Fighting cats

If your cats get along well, they will share sleeping areas, engage in some allogrooming, and greet each other on occasion by touching noses. Well, you say, my cats aren’t very good friends but they aren’t trying to kill each other, either. What are the signs of conflict? What should we look for to avoid getting to the point “they want to kill each other”?

The 2020 survey referred to in last week’s post not only assessed affiliative behaviors, they also polled respondents on conflict behaviors. They chose seven behaviors associated with conflict. These are listed below with the frequency reported by the participants of the survey. (Elzerman AL, DePorter TL, Beck A, Collin JF. Conflict and affiliative behavior frequency between cats in multi-cat households: a survey-based study. J Feline Med Surg. 2020 Aug;22(8):705-717. doi: 10.1177/1098612X19877988)

Behavior Frequency Rank
Stare daily 7 – Most frequent
Stalking daily 6
Chasing daily 5
Running away weekly 4
Twitching Tail weekly 3
Hissing monthly to never 2
Wail/Scream monthly to never 1 – Least frequent
     

How do your Cats Get Along?


Let’s take a closer look at these conflict behaviors.

THE STARE


 

A cat will stare without blinking:

  • at prey while hunting – he is aware of where that animal is and what it is doing, otherwise he may miss out on dinner!
  • during a cat fight. Fighting cats must be able to rapidly respond if the other launches an attack.
  • to discourage another cat from accessing a resource.

 

Cat blocking other cat
Zelda looks innocent but she is keeping another cat from going through the door.

If you see one of your cats fixing an unblinking stare on another, take note of the circumstances and see what happens if you intervene. For example, if one cat is staring at another cat and is sitting in a doorway, she may be blocking the other from resources through that doorway.

Interrupt the stare by opening the door wider, throwing a treat away from the doorway, or redirecting the “door-blocker” with a toy. Does this give the other cat a chance to get through the doorway? If this is successful, you may want to look more closely at how these two cats get along.

Avoid handling the cats in this situation in case they are more aroused than they appear.

 

Stalking, Chasing and Running Away


These behaviors may be associated with:

When hunting, the cat is targeting a toy or prey. It is object play. But how do we know whether two cats are fighting or playing? After all, many of the same moves in a cat fight are seen when cats play together.

Just like a football game, play between cats has distinct rules. And, like football, tempers may flare when a player challenges the rules. What starts as play can escalate into a cat fight.

invitation to play

play sequence

Cats chasing each other

end of play

Play is over

Are these cats playing?

Social play consists of an invitation to play, the play sequence, and the end of play. The rules are:

  • Claws are not extended
  • Biting is gentle without intent to injure
  • The invitation to play is often repeated by one or the other of the cats throughout the interaction.
  • If one cat declines play (there may be some hissing and growling here), the game ends.

If you see that the “rules” are not being followed, it is time to shake a bag of treats or can of coins and redirect or separate the participants. [see Managing the Indoor Cat Fight].

Check all your cats regularly for wounds from bites and scratches.  If you notice your cats having a lot of wounds from scratches or bites and they “play” together, this may not be play. It may be conflict and it is time to observe the cats, assess their environment and social status.

Twitching Tail


A twitching tail indicates that a cat is focusing on something. The tail is for balance and changing direction – the tail often twitches before the cat pounces.

  • The twitching tail + stare > pounce: Is this play? conflict?
  • Are the rules of play being followed?
  • A map of the social groups in the house can help with deciding whether this is play or conflict.

Vocalizations – Hissing


The hiss is that snake-like sound. Cats may hiss when they are:

  • afraid
  • startled
  • frustrated
  • displeased
  • You will hear it in a cat fight, often from the cat on the defensive.

Vocalizations – Wailing/Screaming


Cats will wail or scream:

  • if they are fearful
  • if they are hurt and in pain
  • if they are fighting

You must decide from the circumstances and the body language of the cat or cats if these vocalizations are meaningful. If it is a cat fight, the combatants must be separated [managing the indoor cat fight]; if a cat is hurt, you must get the cat in a box or carrier for a trip to the vet.

Don’t wait for a fight to break out. Take a few moments to determine if your cats get along and if there is anything you can do to improve things.

  • Map social groups [Social Groups of Cats]
  • Draw a house map of resources (litter boxes, food stations, water, scratchers). Draw paths showing how cats reach these resources.
  • Move furniture if necessary to make accessing resources easier for all cats.
  • Make sure there sufficient resources for the number of cats.

Next week, we’ll take a look at describing individual cats’ personalities. How does this affect how cats get along?

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Affiliated cats
Gus and Zelda are not a bonded pair but do groom each other.

 

Have more than one cat? How do your cats get along? Are they “bonded” or affiliated?

If there is a reliable source of food, free-roaming cats will often form groups called colonies. Within the colony, there are smaller groups of 2 or more cats that prefer to spend time together. These cats are comfortable sharing resources such as food, water, latrine areas, sleeping and resting places.  Some refer to these cats as “preferred associates”; others call them bonded or affiliated. 

This post is the first in a 3 part series of “How do your cats get along?”: 1) signs of affiliation 2) signs of conflict 3) personalities in the multi-cat home.

 

 

 “Preferred associates” show affiliative behaviors.  You may find them:

  • snuggled up taking a nap
  • rubbing against each other when greeting
  • grooming each other
  • “play” fighting
  • twining their tails together

Not all cats have preferred associates. Within the cat colony may be “groups” of just one cat, who keeps to herself but shares the colony territory and resources. So, not only is there the strong bond of the preferred associates, there is also the looser affiliation of the members of the cat colony.

Multi-cat homes host ad hoc cat colonies. When I am taking a history for a veterinary exam, I usually ask guardians with more than one pet how their cats get along. The big three questions for multi-cat homes are:

  • Do your cats sleep touching each other?
  • Do they play together, with claws sheathed and taking turns?
  • Do they groom each other?

These 3 questions barely scrape the surface of how cats get along and whether or not there is potential for conflict or ongoing conflict in the home. Like human social relationships, relationships among cats can be complex.

A survey of 2492 multi-cat households published in 2020* set out to see if there was a relationship between household factors (type of house, number of litter boxes, feeding stations, scratching posts), and how often affiliative and conflict behaviors were seen.

*Elzerman AL, DePorter TL, Beck A, Collin JF. Conflict and affiliative behavior frequency between cats in multi-cat households: a survey-based study. J Feline Med Surg. 2020 Aug;22(8):705-717. doi: 10.1177/1098612X19877988.

Affiliative behaviors in cats – from most frequent to least frequent


sleeping in the same room


Cats share a sunny sleeping place.Cats don’t have to be “preferred associates” to choose a spot in the sun in the same room as a housemate cat. As long as there is plenty of space, peaceful coexistence should be possible.

 Most frequently seen affiliative behavior – multiple times a day

allogrooming


Allogrooming refers to a cat grooming another cat by licking around the head or ears. It occurs most frequently among cats that are related…BUT … it is not restricted to family groups. It can be a way for cats to redirect potential aggression. A few quick licks to the head can soothe a would-be combatant, avoiding a fight. Sometimes, you will see cats who are not particularly chummy grooming each other’s head or neck.

Frequency – several times a day

Sleeping Touching each other


Two cats share a basket

I view sleeping snuggled together something bonded cats do whereas the casual touch of cats napping next to each other indicates a weaker affiliation.

Frequency- several times a day

Touching noses


Kittens at Kndergarten
Kittens at “kitten kindergarten” session

Colony cats touch noses when returning from foraging or hunting. Each colony has its signature scent that helps the members of the colony identify each other. House cats being inside all the time may not need to engage in this identifying behavior as much as their outdoor counterparts. However, a cat who has been to the veterinary hospital may not smell quite right to his housemates and peaceful coexistence can be disrupted.

Frequency – once a day

Why isn’t play in the list of affiliative behaviors?
Play between cats incorporates more than one basic behavior. Because social play between cats is “play fighting” and can easily escalate into a fight, behaviors like chasing and stalking are often categorized as conflict behaviors.  (See cats at play: a guide to mutual social play)

There are many other things that cats do that may be “affiliative” – tail-twining and rubbing up against each other – that were not included in the study above. However, this basic list can give you an idea of whether harmony reigns in your cat kingdom. Pay attention to how your cats get along and to their body language when interacting.

Next week, we will take a look at “conflict” behaviors and how frequent the survey found them to be.

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Sometimes when your cat behaves “badly”, you are able to address what triggers the misbehavior and life goes back to “normal”: you add a new litter box and the house-soiling stops; you start taking your “bully” cat for walks on a leash and everyone settles back down again. Problem solved!

Other times, you feel you’ve taken care of what triggers the misbehavior but your cat continues to, say, pee in the bathtub. And in still other instances, you can’t eliminate the stressors triggering the behavior, and the behavior persists. For example, you just don’t have the finances to get a bigger house but you don’t want to re-home any of the cats.

Anxiety and misbehavior in your cat


When your cat is stressed, he can become anxious and fearful. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and helps the cat respond to perceived danger.  One way your cat may let you know she is anxious and fearful, is by “misbehaving”.  She may avoid her litter box and or hide and strike out at you when you try to pick her up.

Your vet might recommend a behavior modification plan and an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) medication to deal with the anxiety and misbehavior in your cat.  Behavior modification aims to give the cat a way to cope with the stress that is giving rise to the “misbehavior”.   Anxiolytics reduce your cat’s anxiety and put him in a positive emotional state, making him more receptive to behavior modification.

Fluoxetine: Rx for anxiety


Let’s take a look at Fluoxetine, a medication that is frequently prescribed by veterinarians to treat anxiety.

In human circles, fluoxetine is more commonly known by the brand name Prozac.  It is a “selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor” (SSRI).
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that carries “messages” between neurons. Neurotransmitters are typically reabsorbed in the neuron once the “messaging” is done but SSRI’s keep serotonin from being reabsorbed, resulting in more serotonin being available to carry messages between neurons. Serotonin is thought to regulate mood, digestion, and sleep among other metabolic processes (see SSRIs mayoclinic.org).

Your cat should be calmer and less anxious when taking fluoxetine.

House-soiling and aggression toward people are two of the more common behavioral problems in cats. Let’s take a quick look at two cases where  fluoxetine and behavior modification helped manage feline anxiety and misbehavior.

Susie, a 13 year old female cat


Problem Behavior: House-soiling in variety of locations with chronic diarrhea

When Susie was 11 years old, her feline house-mate passed away and her owner adopted a younger cat. Susie began pooping outside the box. After most of a year, the owner felt the cats got along OK but house-soiling and diarrhea continued. The owner found Susie “aloof” and difficult to handle. Susie was surrendered to a veterinary clinic when she was 13 years old.

A Plan for Susie

Medical plan: treat the diarrhea

Behavioral plan:

  • Desensitize Susie to interacting with people
  • Gradually introduce Susie to the other cats in the clinic

Susie’s Timeline:

  • Susie is surrendered to the vet clinic in  mid-May 2021. She is fearful and reluctant to interact with people and other cats and is placed in a “room of her own”.
  • In early July, Susie begins taking a steroid medication and also starts fluoxetine. The diarrhea starts to resolve in the next few weeks.
  • By early September, Susie is becoming less fearful and is interested in coming out of her room. She starts to accept being handled by the clinic staff.  She is not pooping outside the litter box as much.
  • In November, Susie starts having supervised visitations with staff and other cats outside her room.
  • By next March, Susie is able to be out unsupervised in the clinic during working hours.  House-soiling is better – she poops right next to the litter box and not in random locations.

Susie had a long history of house-soiling. Treatment of her medical problem and reducing her anxiety has improved her quality of life. She remains on a low dose of fluoxetine which helps her cope with the stress of interacting with strange people and cats that come to the vet clinic.

Gus, 3 year old male feral cat


Problem Behavior: Aggression toward people

Gus was an intact male cat that was trapped in a live trap. He is positive for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and was not eligible to be released after being neutered.

Behavior modification plan for Gus:

  • Desensitization to people
  • Clicker training for appropriate social behaviors toward people

Gus’s Timeline:

  • Early March 2019: Gus is trapped with a live trap
  • March 5: Gus is neutered. Gus is fearful, fighting and biting when handled.
  • Late March: Gus starts taking fluoxetine, to reduce anxiety and misbehavior.  He takes the daily fluoxetine tablet in a treat. At first the drug makes him sleepy but this passes in a few weeks and he is exposed to a variety of people.
  • Clicker and leash training begin in early June.  He learns simple commands to sit, follow a target on a stick, wear a harness and allow humans to pick him up.
  • Gus is adopted in early August. Owner continues clicker training and outdoor walks.
  • Gus is weaned off fluoxetine by the end of November, after 7 months of drug therapy. He tolerates people and no longer tries to bite them.

Anxiolytics combined with behavior modification can help you deal with anxiety and misbehavior in your cat.  In some cases, a cat can be weaned off the medication while in others, continuing to give a low dose helps when the stressors causing the misbehavior cannot be eliminated.

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outside the box

 

When your cat thinks outside the box, it may be due to medical, environmental or social issues or a combination of these. In the two previous posts, we considered some of the medical and environmental issues that can give rise to house-soiling. When your cat thinks outside the box, we must also consider his social environment: are his interactions with people and other pets positive?

 

 

 

When your cat thinks outside the box: the social environment


People and pets other than cats


Positive and predictable interactions with people are a key element of a healthy feline environment. Our cats should expect that we will:

  • allow them to choose whether or not to interact with us
  • pay attention to their body language
  • handle them in a way they accept

Following these simple guidelines can help reduce a cat’s anxiety and insecurity. Making your cat feel secure and confident can go a long way to avoiding house-soiling problems.

Do ask family and visitors to follow the CAT guidelines .

Do not punish your cat for house-soiling even if you catch him in the act. Most likely, he or she will not make the connection. Punishment will only increase his or her stress and may increase the motivation to pee or poop in less obvious places (ISFM House-Soiling Guidelines). Punishment may also cause your cat to be afraid of you.

Do consider restricting children and dogs from the litter box areas using baby gates and gadgets such as a “door buddy“.

Be proactive and try to anticipate how your cat will handle new situations: For example, if you are going to have house guests, think how your cat will react to these strangers. Say you have a litter box in the guest bath – you may want to close your cat away from that area when guests are visiting in your home and provide a litter box elsewhere.

dealing with Inter-cat issues


CATS OUTSIDE THE HOME


Neighborhood cats coming into your yard can impact your cat’s behavior. These cats may mark your doors or yard with urine

They may come to the windows and look in. In response, your cat may mark or soil near the doors and windows that lead to the outside. Cat doors may trigger a similar response.

In  the previous post, When your cat thinks outside the box: the environment, we talked about noting house-soiling incidents on a map of your house.

If the “x’s” on your house map are near outside doors and windows, neighborhood cats may be a problem.  (House-Soiling Guidelines)

Taking Action: Secure Your Cat’s Territory!

  • Move your cat’s food and water stations away from doors and windows
  • If necessary, block your cat’s view of the outside by using window film, cardboard, paint… so he cannot see the intruder.
  • If you see outdoor cats in your yard, consider a motion activated sprinkler or critter spikes (for fences) to discourage the neighborhood cats from coming into your yard.

CATS INSIDE THE HOME


Where are the “x’s” on the housemap?

If the “x’s” are in hallways, stairways, doorways leading into rooms (in the interior of the house), your problem may be coming from inside the house – other cats. (House-Soiling Guidelines)

Cats are socially flexible. They do very well on their own but can live with other cats if there are enough resources and if these are spread out.

Diagram social groups cats
There are 3 social groups in this 4 cat household.

Social Groups of Cats

Within a cat colony, there are often smaller groups of 2 or more cats that prefer to spend time together. These cats will often:

  • sleep together touching each other
  • groom each other
  • rub against each other
  • “play fight”

These social groups are comfortable sharing resources: food, water, litter boxes, sleeping and resting places. (See Social Groups of Cats)

Most of the time, things go smoothly and different social groups will take turns using the resources. However, occasionally a cat or cats will “pick on” a particular cat. In a wild setting, this cat could move on, joining another colony or living a solitary life. These options are not available to the indoor cat.

Is your house-soiling cat being picked on by another cat? Does your other cat:

  • stalk and track the house-soiling cat?
  • stare directly at her?
  • attack him? (do not mistake aggression for play: see Cats at Play)
  • block her from using critical resources – litter boxes, food, sleeping places?

 

The house-soiling cat may feel safest on the owner’s bed and use the bed as a litter box.

What to do:

  1. Diagram the social groups in your multi-cat household using the criteria above.
  2. Note on the house map where different social groups hang out.
  3. Draw the paths cats have to follow to reach food, water and litter boxes.
  4. Which social group does your house-soiling cat belong to?
  5. Does he or she have an open path to reach the litter box? Can a “bully cat” hide behind furniture and ambush him or her?

Taking Action – Make the house-soiling cat feel confident and secure again


  • Separate the different social groups.  Make sure that each group has all their resources (food, water, litter boxes, cat trees). 
  • Set up a time-sharing scheme for different social groups to use the common areas while you are resolving the problem.
  • Make sure that there are enough resources so that cats of different social groups do not have to share.
  • Move furniture if necessary to eliminate ambush spots in the litter box areas and on the way to the litter boxes.
  • Your vet may prescribe medication for the cats involved.

Taking Action: keep the “bully” cat busy and reduce boredom


  • food puzzles
  • regular play time
  • outdoor access on a leash

Once your house-soiling cat is using his or her box again, you can consider gradually reintroducing him or her to the other cats (see Introducing Cats). If he or she is the victim of a “bully”, be sure to go slowly and supervise the interactions between the bully and victim. This may not be successful and cats may need to remain separated or be re-homed.

This is the final part of “when your cat thinks outside the box”. These three posts only scratch the surface of a complex behavior that can be due to medical, environmental or social issues or a combination of these. Your first resource should be your veterinarian. Do consider making a house map and, if you have a multi-cat household, a social diagram. These simple tools can provide you and your vet insight into why your cat thinks outside the box.

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Cat with July 4th colorsDoes the color of your cat’s coat mean anything? Is there a link between coat color and temperament in cats?

Black cats are often associated with the occult; orange cats tend to be regarded as friendly.  Calico and tortoiseshell cats – those cats with tri-colored coats – are considered strong-willed and difficult to work with.  There is even a term – “tortitude” – to describe these cats!

In a study published in 2016, researchers at UC Davis decided to look into whether there is a link between coat color and temperament – in particular, do cats with particular colors of coats tend to be more aggressive? Cat owners were recruited online to fill out a survey about their cats. The team received 1,274 responses that they analyzed with statistics. 

Owners scored their cats for

  • aggression toward humans
  • aggression when being punished, petted, or brushed
  • aggression when in the veterinary clinic

Aggression toward humans scored the frequency with which a cat reacted with aggressive or affiliative behavior to people. A 6 point scale was used ranging from 0 = never through monthly, weekly, up to 5 = daily.  Behaviors included hiss, bite, slap/scratch, bite/scratch and stalk (play), groom/lick, curl up next to, approach and greet with head/body rubs.  The possible range of scores was 0-20.

Aggression from handling scored the likelihood that the cat would react to being punished, petted or brushed by hissing, biting, slapping or scratching.  Scores ranged from 0 = unlikely to 3 = very likely. The maximum score possible was 27.  Aggression during the veterinary visit was also scored from 0 = likely to 3 = very likely but with a maximum score of 9.

Overall, the aggression scores are rather low in all three categories.  For example, in the “human aggression” category, high scores were 2-3 out of 20.  Female cats had higher scores overall but the research team felt the difference to be small enough that they could combine the sexes in the overall study.

Coat color and temperament – findings


Tortitude


The calico and tortoiseshell cats were found to have some of the higher scores (2.47) for aggression toward humans (Gray and white cats scored 2.26 – so not much different than the tri-color cats). 

  • These scores are not very high scores out of a possible 20. 
  • Calico/tortoiseshell cats are predominantly female (the tri-color pattern is linked to the X chromosome making the combination of 3 colors very rare in male cats).  Female cats were found to be a little more aggressive than male cats in this study and this sample would have had more females.
  • Perhaps, the stereotype of the “strong-willed” tri-colored female cat affected how respondents scored their cats.

other findings


  • Gray and white cats, both female and male, were more aggressive toward humans and when being handled. 
  • Black and white male cats scored higher than other groups of male cats in human-directed aggression.
  • Surprisingly, there were no significant differences in aggression among cats at the veterinary clinic.

Although the results of this study seem to support the stereotypes of cat color and aggressive behavior, e. g. “tortitude”, it is best to take these results with a grain of salt. 

  • Overall, the scores for aggression to humans and when being handled were quite low.
  • The questionnaires were completed by the owners and there will be some differences in the way people interpret and score things.
  • Stereotypes may have affected how respondents view their cats and scored them.
  • The questionnaires did not involve a random sample of cats and cat owners but cat owners who voluntarily signed up to fill out the forms. These could be potentially more interested and “saavy” owners.
  • There will be differences in how people approach and handle their cats.

At the Battersea Dogs and Cats home, cats were more friendly with humans after the human volunteers watched a video demonstrating how to  interact with cats. ( see “Practical Guidelines for Interacting with Cats” )

The link between coat color and aggressive behavior does not seem particularly strong.  Such information could be useful to cat owners, shelters, and veterinary clinics to allow them to anticipate what behaviors they may encounter. But as the saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.  A cat’s coat color is only part of the story – it is important to assess each cat as an individual.  Approach him or her respectfully following the CAT guidelines.

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Fighting catsIt is not uncommon for cats in a multi-cat household to engage in some redirected aggression. For example, cats waiting to be fed may engage in “boxing matches”. A cat watching birds at a window may swat at another cat who comes “too close” to her “bird-watching” spot. The cats are frustrated because the food or the birds are not available and they release their frustration through a physical motion. These incidents usually extinguish themselves and there are not lasting consequences.

 

when redirected aggression in your cat becomes a problem


One cat encounters an outdoor cat at the window, and becomes highly aroused, hair standing on end, hissing, growling, howling. He turns on his housemate who is passing by. If the aggressor associates the negative emotional state of a cat fight with his housemate, we may have a bully-victim relationship in the making. The aggressor cat (bully) may become aroused each time he sees the housemate and go after him. The housemate is now the victim and may become fearful of the bully. The bully may guard resources (litter boxes, food) from the victim, making the victim’s life miserable.

When the victim is not another cat


A cat may redirect his frustration and fear on whomever is closest and that could be you or the family dog.  Let’s say you drop a ceramic dish, which explodes with a crash and terrifies your cat.  You go to pick her up and she hisses and strikes out at you.  She may be leery of you after that, slinking away when she spots you, associating you with that horrible noise and things flying through the air.

redirected aggression in your cat – first aid


If the incident involved two cats:

  1. Place or “herd” the aggressive cat and the victim cat into separate rooms, with litter box, water and the lights off.  
  2. Once the cats are calm, see if there are any injuries and seek veterinary attention if needed.
  3.  If neither cat is injured, see if you can reintroduce them once they seem calm. See if they will eat or play on either side of a closed door. Work up to gradually opening the door – it is not a bad idea to have a barrier such as a baby gate in the doorway.
  4. This may take anywhere from a few minutes/hours to days/months.

If the victim was the family dog or human, first aid is similar with some modifications. Assess the victim for injuries. A dog will benefit from a quiet room while a human will, most likely, take comfort in discussing the incident with other people. A slow and gradual re-introduction with the cat is still a good idea.

How do I tell if my cat is calm?


Calm cat
This cat appears calm.
  • Is his body language calm – ears up, eyes open, muzzle relaxed, whiskers relaxed – not pinned against the muzzle?
  • Will she approach you in a friendly way – say, with tail up, relaxed  posture ?
  • Will he eat a snack?
  • Will she play with toys?

 

redirected aggression in your cat – the aftermath


  1. Try to identify the trigger.
  2. If you can identify a possible cause, for example, a neighborhood cat at the window, be proactive and move to prevent future occurrences.
  3. Coax the cat back to the place where the aggression happened. Allow her to thoroughly examine the area while providing a tasty snack and possibly some toys to make a positive association with the area.
  4. If the incident involved a person, desensitize the cat to the area where the incident happened before having that particular person return to the area. Once the cat is calm, have the “victim” come back but approach the area gradually. If the cat remains calm, he can come a little closer. The “final” approach should allow the cat to choose if she wants to interact.  Have some tasty treats on hand. Use of a harness and leash can be useful in this situation.
  5. If the incident involved two cats, let each cat return separately and make a positive association with the area. When both of them are calm in the area, you can try having them there together after reintroduction – be prepared in case hostilities break out again.

If the victim continues to trigger aggression in the “bully” cat, consult your veterinarian regarding medication and/or referral to a veterinary behaviorist.

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cats fighting due to frustrationYou are sitting by the window, engrossed in your latest murder mystery. You don’t notice that neighborhood tabby outside your window but your cat does and goes into full battle mode, hissing and striking at the window. You look up and jump, as your cat turns and strikes out at you. She looks like a miniature saber tooth tiger! Alarmed, you throw your glass of water at her as you beat a hasty retreat.

This is an example of what we call redirected aggression. Something happens that frustrates or frightens a cat, and the cat strikes out at whomever is closest. The cat cannot strike out at the cause of the arousal – it may be out of reach or too risky to confront. In this case, the tabby cat is out of reach but you are not!

People can find themselves in a similar situation. Say you get criticism from your supervisor. You can’t retaliate – it could effect your work evaluation. So, instead, you “take out” your frustration and anger on the assistant helping you, directing some snarky comments at her.

Avoiding Redirected Aggression in your cat


As Benjamin Franklin observed, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Be aware of situations that could trigger redirected aggression in your cat or any cat. Redirected aggression can damage the cat-owner bond if either the owner or cat is hurt. Redirected aggression can wreak havoc on the fragile harmony of a multi-cat household.

things that can Trigger Redirected Aggression in your cat


  • presence of another cat
  • high-pitched or loud noises
  • visitors in the house
  • a dog
  • an unusual odor
  • being outdoors unexpectedly

Your cat may feel he must defend his territory against strange cats, visitors to the house and dogs. He may scratch or bite when you intervene to move him to a safe place.

Strange odors, say smoke from a wildfire burning nearby, and loud noises can instill fear in your cat and he starts fighting with his housemate.

Being outdoors unexpectedly can be terrifying to the indoor-only cat and she may vent her fear on her would-be rescuer using her teeth and claws.

These are all situations where a cat may strike out and attack an “innocent” bystander because the cat is aroused or frightened.

Watch your cat’s body language for aggression: hair standing on end, growling, hissing? Staring at other cats, dogs, people? Is she blocking another cat from areas in the house? Stalking another cat?

Removing the Triggers for Redirected Aggression in Your Cat


Outdoor cats:

  • Discourage them coming into the yard using a motion activated sprinkler.
  • If you have a fence around your yard, cat proof it .
  • Install privacy film on windows where your cat may see outdoor cats.
  • Place scratching posts by doors and windows and allow your cat to mark his territory by scratching

Loud noises: If a loud noise scares your cat, let her hide and calm down before handling her. Once calm, try to entice her with a tasty snack or a wand toy. Wait for her to approach you.

Visitors: Advise visitors to leave the cat alone unless she comes over to greet them.

Dogs: Keep dogs separate from the cats using a baby gate or other barrier until you introduce them, one cat at a time.

Odors: You may need to separate cats and put them in quiet rooms until the odor dissipates or the cats acclimate to it. (In the case of wildfires, you may wish to have the carriers out and ready to go. Having the cats in smaller rooms will make it easier to kennel them up if you need to evacuate).

Being outdoors unexpectedly:

  • Your indoor cat escapes and you find her hiding under the steps. Avoid trying to pull her out.
  • Instead, arm yourself with patience and tasty food.
  • Get her cat carrier and cover it with a towel (making it appear dark and safe). It may take a little time but there is a good chance she will choose the safety of the carrier over the “great outdoors”.

If you have trained your cat to come when called, call her periodically – give her time to get over her fright and let her training kick in. And having her carrier with you can help you get her back indoors.

Redirected aggression in your cat is a consequence of an emotional state.  He may be ready to fight, frustrated or fearful and he vents these emotions on whomever is close because he cannot reach what’s triggering the emotion or he cannot flee the situation.

Join The Feline Purrspective next week for “Redirected Aggression in Your Cat – When It Becomes a Problem”.

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