Why Is This Cat Aggressive Around House Guests?

The house guests were told that Blizzard was a little edgy. But I don’t think we were truly prepared for the hissing and spitting.

The calm before the storm: House guests activate Blizzard's wild side.
The calm before the storm: House guests activate Blizzard’s wild side.

Although we had never met until recently, there is an ongoing bond, of sorts, between me and Blizzard, my youngest son’s cat.

Blizzard is often referred to as my “grandkitty” (since I have no grandchildren yet), and I jokingly tell Wade that whenever my friends pull out their brag books showing me cute photos of their grandchildren, I, in return, feel compelled to pull out my brag book and show off pictures of my precious grandkitty.

Last month, while visiting Wade and meeting Blizzard for the first time, I found my expectations squashed. It definitely was not the best of introductions. Blizzard (a female) did not display quite the temperament I had hoped my first grand would have!

Just a Little Edgy

When my husband and I arrived at Wade’s apartment, two other house guests (his longtime girlfriend’s parents) were just leaving following a two-week stay. A few hours after our arrival, my oldest son and his wife joined for the weekend.

This overabundance of company all at once is enough to make any person excited and anxious (much less a cat), so we were all informed that Blizzard was a little “edgy” with all the intruders in her home. It was no big surprise when she began hissing and spitting at each person as he or she entered the premises.

Hoping things would mellow out over time, my son would tell me to walk by the cat as nonchalantly as possible — that’s kinda hard to do when you are shaking inside and out.

Each time I attempted to go to another room, or go upstairs, there was the cat, eyes dilated, hissing and growling. Before my five-day visit ended, things had gotten a little better, but I hadn’t gotten any braver. Wade insisted that this was not normal behavior for his cat, and hoped that she would get back to her old self eventually. Thankfully, according to him, she became his sweetie again a few days after we left.

But it got me wondering: Why did his cat get so aggressive around house guests?

When Cats Become Territorial

I did some research. According to Dr. Letrisa Miller, MS, DVM, behavior of this nature is common whenever cats have not been socialized and are used to being in total charge of their living space. Visitors are looked upon as intruders.

Dr. Ron Hines, DVM, Ph.D., says some cats are even more territorial than dogs. When frightened, they get into position by crouching with their ears laid back, tails curled inward and bodies tilted away from what they see as a potential threat. Lashing and clawing, with eyes dilated, they may hiss and show their teeth. The hair on their body may also stand up.

The ASPCA reports that cats have five defense weapons — their teeth and four clawed paws. Cat bites or lacerations can easily become infected and may also cause cat scratch fever, a potentially serious infectious disease with flu-like symptoms.

Treating Aggression

Aggressive cats can pose a real danger to family and guests. It is important to obtain a medical workup on any suddenly aggressive feline; sometimes the aggression is a result of a medical problem. Then, a qualified behaviorist can complete a behavior history on your pet and develop a treatment plan to meet her needs.

If you have a cat that becomes aggressive around house guests, the following tips may be helpful:

  • In the weeks before the guests arrive, get your cat used to being touched by gently rubbing her head. Stroking her back and tail, talk softly to her. After each petting session, give her a treat.
  • When planning to entertain guests, relocate the litter box, as well as the cat’s feeding dish and water bowl. Place them where she will not have to deal with the guests (“intruders”) to get to them.
  • Let your guests know that your pet is not friendly. Ask them to watch their children. Finally, ask the guests to refrain from playing power games with (in other words, taunting) your cat or doing things that may intimidate her.

There are anxiety-reducing products available like ComfortZone along with Feliway, which can be plugged in four to five days before guests are expected. Your veterinarian, in consultation with you, may also prescribe Valium for short periods of stress in your pet.

I don’t know if Blizzard and I will ever have a close relationship. Living hundreds of miles apart doesn’t make it likely. But I truly believe that if I ever have the chance to be around her for a month or so, she will become my grandkitty.