Team tip: Help clients handle stranger-directed aggression in cats

September 15, 2016

ELise Christensen, DVM, DACVB, gives the framework for creating a treatment plan.

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Stranger-directed aggression in feline patients can be a frustrating behavior problem for veterinary clients. The first thing to do when these patients are presented is to take a thorough history from the client and complete a physical examination to rule out conditions, says E'Lise Christensen, DVM, DACVB.

Some important questions to ask during your history:

> How long has the behavior been occurring?

> How did the behavior develop?

> Have injuries occurred?

> Who are the targets of the aggression?

> Does the behavior follow a predictable pattern?

> How is the living space laid out?

> If there are multiple pets in the home, how do the pets interact?

> What is the human family system like?

Then work to create a plan and structure in the client's home to decrease the exposure to the stimuli that triggers the cat.

Start by creating a safe space for the pet, such as a bed or cat condo that the cat can be taught to go to with the goal of decreasing behavioral arousal, Dr. Christensen says. Giving the cat lots of positive reinforcement for using the safe place will encourage them to use it more often. Then teach clients about environmental enrichment and behavioral modification for their pet, like implementing clicker training.

No matter what strategy the clients use to modify their pets' behavior, it's important that punishment isn't used in situations when aggressive behaviors occur, says Dr. Christensen. Punishment can actually increase aggression, decrease learning and increase fear and anxiety in the pet.