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Mean in Cats

Why is my cat mean?

What is Mean?

It can be very scary and upsetting to see your adopted kitty suddenly hissing, growling, scratching and trying to bite.  She is aggressive toward you and the other animals of the household. The more you try to pet her, the more she gets upset.

Aggression is the second most common behavior problem seen in cats.  Superficial cat scratches should be thoroughly cleaned and treated with an antiseptic ointment. Bites or deep scratches should be seen by a doctor. A physician will treat the wound and may prescribe an oral antibiotic.  Cat bites that are not treated have an 80% chance of becoming infected.

You are wondering what can cause a good cat to become aggressive.  The reason for the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde transformation may be:

  • Feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD)
  • Arthritis
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Dental issues
  • Territorial reasons
  • Redirected aggression

An aggressive cat can be a dangerous cat in the household, especially if there are small children.  It is important to find the underlying cause for the aggression. Some conditions, which cause aggression, can be very detrimental to the health of the cat.

Why Mean Occurs in Cats

The reason the cat is being “mean” and aggressive may be from:

Feline Cognitive Dysfunction (FCD)

Feline cognitive dysfunction affects more than 50% of cats aged 11 to 15 years and rises to 80% in cats 16 to 20 years old. FCD can cause confusion and disorientation.  The cat may forget where his food bowls are or where his litter box is.  The deterioration of his memory can cause the cat to be confused, disoriented, scared and aggressive.


Arthritis is the inflammation of the joints. It can be a very painful condition, which can cause the cat to be “mean”. 

Certain cat breeds have an increased chance of developing arthritis due to genetic joint problems. Maine Coon, Persians and Siamese cats are prone to develop hip dysplasia. Scottish Fold cats have a mutated gene, which causes abnormalities of the cartilage.  The abnormalities of the cartilage cause severe arthritis to occur. Arthritis may also be triggered by an injury or trauma.


Hyperthyroidism is a common condition in cats, in which the thyroid gland is overactive.  Hyperthyroidism can cause high blood pressure, weight loss, anxiety and irritability.

Dental Issues

Your cat may have gingivitis, periodontal disease, fractured tooth or a loose tooth. Dental issues can be quite painful, which can be making your cat “mean”.

Territorial Issues

Cats are territorial animals that may direct their territorial aggression toward other animals or people. A new pet in the household may trigger territorial aggression.  Sometimes a move or a new room-mate may make the cat feel he has to define his territory. 

Redirected Aggression

Redirected aggression occurs when a cat is agitated at an animal or person out of his reach so he decides to attack whoever comes near him.  This type of aggression is very common in cats. At first it may appear as the attack was unprovoked and “out of the blue”. Then you realize that your cat was having a stare down with the neighbor’s cat.

What to do if your Cat is Mean

If your cat is being “mean” and aggressive toward you or other animals he should be examined by a veterinarian.  The veterinarian can help find the underlying cause of the meanness.  

The veterinarian may want to go over the cat’s medical history.  He will perform a physical examination on the patient.  The veterinarian will determine the overall condition of your cat. The doctor may recommend blood work, a urinalysis, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and x-rays.

Cats diagnosed with FCD may be prescribed an anti-anxiety medication.  The veterinarian may recommend a diet rich in Vitamin E and antioxidants.  Adding an additional, low litter box in a part of the house other than the usual place may help him not to soil in the house.  

Arthritis in cats may be treated with NSAIDs.  Dietary supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin may help reduce inflammation. Houses with stairs may need a ramp installed for the cat.  Stairs can be very painful to use with swollen joints.  Acupuncture and massage therapy may be beneficial for an arthritic cat.

Patients with hyperthyroidism will be prescribed antithyroid drugs to help reduce the production of the thyroid hormone. Radioactive-iodine therapy may also be suggested.   

Cats with dental issues may be referred to a veterinary dentist.  Cats with behavior problems may benefit from having new toys, cat towers, a set routine pattern, and regular play time.  An animal behaviorist may also help to develop a treatment activity plan for your cat.  Please do not consider declawing your cat.  Studies have shown that cats that are declawed may become more aggressive. Additionally, declawing is a very painful procedure.

Prevention of Mean

Aggressive play should never be allowed.  If the cat is playing too rough immediately stop playing with her.  Cats enjoy play, so it is important to provide toys and activities.  

Many health conditions may not be prevented but they can be treated to ensure a good quality of life for the cat.  Yearly wellness check may help diagnose conditions in the early stages.

Cost of Mean

The treatment cost will vary depending on the underlying cause of the “meanness”.  For example, arthritis and hyperthyroidism may cost around $500 for treatment. If your dog is diagnosed with gingivitis, the treatments can cost up to $850.

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