Sunday, February 16, 2014

Feline Aggression Part 3: How to Resolve Aggression Towards Humans

by Amanda L. Maus DVM
Catalina Pet Hospital

Tucson, AZ

Obtaining a new cat with aggressive tendencies or having your established cat develop aggressive tendencies towards humans can be frustrating as well as a potential safety hazard.   People typically respond in one of two ways: yell at the cat or try to console the cat.  Do not attempt to soothe the cat with petting or touch!!  Your best course of action is to leave the cat alone for awhile.  During that time, figure out what triggers the aggression: certain noises, type of play, petting, restraint/handling, or redirected anger/frustration.  Also, consider how severe the aggression has become and when it started.

Things to think about:
  • Does your cat become combative after hearing noises outside, such as a stray cat meowing?
  • Does your cat resent being held?
  • Does your cat seemingly become grumpy out of nowhere when petted?
  • Does your cat stalk you from underneath furniture or around corners?
  • Does your cat hide and hiss when approached?
  • Does your cat swat at you or actually scratch the skin?
  • Does your cat bite you and leave bleeding wounds?
  • Has your cat been showing symptoms of arthritis, weight loss, trouble eating, or an infection?
  • Does your cat have adequate escape routes around the house where the aggression occurs?

Some cats just prefer less affection than other cats.  Certain cats prefer to only be petted when they approach you, not the other way around.  Other cats do not like being picked up or held, whether that be correctly or incorrectly.  All cats prefer to have an available escape route or hiding place in case something scares them or they just want to be left alone.  Most cats have the desire and drive to have play time to release their predator instincts.  Certain medical diseases and conditions can cause a cat to become grumpy and act aggressively, especially if disturbed.

Regardless of the cause of your cat acting aggressively towards humans, you can apply some of the solutions selected in the aggression between cats blog from last week.  Make sure that there are enough safe zones for hiding and high up perches. Also, consider purchasing feline pheromone sprays or plug ins that can help calm cats. You can discuss with your veterinarian about purchasing prescription foods meant to calm stressed out cats. Make sure your cats are receiving adequate, vigorous play time (10 - 15 minutes) to provide a release for their prey drive instincts. You can have your cats play out their natural instincts before meal times.  The cat is thoroughly tired out by a serious play session with wand or fishing rod type toys with their preferred "prey" attached to the toy. After they have sufficiently "killed" the prey, they are rewarded with eating.  In addition, make sure your cat has quiet areas where they can rest, eat, drink, and use the litter box in peace. 

For the aggressive cat who tends to stalk or sneak up on the human, purchase a collar with a bell so that their presence is known before they appear.  That way, they can be distracted and taken out of the predator mindset before they attack.  Interruption can be done with a startling noise and then a toy can be thrown for the cat to chase in order to replace the aggressive behavior.

For other types of play aggression, never use your hands to wrestle with your cat.  Always use toys that create distance between your hands and the cat, such as: a fishing rod toy, laser pointer, balls or mice that can be thrown, treat dispenser toys, etc.

For the cat who attacks when petted, certain approaches can be implemented.  One is to only pet the cat around the chin and top of the head around the ears.  Some cats have no patience for petting along the length of their body.  Another approach is to not go to the cat and begin a petting session.  Instead, wait for the cat to come to you for attention first.  Use positive reinforcement with treats to reward the cat at short intervals while they are accepting the petting nicely.  If at any time the cat starts showing any sign of aggravation: tail swishing, ears back, etc, stop petting the cat immediately.  If the cat still continues aggressive behavior, stand up and walk away from the cat. 

Remember, your veterinarian is a valuable asset for diagnosing diseases that may cause aggression as well as for giving advice about treating behavioral cat aggression.

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