When getting a cat, most people recommend deciding if you want a male or female in advance. After all, this usually affects how territorial, aggressive, disruptive, or messy the animal will be. Some say that male cats are more aggressive, while others swear that female cats are more feisty.
In unfixed cats, males are most aggressive, particularly towards other cats. However, when in heat or protecting a litter, females can be aggressive towards humans or other female cats. When fixed, both male and females tend to be mellow and less aggressive. Research shows that males have a tendency to instigate aggressive conflicts. Females are more independent of their owners, but social and affectionate toward other female cats.
The most aggressive breeds are Turkish vans, angoras, korats, bengals, devon rexes, and Russian blues. Keep in mind that, while these are the trends, personalities and temperaments are not always cut in stone. Even the nicest cat breeds can be aggressive. You will need to understand what can trigger aggression in cats, regardless of their nature or sex.
Why Do Cats Suddenly Become More Aggressive?
Much like humans, cats can suddenly become more aggressive. This can be toward:
- Their owners
- Visitors or household members
- Other cats in the home
If your cat suddenly becomes more aggressive, think about the context of the aggression. You may be able to find the source. The most common explanation is fear. When cats are scared, they automatically become more defensive.
Cats and humans share many biochemical reactions when they feel defensive rage. Researchers believe that Substance P, a neurotransmitter, could be the key area of the brain that’s responsible for aggression out of a need to defend oneself. That’s according to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. This pairs with the:
- Bed nucleus of the stria terminalis
- Septal area
- Cingulate gyrus
- Prefrontal cortex
All of these areas work to not only trigger anger, aggression, and defensive rage. They also work to regulate its intensity when the body feels it needs to protect itself. For cats most of all, the reason for their aggression is the need to defend themselves. If it does not feel safe, your cat will lash out because it:
- Thinks that it’s cornered
- Smells a nearby predator
- Is traumatized after a vet visit
Aggression in Cats Towards Humans
Cats show aggression toward humans differently than toward other cats. People don’t exist within a cat’s social hierarchy. As the bigger creature, most cats also know that we’re not worth challenging.
As such, a cat that’s defensive or attacks a person usually does so unintentionally. It may also have been provoked by a human and felt it had no choice. Because it’s circumstantial, males and females react in equal ways toward humans. You won’t find one sex more likely to attack a human than another.
Cats play with each other (and their human owners) as a way to refine their hunting skills. This can take the form of:
- Batting with their paws
It’s not intending to hurt people. However, we’re not designed to play-fight like cats do, so it can be painful.
According to the College of Veterinary Medicine, most kittens learn boundaries and how much force to apply when they play-fight with other cats. If your cat was poorly socialized or separated from the litter too early, it may not understand when to hold back. This can make it seem like the cat is full-on attacking you, when it means no harm.
This can also impact a cat’s ability to separate a play-fight from real aggression. The more engaged it becomes in the play, the less it holds back. As a result, its real hunting instincts may begin to kick in, and it goes overboard.
When cats get riled, they often switch gears into real aggression. That’s even truer for poorly socialized cats that didn’t learn how to regulate their instincts from their mothers or litter mates.
Cats may get overstimulated by repeated petting or pestering. We may want to be affectionate with our cats all the time, but that’s not always what our cats want. If you cannot pick up on your cat’s body language, it may resort to aggressive tactics.
Aggression induced by touch can also be a sign of pain or discomfort. Take great care in assessing your feline friend’s health if it seems to be adverse to any kind of physical stimulation.
Aggression in Cats Towards Other Cats
On the flip side, aggression toward other cats is usually intentional. There are 3 main causes:
- Social hierarchy
- Territorial aggression
- Personality clash
Although cats don’t establish a permanent hierarchy, they do have one. It’s constantly in flux as one cat decides to take command over the other, based on what it wants and when. If two cats get into a fight over a sunning spot, for example, it doesn’t mean that spot belongs to the winning cat forever. The losing cat is more than welcome to take it back, if it can.
That means cats often need to reestablish boundary lines and a dominant status. This leads to small (or sometimes large) conflicts, depending on how the cats get along.
Are Male Cats More Territorial?
Territorial aggression is more common among unfixed males. They are more willing to defend a spot and try to hold on to their claim, rather than giving it up because it’s not worth the fight. For males, the fight usually is worth it.
This happens more often between two male cats, rather than between a male and a female. However, females can exhibit territorial aggression as well. This is likely if the female is in heat or has kittens in a specific area she wishes to protect.
Sometimes, aggression among cats happens because their personalities clash. When cats that do not get along are forced to socialize, this can result in sudden fights.
What Are the Most Aggressive Cats?
A study published in the National Library of Medicine observed 5,726 different domestic cats across different breeds for various behaviors. Researchers found that:
- Turkish van and angora breeds were the most aggressive toward both humans and other cats.
- Korats and bengals were the runner ups.
- Korats, devon rexes, and Russian blues were the most aggressive toward strangers.
However, this is only a generalization. Individuals within cat breeds may not exhibit the same levels of aggression that many members of their breed do. There will always be exceptions, because so many other factors contribute to aggressive behavior, such as:
- Individual personality
- Social experience
In fact, many owners of Turkish vans, angoras, and korats pleasantly find that they are very sociable and nicer than people think. Owning a male of this breed doesn’t guarantee that you will have a vicious cat. Likewise, owning a female of a more docile breed won’t mean that you automatically have a mellow cat.
Are Male or Female Cats Friendlier?
When cats are unfixed, it’s easy to say that the males are more aggressive. However, once a cat is no longer intact, this muddles the definition.
Hormones play a vital role in a cat’s behavior and reaction patterns. When it’s fixed, and how successfully it’s fixed, can impact the results.
Likewise, personality is a massive contributing factor. A fixed female can still be more aggressive than an unfixed male, if she feels like it. Likewise, when comparing two fixed males, one can mellow out significantly, while the other doesn’t, just because of its unique personality.
If you’re deciding to adopt a cat, though, you want to hedge your bets. Let’s explore the differences between males and females, fixed and unfixed, so you can have a greater chance of picking a docile cat.
Unfixed Male vs. Female Cat Behavior
Unfixed cats are also referred to as intact, unneutered (males), or unspayed (females). They have differential levels of aggression due to their hormones. Neutering a male and spaying a female removes the key organ that stimulates the production of testosterone and estrogen, respectively.
These hormones are often associated with aggression. That’s because they are correlated with increased territorial and reproductive behaviors. Each of these is linked to competition. As such, aggression towards other cats, even towards other humans, will occur if:
- Their territory is disturbed
- They feel their mates (or access to a mate) is threatened.
According to Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, intact male cats roam more often. They are also more likely to guard a larger territory when compared to fixed males. This can result in an increased number of fights among other cats. A larger territory means higher chances of trespassing, whether it is intentional or not.
Unneutered males also guard a larger territory to increase their chances of finding a mate. Aggressive behavior will occur much more frequently during mating season, as they compete with other male cats for mates.
Female cats are also territorial, but not to the same extent as males. They defend much smaller territories. However, they are still aggressive towards other cats and humans if trespassing occurs. This is more prominent in females that are protecting a litter.
Are Female Cats Aggressive in Heat?
A female cat that has not been spayed will still have her reproductive organs. These include the:
- Fallopian tubes
Therefore, she will be capable of entering heat cycles. Heat cycles, also called estrous cycles, refer to a time period in which female cats are sexually receptive. Cats are “seasonally polyestrous.” This means that female cats will experience several estrous or heat cycles within a single breeding season.
Female cats in heat can be aggressive, but not always how you’d imagine. Heat cycles are characterized by the increased production of reproductive hormones. As such, your female cat may become aggressively affectionate. She will become more vocal and demand an extreme amount of attention from you.
According to Physiology & Behavior, aggression during heat cycles can take the form of clawing and biting. Females in heat become more restless. Depending on the individual, she may become more moody and direct unwarranted aggression towards people or other cats.
Fixed Male vs. Female Cat Behavior
Contrary to popular opinion, aggressive behaviors directed at humans or other cats were seen more often in fixed female cats. The main culprits aren’t fixed males.
Spayed female cats also tend to be more fearful than neutered males. This may contribute to their higher levels of aggression.
Fixed males tend to be significantly more loving, friendly, and playful after their operation. However, they are much more likely to urine mark their territory than female cats, even after being fixed. In contrast, female cats tend to be more social and friendly with other female cats. An exception will only be if the females have a clash of personality.
Of course, this trend may not be set in stone. According to Applied Animal Behavior Science, 65% of fixed males and only 35% of fixed females were found to be the aggressor toward other cats. Among the sample, there was a slightly higher amount of:
- Intermale aggression when compared to male-to-female aggression
- Interfemale aggression cases when compared to female-to-male aggression
This shows that feline personalities and temperaments are more plastic than we tend to believe. That’s especially true if they are neutered or spayed.
Lack of Aggression in Hand-Reared Cats
The research above also noted how the rearing of the cats impacted the study. For instance, if kittens received positive experiences with other cats and people, they were more likely to grow up and:
- Exhibit less aggressive behaviors
- Have a friendlier temperament
- Be more sociable
As such, the most important factor is how your cat is raised. A properly socialized and well-loved cat will be the most docile, no matter its sex.
Not all male cats are X and all female cats are Y. You also cannot judge a cat’s behavior based on its breed. Trends are not everything. Many factors can contribute to a cat’s level of aggression.
It is also important to define what aggression means to you. Some people consider microaggressions, such as different postures or vocalizations, as mean behavior, but you may not.
Just keep in mind that not all males are going to want to engage in fights. Likewise, not all female cats are independent souls. Ultimately, you should choose a cat based on how it’s raised and how much training you’re willing to devote.