattened when the cat is angry or making aggressive gestures to another cat. This is usually accompanied by growling and spitting, all designed of course to persuade the other animal that it is encountering a superior representative of the species and should make discretion the better part of valour. Unfortunately, the opposing cat sometimes decides to stand its ground and this results in fighting with claws out, fur fluffed out, which in fact protects the skin by increasing the depth of the barrier of hair, and a great deal of angry yowling, spitting and growling. When the weaker cat has had enough it will race away out of danger, often miaowing, which really does sound for all the world as if he is saying ‘it’s not fair, he is bigger than me and I didn’t start it anyway’. It is a sort of disgruntled noise with a slightly pitiful note.

The victor will often then display a characteristic which is seen at other times and is sometimes described as a form of displacement activity. It consists of vigorous washing of the body in a totally absorbed manner as if to rid the animal’s mind of what has happened and show that it doesn’t really care anyway. Displacement licking often occurs when an animal has been picked up against its wishes, particularly by strangers whose body smell is unfamiliar. It is also used when the animal is scolded by its owner or is called and does not wish to respond. It is an interesting behaviour pattern and is intended to imply an attitude of self-contained indifference or ‘how dare you pick me up’ or ‘your lips are moving but I can’t hear you’.

Ears are also used by cats in communication. Ears pricked up, with the tail held high, demonstrates just the opposite of displacement licking, namely, T am listening to you, I am alert and responsive’. The ear is also pricked forwards and slightly flattened during hunting to concentrate all minute sounds of the potential quarry, such as the rustling of a mouse in the dry grass or a bird in the leaves of an ivy-covered wall.

In anger, the ears are flattened to the head although sometimes this occurs when a cat is being stroked and is purring contentedly. A sleeping cat that is summoned but chooses not to react, or hears unattractive loud noises such as shouting or loud music, will flick its ears as a gesture of disinterest or discomfort. This should not, of course, be confused with the flicking of the ears followed by scratching which occurs when ear mites are present.

Paws are used mainly to express pleasure by the kneading motion already referred to. They can also express displeasure when a cat sitting down, unhappy with the behaviour of a nearby cat or dog, will raise one paw with pads and even claws extended to bat the offending animal on any part of it as it is passing. This treatment is also applied to humans and, as an extension of this, it is not uncommon for a cat, either in play or possibly in some sort of sublimated sexuality, to leap on the legs of an unsuspecting owner and dig its claws in. The possibility that there is a sexual connotation to this is simply based on the fact that this action is often part of the love/hate way in which cats mate.

Many cats dislike whistling noises and it is not uncommon for cats to go up to a whistling owner, if he or she is sitting or lying down, and place a warning and unmistakeable paw over the mouth. Alternatively, the same paw may be patted affectionately against the cheek or neck.

All these general remarks apply to cats of all types and breeds. However, it would be an omission not to refer specifically to the Siamese. The power of communication of this particular variety of cat has certainly resulted in many people comparing it with a dog rather than another cat. There is something particularly persuasive about the vocal range of a Siamese and there is no question that if they could learn to bark they would exploit that facility also. Whereas most cats will respond when spoken to, Siamese will not only speak to you persistently and at maximum volume, but they will even do this when they are left alone, often to the annoyance of neighbours.