My Kitten Has Been Traumatized

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger gives advice on overcoming redirected aggression.

Q: I got a kitten a while ago but then had to give her to a friend. Recently I visited the friend who I gave the kitten to. While I was there, my friend’s uncle brought in a male cat and put the cat right up in my kitten’s face.  My kitten was in heat at the time. I knew this was the wrong thing to do so I tried grabbing her to protect her. She flipped out and scratched me. Since then she has become very mean. She now is attacking or growling whenever she is petted. I am getting her back today and I love her to death but I can’t live with a mean cat. Why is she acting like this and how can I get her to be nice again?

A: I am glad to read you are both taking this little one back and that you are willing to put the time and effort in to change her behavior.

Unfortunately, the actions of your friend’s uncle traumatized the kitten to an extent that she now has negative associations with people. I am assuming from your description of how the kitten reacted, that the male cat was either a stranger to the kitten, or one that the kitten did not feel safe around. Instead of forcing cats to be together or putting them right up to each other, they should be gradually introduced to each other.

Your intervening was understandable, but regrettably resulted in your becoming the recipient of what is called redirected aggression. Instead of defending herself against the other cat, she scratched the closest person, who happened to be you. Unfortunately, your kitten now has negative associations with people petting her.

The good news is that you can win her trust and affection back. It might take a little time and lots of delicious treats, but she can be influenced to gradually feel secure and safe around you.

Some tips to win over her affections include:

  • Have her spayed as soon as possible. Cats, while in heat, can be temperamental.
  • Keep in mind what it’s like to be a tiny cat. You are very tall and potentially threatening to a small kitty. Initially, until the growling and aggression stops, either sit in a chair or on the floor when you are interacting with her. Providing her with cat trees that she can climb up on will also help her feel a little more confident and less threatened around people.
  • Whenever interacting with the kitten don’t accidentally create a situation where she could feel cornered with no escape routes.
  • Don’t try to pick up the kitten or pet her. Instead, formally greet her by crouching down to her level and extending one finger toward her. You can be as far away as a room length or as close as 6 inches. The distance depends on her reactions. If she wants to interact with you, she will come up to your finger, touch it with her nose, turn her head so that your finger is on her cheek. After she formally greets you, pet her cheek, back of head and under her chin.
  • Whenever you are in the same room with her, speak softly and don’t make any sort of sudden moves that might startle her.
  • Toss her delicious treats whenever you are in her proximity.
  • Play with her a few times day, using a fishing pole toy. Always reward her with a delicious treat at the end of the play session.


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Article Categories:
Behavior and Training · Cats