How to Spot Signs of Aggression in Animals

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Written by: The Benton Law Firm Last Updated : January 9, 2023

Many violent encounters with animals happen because children and adults misread signs of insecurity, fear, and aggression, all of which can lead to a bite or attack. Here are some of the most common signs of aggression to beware of in domesticated or feral mammals and how to react when you see them:

Signs of Aggression in Dogs

Dog bite injuries bring around 1,000 Americans into the emergency room every day. There are a lot of misconceptions about breed aggression, but the reality is any dog in a state of fear, panic, or aggression can and will bite. Recognizing the behavioral cues can help you gauge each situation independently.

Common aggressive behaviors include:

  • Standing rigid and having intense focus on a target
  • Threatening growling and barking
  • Showing teeth
  • Lunging at someone or another animal in a non-playful way
  • Mouthing in a controlling way
  • Raised hackles (the fur on the back)

Many of these behaviors are warning signs, and there may be less than a millisecond between the warning and an attack. Square off with the animal and make yourself as big as possible. In the event of an attack, protect yourself by using your limbs or other tools to direct the dog’s focus away from your face and body, and use force if necessary. Educate yourself on how to safely stop a dog attack.

Signs of Aggression in Cats

Cats are less likely to cause significant damage, but encountering an aggressive cat can be just as frightening as any other type of animal. They are quick and may use both teeth and claws in an attack. An aggressive cat may:

  • Have a stiff and upright posture
  • Lower both tail and head
  • Intensely focus on the target
  • Raise hackles
  • Growl
  • Flatten ears against the head

Avoid cats displaying these warning signs. In the event of an attack, most cats can be forcibly removed or you can leave the area.

Signs of Aggression in Horses

Horses are known for being gentle creatures, but their size can be responsible for inflicting severe damage quickly if they are frightened or feel threatened. While horses are considered flight animals and will usually choose to flee a situation rather than confront it, they are often in stalls or other enclosed spaces while interacting with humans which can lead to aggression when they feel threatened. Common aggressive behaviors may include:

  • Ears pushed back against the head
  • Eyes wide and focused on a target
  • Flared nostrils
  • A dropped head with open mouth
  • A raised tail
  • Swinging a head
  • Lifting front feet off the ground or stamping hard

Always have an exit strategy if you know you are going to be around an unfamiliar horse. Never stand in front of an aggressive horse. Try to stand to the left side and out of the way. If an attack is inevitable, use noise and force to drive the horse away from the side (to minimize kicking) using whatever you have available.

Signs of Aggression in Cows

An aggressive cow, steer, or bull can do a lot of damage pretty quickly. If a cow feels threatened, you may face the same types of behavior a horse presents. An aggressive cow may:

  • Flatten his/her ears
  • Lower the head and hunch the shoulders
  • Turn to show his/her flank
  • Shake the head
  • Raise hackles

If you encounter an aggressive bull or cow, get out of the way as quickly as possible. Use a stick or anything large to ward off an attack, and avoid turning your back on the aggressive animal.

Signs of Aggression in Pigs

Farm pigs and house pet pigs can start to show aggressive behaviors like any other domesticated mammal. In small pig breeds, the behaviors may be more of a nuisance, but larger breeds can injure people when they feel threatened or in an act of dominance. Aggressive pigs may:

  • Turn sideways to show size
  • Start chomping or snapping and use high pitched squeals
  • Charge

Whether you encounter a wild pig while hiking or a domesticated breed, you may experience aggressive behaviors that need to be addressed. Try to climb if possible or remain standing and use any means you have to deter the attack.

If you have been the victim of an animal attack, contact an experienced personal injury attorney for a consultation.

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