Author Topic: Aggression  (Read 3213 times)

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« Reply #1 on: April 26, 2008, 16:15:14 PM »
Cats will avoid conflict as fighting could end in injury leaving the animal unable to hunt and his survival in jeopardy.  This is true in both wild and domestic cats.  Because of this cats will invariably avoid conflict wherever possible.  However there are occasions where conflict is unavoidable and therefore aggression can be considered normal.  Cats will give various warnings including body language, growling and/or hissing in an attempt defuse the situation. As owners we often miss these signs and can make the situation worse as the cat is left with no option but to defend itself.  Many bacteria are carried on cats teeth so any serious bite or scratch marks should be seen by your GP. 

Please ensure your pet sees a vet first to rule out Pain Related Aggression
Physical or verbal abuse will do nothing to help the situation.  It will only add further to the cat’s stress and could result in him then fearing you instead of trusting you.

Cat aggression, fear and painThere are several types of aggression and I will cover each one individually.

Pain Related Aggression - First and foremost you must see a vet. If your cat has suddenly become aggressive for what appears to be no reason at all then you must first rule out any medical problems. An abscess or wound from a fight may not be visible to us but can cause the cat extreme pain. There could be any number of reasons why a cat is in pain so you MUST get the cat checked by a vet first to rule out any medical reason before looking at the situation from a behavioural point of view. As kittens they can often be seen ‘play fighting’ and biting is all part of the fun - however when the bite gets too hard, then a squeal is emitted and the game stops. Thus the kittens learn that biting hard is not acceptable. Hand reared kittens miss this important step. Medical conditions such as Hypothyroidism can affect how a cat feels as can old age. They may want to be handled less, become bad tempered and become less tolerant of being picked up. Brain tumours, blindness, deafness, can all influence how our pets feel.

Fear Related Aggression - the period from 2- 8 weeks of age in a kitten’s life is very important. They should be handled for at least one hour a day and should see at least 8 different people during this period. They should then grow up to be comfortable with being handled by humans. Kittens that are not well socialised learn to fear humans and will be defensively aggressive towards us. Kittens soon learn that if they hiss and spit then we back off - in the end the behaviour is done automatically as soon as a human approaches - whether it be the owner, or a stranger the reaction is the same. The cat ‘perceives’ us a threat, real or imaginary. Cats that are cornered and have no means of escape will also exhibit fear related aggression - you may be met with a swipe of the paw - which means ‘you are in my space - back off’. Often when a cat has been in this type of situation it will start grooming itself - this is referred to as displacement grooming and allows the cat some time to think and de-stress itself from the current situation.

What to do: Often a cat’s instinct will be to run and hide away from his fear. For example if you have a young cat that is fearful of people - do not let it have the run of the entire house - you will not know were he is and will unable to work with him. He should be confined to his ‘own’ room so that you can work with him and gain some trust between the two of you. (See The Timid Cat).   Sometimes it may be necessary to confine the little one to a kittening pen so that it is unable to run away and has to ‘face’ it s fear, but a box where he can ‘hide’ should be provided in the pen. The pen should be completely covered for a couple of days so the cat can start to ‘relax’ in its safe haven. It may toilet in its bed or the cardboard box due to fear so make sure the pen can be cleaned out easily. Do not cram it with toys or a scratching post. Then remove half of the cover and continue as normal so the cat can see you - stop by and talk gently - but not every time - so the cat is never quite sure when you will be approaching. Take little treats - ham, chicken, tuna, to start off with so the cat has a positive association with you. After a while, remove the cardboard box and replace with a normal blanket or bed so there is no longer anywhere to hide.

Frustration Related Aggression - this type of aggression is what I refer to as spoilt child syndrome. This kind of aggression is often seen in cats that do not appear to get their own way and may react not only aggressively, but also vocally and by spraying (urine marking). Very often this kind of aggression is towards the owner and is very common in hand rear kittens. The reason for this is that the weaning process has been 'missed’. At some point during this process mum makes herself less accessible and will often sit on her stomach, or somewhere high up out of reach of the kittens. The kittens - wanting to be fed - will make their presence felt, but she will ignore them until she is ready - the kittens learn ‘frustration’ and that they do not always get their own way! In hand rearing this section is often missed, we feed on demand and the kitten learns it can have whatever it wants - whenever it wants! This coupled with a lack of other feline company ‘to keep them in check’ often results in an aggressive adult.

What to do: Here we must teach the cat to be less dependent on you. If the cat cries for food and you ‘reward’ him by feeding him straight away then this needs to stop. He will soon learn that the more he cries the less attention he gets.

If you have to - close the kitchen door, get your partner to ‘play’ with him in the other room, and as quietly as you can - prepare his food. Put it down on the floor and join your partner in the play session. When the cat is settled and not bothering about anything just open the kitchen door and walk away. He will walk in just to find his food there on the floor - no meowing necessary! It is possible to clicker train them too - mine are trained with dry food - no noise means - click then treat - meow means no reward. You are looking to reward good behaviour and ignore the bad. If he is sitting nicely in the kitchen then go up and give him some attention. Alternatively hide his food (only appropriate with dry food), you can either use the feeding balls, or hide a couple of biscuits under milk tops or any plastic containers, or egg boxes, put toys on top so he has to hook them out first - make him work for his food - as he learns what you are doing you will have to make it a bit more difficult! You can try and keep a note of what is ‘triggering’ him. If he is making a nuisance of himself it is imperative that you ignore him - no talking, no eye contact nothing! Walk out of the room if you have to.

Misdirected Aggression (Play Aggression) - cats have an instinct to hunt and some are better at it than others. Any moving object will be seen as prey by our cats, including our feet and hands! I cannot stress enough that you must NEVER use your hands for playing. As kittens they can often be seen ‘play fighting’ and biting is all part of the fun - however when the bite gets too hard, then a squeal is emitted and the game stops. Thus the kittens learn that biting hard is not acceptable behaviour. Hand reared kittens miss this important step.

While it might be cute when they are kittens, having a large 7 kilo cat sink his fangs in to your hand is no laughing matter. You cannot teach him one thing as a kitten and then expect him to stop when it no longer suits you - don’t start it in the first place! A cat should never be allowed to see us as ‘prey’. There are plenty of interactive toys (see Play Time) that can be used instead of our hands and feet to divert the cat away from using us. If the cat is lying in wait for you at the top of the stairs, or is chasing after you as you walk up the stairs, then you can be sure that he is seeing you as prey. Playing ‘spider’ with your hands, or wriggling your feet under the duvet is a DEFINITE NO-NO!

What to do: Play Time is very important here - the aggression needs to be directed to the appropriate place - in this case the toys and away from us.  If the kitten is on your lap and it takes hold of your hand and bites - he is using you as prey - it is most likely that the kitten is bored. Have you made the time to play with him? If you are honest with yourself the chances are you have not, so he seizes the opportunity to play with you - if you won't play with him! Redirect his aggression from you on to the toys - play with him at regular intervals using interactive toys that can be kept away from your body. A good half hour play session before bed time should help in the evening! Make the time - please.

Interactive Aggression - Your cat may be quite happily sat on your lap one minute and the next claws and teeth are sunk deep into your arm for what appears to be no apparent reason. This can also occur if we try to restrain a cat - it becomes fearful of the situation and will do whatever it takes to get out of it. Again often after these ‘episodes’ the cat will groom itself - displacement grooming - so it can have some ‘time out’ before deciding what to do next. In these circumstances the cat usually has what we call a low handling tolerance. In other words after a couple of strokes the cat thinks - ok that’s enough STOP! These cats can often suffer from a hypersensitivity to touch, where the skin can be seen to ‘twitch’ or ‘ripple’ as we go to touch the cat (hyperaesthesia).

What to do: Firstly you will need to see your vet - if there is a problem with the skin then your cat will need treatment. This kind of aggression needs a lot of patience and the ability to ‘read’ your cat. If your cat is prone to ‘attacks’ then do not do anything to provoke him. If he is asleep on the bed upstairs then leave him - don’t wake him up, just because you want to stroke him. When he is awake approach him and offer him the end of your finger - point at his nose - this in cat language means ‘hello’. If he wants some interaction with you then he will rub against your finger - drop your hand down in to a ‘limp wrist’ offering him the back of your hand - if he does go to bite you, there is very little flesh on the back of our hand to get hold of. If he does bite you, keep perfectly still - do not look at him, do not move, and do not speak to him - wait for him to move away and then you slowly move away. If he is on your lap and you know he will only tolerate two strokes - then do just that - two strokes and then stop. Watch his tail, this is usually a sign that he is getting agitated - if it starts to flick, then stop - if the tail stops, then you know that you stroking him was aggravating him. Don’t get over confident otherwise you will have to go back to square one. If he does attack you and you are unable to stay motionless, just stand up and because he is ‘falling’ he will let go of you.

Stay in the standing position - again, do not speak to him, do not look at him, and do not move. After a short while slowly sit back down again. If he comes on your lap, fold your arms and do not look at him - again if he goes to attack you there is less ‘soft’ flesh available, or wear suitable loose clothing. If your cat is the type that chases you up the stairs then when you see him lying in wait, throw a toy past him, so he is distracted by that - don’t run up the stairs, if he does come after you, stand perfectly still, and throw something else down the stairs - even a piece of screwed up paper will do. He will soon learn that attacking you no longer brings the screams and pulling away that used to ‘excite’ him beforehand.

Feline Aggression - Aggression towards other cats can also manifest itself in house soiling and urine spraying. The more cats you have, the more chance there is that you will encounter this type of aggression. Neutering can help the situation and I would strongly advise you to have your pets neutered. Cats within the same household may show fear related aggression, frustration, predatory aggression, territorial issues, or it may be that the cats have not been introduced correctly in the first place (Introducing A New Cat) or they just simply do not like each other!

Male - Male Aggression Often this type of aggression will be over territorial issues particularly between males. Your cat may well have no hesitation in attacking what he sees as another cat entering his territory and he will do whatever it takes to defend it. If he loses then this may have serious consequences.

Maternal Aggression - This is the one time you are likely to see a female cat as a true aggressor. She will give warning shots to anyone that comes close to her kittens. This can often be towards their owners as well, and it is advisable for at least the first couple of weeks to leave her in peace.

Competitive Aggression - Cats lives revolve around their rescources - territory, food, water, litter trays and you. There may be a scuffle between the two - particularly around food, or it may resolve itself on a first come, first served basis which is the more common. If there is only one feeding station often other cats will be bullyed by another cat in the household. Resolve this issue by having plenty of feeding stations and litter trays scattered around the house. With high up 'hiding places' to get away from each other.

Mother/Sibling Relationship - When kittens reach the age of between 6 and 12 months, what used to be a play session, now ends in a fight. In the wild this results in the male cats finding their own territories as mum no longer wants them near the nest area - they are competition for her food and resources for her next litter. Our domestics are unaware that they have been spayed and therefore they too may exhibit this kind of behaviour. These issues are about resources and territory therefore it is vital that there is more than one toileting and eating area. I strongly advise that for two cats you have at least 3 litter trays and 3 feeding stations if not more. These should be situated around the house and not just on the lower level. This way the resources cannot be guarded like they can if the trays are all together in one neat line!

Unrelated Cat/Kitten Relationship - Often when an owner loses a much loved pet they rush out to get a kitten for the cat that is left behind. This cat is often older and although the two older cats might have got on the new kitten is not made welcome. Kittens are often well socialised and used to other cats and cannot understand why this cat will not accept them - the older cat is not interested and therefore reacts to each approach by the kitten with aggression.

What to do: For most cats their issues revolve around territory and resources - no more so than in multicat households. There is competition for the food source, your attention, litter trays, and the best bed in the house! It is therefore vitally important that provisions are made to allow for all the cats to get their fair share. Please see the section on Multicat Households

Re-directed Aggression - This can manifest itself in several ways. For example, your cat is sitting on your windowsill and you go to get him down. For no reason he attacks you and you are left wondering what on earth you did wrong! The bit you missed was that next doors cat was just wandering through ‘HIS’ garden and there was nothing he could do about it! Feeling frustrated and not being able to defend his own territory - he took it out on you - but it could easily have been the other cat in your household or even a child that miss times that stroke along the back! Your two cats usually get on just fine, but when one of them walks in one evening he sets about attacking your other cat to such an extent that you have to separate them (never use your hands - use a pillow or a cushion - you will be next to be attacked). Again you are left thinking - what was all that about? You have assumed that the conflict is between your two cats, when in fact the conflict happened outside. The big cat from next door was in the garden again and your cat had just had a fight with him - his senses were still in a heightened state when he got back inside the house and your other cat took the full force of his frustration - he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

What to do: If you think your cat is enduring this kind or aggression then it is very important to establish the cause. You will need to keep a detailed diary of when they occur and how often. It may be that you have to keep your own two cats separate for a short while when one of them comes in, so he can calm down.

If the cat from next door is coming in the cat flap or is staring through the patio doors, it may be an idea to cover the bottom half of the doors so he can’t see in or block the cat flap up. NEVER try to calm a cat down - this is only something he can do himself - you risk getting injured yourself if you intervene while the cat is still in a heightened state of anxiety. It may be that your own two cats need to be separated as seeing each other cat may just ‘trigger’ the aggression again, even though your other cat was never involved in the first place - a bit like us - we have a bad day at work and take it out on our partners when we get home - nothing to do with them, not their fault - but you take it out on them anyway!

In many of these situations it may be helpful to use a Feliway Diffuser.

Feliway is a product which reproduces certain pacifying properties of cat facial pheromones.
Feliway is a safe solution of the feline F2 facial pheromone, which mimics the cat's natural pheromones, creating a state of well-being and calm.

The placing of facial pheromones is a behaviour which is well known to all cat owners. When a cat feels safe in its environment, it rubs its head from the side of the chin to the base of the ear, against the furniture, the corners of walls or the bottom of curtains. By doing this, the animal is depositing facial pheromones. These marks convey a message of well-being and a feeling of security.

When there is a change in the cat's environment (such as visits to the vets, return from hospitalisation, moving house, new arrivals, rearrangement of furniture) or if the cat is scared, a state of disquiet or stress may develop. This state can be expressed by changes in behaviour, such as urine marking, vertical scratching, loss of appetite or refusal to play and to interact In these situations, Feliway Spray and the Feliway Diffuser combined can be used to restore the natural balance.
Pain Related Aggression
Fear Related Aggression
Frustration Related Aggression
Misdirected Aggression (Play Aggression)
Interactive Aggression
Feline Aggression
Re-directed Aggression

Information taken from:

Aggression After Vet Visits?
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.

Many owners of multiple cats have noticed that when one cat goes to the veterinarian and then returns home, she is often greeted with aggression by the other cat(s). The sense of smell is extremely important to cats. So although the cat that came back from the veterinarian looks the same and sounds the same as before she went to the veterinarian, she does not smell the same to the cat(s) who stayed home. Thus, the stay-at-home cat hisses and may become aggressive, sometimes batting at the other cat, since she seems like a stranger.

To try to correct this cat aggression, get a clean towel and rub it on the cat who stayed home. Now rub it on the cat who went to the veterinarian, and then back on the cat who stayed home. This gets the scent of each cat onto the other cat. If the cats smell alike, the stay-at-home cat is less likely to get upset. As an alternative, some people take both cats in the same carrier to the veterinarian, even if only one cat is being checked. The cat who remains in the carrier will then smell like the veterinarian's office too, and if the carrier is situated right, may never even lose sight of the other cat.

The information is the opinion of the writer in the link to the website provided and is not a substitute for veterinary/professional advice.
Purrs Owners and Staff are not responsible for the content and information provided through links to other web sites.

« Last Edit: July 27, 2009, 07:24:41 AM by Janeyk »


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