Feline Status Related Aggression

Feline Status Related Aggression

"Some cats just do not like to be held!" There was never a truer statement made concerning variations in feline personality. Many people have the mistaken idea that all cats act the same and that behavior must conform to some preconceived notion of cat behavior they had as a child. If they remember a cuddly cat when they were growing up, then all cats behave that way....Don't they?
The other situation is a household with young children who see the cat as another stuffed animal to be hugged and squeezed, even if against its wishes. This can be the origin of cat bites directed towards children's faces. How is this problem approached?

  • Recognize the signs which cats use to communicate. a) A low pitched rumble is a clear sign of displeasure. b) Twitching of the ears and flicking of the tail communicates a need to be freed. c) Squirm ming and struggling is the cat's way of saying, enough is enough.
  • Recognize the tolerance level each cat has. Some cats will allow endless stroking. Others can only stand a few seconds. Look for the signs as indicated above and respect them. TEACH YOUR CHILDREN THE SAME!
  • Do not pursue the cat for affection. Let it come to you.
  • If your cat is sitting on your lap and displays these signs, you are not restraining it and the aggression continues, stand up and let it drop to the floor. If it persists, walk away and leave it alone in the room. You are telling the cat that interaction will not continue on these terms.
  • Increase interactive play with the cat using a variety of cat toys. Become both directly involved in play using toys and also supply self play type toys which many pet stores have.
  • Reward calm behavior with attention or food treats but grant the attention for an abbreviated period. Discontinue petting BEFORE the signs of agitation begin. KEEP HIM ALWAYS LOOKING FOR MORE.

Feline Fear Based Aggression

Cats do show fear. There are cats who love to be in the center of a room of people. However, equally as common are cats who cannot tolerate this much activity. They need to disappear. Whether this a genetic trait or due to insufficient socialization is open to debate. There is plenty of evidence linking insufficient handling of kittens between 3-9 weeks of age resulting in "skittish" cats. Aggression in these cats occurs when they have little choice but to use aggression to stop a threat (real or perceived). The key is understanding this a avoiding situations in which people pursue cats who are fearful. Dilated eyes, tucked tail, hair standing up and retreating is a cat who does not want to be there. Give him space!!

It is very difficult to socialize an adult cat. Gradually exposing the cat to the offending fear inducing stimulus while rewarding him for calm behavior is how it is done. The key is using a very palatable reward and only use it when the cat is disinterested in the fear inducing threat.DO NOT USE PUNISHMENT IN ANY SHAPE OR FORM! This will result in a heightening of the aggression. 

Feline Play Aggression

The key here is understanding what is happening. Typically, this is occurring in a young kitten, in a single cat household in which the owner leads a busy lifestyle. This means that the cat is understimulated. It has minimal outlets for its natural need to play. The result is a cat who stalks the owner jumping out at them when the owner is least expecting it. Or, running across a room at the owner and jumping at his face. These attacks can seem quite vicious and must be dealt with appropriately before they turn serious. Often the owner is an elderly person who does not recognize the need for play and is also at high risk for infection and injury from a bite.

You must provide the opportunities. This can be in the form of individual play or owner interactive play. There are many toys which can be purchased or made which will help you encourage your cat to play. "Cat Dancer" type toys (fishing pole type apparatus with various toys attached) make wonderful devices to entice your cat to play. cardboard boxes and paper bags make great exploration areas which most kittens cannot resist. Playing catch or chase with toy balls or aluminum foil rolled into a ball works great. There are "Cat Trax" toys which is a ring with a moveable toy inside which the cat tries to get at. I did a similar thing for my cat by cutting holes in a shoe box and placed some kibble inside. Kept her busy for an hour! You are only limited by imagination. The key is to regularly (2-3, 15-20 minute sessions per day) interact with your cat to provide the stimulation he needs.
Be aware that not all people should have a kitten or solitary cat. If your schedule is such that you are not home much or are not able to play with your cat, think about a pair of adult cats or, get a stuffed one!  

Feline Redirected Aggression

This involves aggression by a cat towards a person or another cat as a result of the inability of the attacker to get at another object of their aggression. A perfect example of this is the cat at the patio door watching a stray cat. The indoor cat is obviously worked up and wants desperately to get at the intruder but can't. Frustration sets. At this moment the cat, who is totally fixated, becomes surprised by the sudden intrusion of the owner or house mate. The flood of aggression meant for the stray is redirected towards this readily available outlet. The attack can be very vicious and the association can last many weeks or months after the original episode.

Treatment is similar to what was described for fear based aggression. That is, use a pleasurable activity (such as feeding) and gradually associate it with the object of the aggression. If it is the pet owner, have he/she gradually decrease the distance between themselves and the cat (while eating) over a period of several days or weeks. You must back off if at any time the cat shows interest or focus on you while it is eating. It may also be critical to prevent the cat from having continued visual access to any possible inciting cause of aggression. For example, keep shades or blinds closed over windows and doors looking out over the yard where strays may roam.  

Intercat Aggression

Intercat aggression is more a description of what is happening rather than a diagnosis. There are many reasons why cats interact aggressively. They may include:

  • Fear of the Other Cat in the Household
  • Dominance Struggle
  • Play Aggression
  • Territoriality

Treatment of intercat aggression really depends on which of these situations exists in the household. For example:

Fear of another cat may be dealt with by simply confining the cats away from one another when unsupervised. Use of a bell on the aggressor's collar may help signal the victim when the aggressor is approaching. Interrupting inappropriate aggression with spray bottle of water and vinegar. Rewarding with treats or play any observation of calm, relaxed behavior when the cats are in each other's presence. Use of multiple litter boxes distributed throughout the house may give the victim more options to eliminate without increased risk of facing off with the aggressor.

A couple notes here. 1)The rule of thumb for litter boxes is 1 box per cat in the household plus one additional. These should be spread out throughout the house on multiple levels to increase three dimensional space for the cats. Do not group boxes in one area. You are essentially just creating one LARGE litter box t=rather than multiple ones. 2)In a situation in which one cat is stalking another, often the use of a covered box is not indicated. The aggressor many times will wait outside the box and pounce on the unsuspecting victim as he/she emerges from the covered box. For this reason, it is advised to use only open litter boxes in this circumstance.

Dominance Struggles are dealt with by again providing an appropriate litter box environment. Using aversive sprays and rewarding appropriate behavior as noted above. Use of food desensitization trials in which the cats are fed at a great enough distance apart then gradually (a few inches per day) the food bowls are brought closer together. A word of caution here. You should begin with each cat in a carrier and bring the carriers closer together. Then repeat the process but now with the doors of the carriers open. Then, finally, with the cats out of the carriers. It is wise here to fit both cats with harnesses and leashes during the steps in which they can gain access to one another. Holding the leashes or securing them to an immovable object will help prevent injury. In order to increase the motivation of the food, only feed the cats during the trials and feed something very palatable (ex. canned diets). Keep cats separated when unsupervised. If all else fails, placement of one of the cats may be indicated.

Play Aggression is merely the normal "ruff and tumble" activity that occurs with kittens. Kittens must learn predatory and hunting behavior and the best learn this through pseudo hunting activities with each other. To the uninitiated, this can seem to be the real thing with hissing, spitting and pouncing. The key is that the posture is different than real fighting. Ears are up and relaxed, tails are swishing in a non-chalant manner, and the kittens readily re-engage their activity with each other rather than run off and hide. There is rarely a "stand offish" display by one kitten with the other leaving the scene. Do not interfere unless there is a history of injury occurring.

Territoriality is merely the establishing of defined, protected territories within a living space. This is seen in the outdoors by males establishing "harems" of females in various areas and regularly visiting these sites to protect them against intruding males. In the home environment, the resourses guarded include food, elimination areas and access to attention from the humans in the household. Again, attention to litter box placement is critical, appropriate punishment and reward, and belling the aggressor are all helpful strategies. In severe cases, placement of one of the cats may be necessary.