Aggression in cats (Proceedings)


Cats are not asocial animals nor are they small dogs. Cats are social animals and are individuals.

Feline social behavior

Cats are not asocial animals nor are they small dogs

Cats are social animals and are individuals.

For free ranging cats:

     • Home Ranges (area traveled during normal activities)

     • Time shares (Overlap)

     • Social groups

     • Stable

     • Co-operative parenting

     • Little is definitively known about hierarchy

     • Not "pack"

Affiliative gestures - behaviors that ↓ distance between cats

     • Characterized by Allogrooming and allorubbing

     • Proximity

     • Food sharing

     • Play

Agonistic behaviors - behaviors that ↑ distance between animals

     • Vocalization

     • Piloerection

     • Body language

     • Facial expressions

     • Facial Expressions

Types of Feline Aggression:

     • Redirected aggression

     • Territorial aggression

     • Fear-related aggression

     • Play-related aggression

     • Petting-induced (Status-related) aggression

     • Aggression in the Veterinary Office

Treatment options:

     • Desensitization and counterconditioning (DS/CC)

     • "House of Plenty"/Proper Play Activities

     • Remote punishment

     • +/- medications

     • +/- NILIF

     • Desensitization and Counterconditioning

     • Gradual (re)introductions

     • Start introductions through closed door

     • Screen door/carriers/leashes

     • Gradually increase time together and proximity

     • Rotate cats

     • Create a group scent

     • Towels

     • Feliway?

Counter Conditioning and Desensitization (CC/DS)

     • CC/DS is characterized by reintroduction over good things, use of delicious food, brushing and petting, use of catnip and play.

"House of Plenty"

     • Enough of everything for all cats (food, litter boxes, hiding/resting areas, toys, food based toys, videos, and bird feeders). Functions to decrease competition over resources.

     • Decreases competition

Remote Punishers – used at FIRST sign of aggression

     • Squirt gun, "Spray Shield" (Citronella Spray), SSSCAT ®, Compressed air, Double-sided tape, upside-down carpet runner, Scat Mat ®, Snappy Trainer ®

Redirected aggression

o Signalment: Any gender, breed, age

o Target: Person or other animal

     • Cat aggressively aroused & redirects aggression on closest target with arousal lasting hours to days



     • Isolation when unsupervised

     • Prevent exposure to arousing stimulus

     • Outside cats (Scarecrow, close blinds)

     • Odors from other cats

Territorial aggression

o Signalment: Any gender (MC most likely), Any breed but usually adults

o Target: Other animals, people

     • Guarding specific location

     • New cats introduced to a stable group

     • Similar to dispersion in wild ancestor

     • Spacing is critical

     • Personal territory vs. claiming an area as is seen in dogs

     • Can be among littermates


     • "House of Plenty" – Provide ample food and litter

     • DS/CC

     • Prevent exposure to outside cats

Fear-related Aggression

o Signalment: Any gender, breed, age

o Target: Other cats, people, can occur between "friends"

     • See a fearful-looking cat ("Halloween Cat")

     • Hissing, growling

     • Same house and avoids other cats when possible (w/ fear based intercat aggression)

     • Inter-male: testosterone dependent

     • Does not seek out target, but may or may not actively avoid the target

     • Can be classically conditioned


     • Separate from target (other cat or people)

     • "House of Plenty"

     • DS/CC

     • Anxiolytics

     • Fluoxetine/Reconcile ®

Play-related Aggression

o Signalment: Kittens & young cats, any gender, breed, and may be more common in orphans

o Target: People or other cats

     • Threatening posture, stalking, ambushes

     • Usually no vocalization

     • Becomes a problem when injurious

     • Bites, Scratches, Falls

     • Victims may become afraid of cat


     • Encourage object directed play

     • Add a playmate

     • Encourage independent play

     • Redirect to more appropriate play

     • Remote punishment

Petting-induced Aggression ("Don't Pet Me" bites)

o Signalment: Any gender, breed, age

o Target: People

     • Owners may notice change in body posture

     • Cat may solicit petting & tolerate some petting

Many consider petting-induced aggression to be part of Status Related Aggression which is owner or cat directed and is stimulated by attempting to control or dictate some aspect of the cat's behavior (petting, being picked up or moving the cat).


     • Stop petting at earliest sign

     • DS/CC

     • Remote punishment

Aggression in Veterinary Office

o Signalment: Any gender, breed, age

     • Can occur as kittens or following neutering surgery

     • Posture is consistent with fear (hissing, piloerection, arched back, flight)

     • Hissing, Growling, Swatting, Biting

     • May develop over time into offensive display

     • May be exacerbated by painful experience

     • Associated with rushed veterinary visits

     • Excessive Restraint

     • Anxious or Socially Inadequate Cats


     • Alter handling techniques

     • Remove from carrier by dumping or taking carrier apart

     • Move slowly with handling

     • Use towel to cover head

     • Remove from kennel using slip lead and "scoop" technique

Adding a New Cat

     • Gradual Introductions

     • Separate the newcomer

     • Start introductions through closed door

     • Screen door/carriers/leashes

     • Gradually ↑ time and proximity

     • Rotate cats

     • Create a group scent

     • Towels

     • Feliway

     • DS/CC

Retrospective study on adopted cats

Compared introducing cats:

     • immediately

     • after a week

     • after a month

Equal success rate! Outcome seems to be dependent on resident cat

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