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The Bite That Hurts - Coping With Cat Aggression

Talk about thorny problems - or rather pointed (cat's claws and teeth) problems. Did you know this is the second highest ranking problem that drives cat owners to the vet for solutions? The first one is inappropriate elimination in the house. If your cat came with manuals, this might be a lot easier to deal with. However, cats don't come with manuals, and the other thing is, even if they did, they wouldn't read them anyway.

So what do you do? That's the $64 million dollar question. It's well documented that aggression is usually "acquired" in one of two ways - early experiences in life and genetics, with genetics playing the lead role. You might be able to live with your cat's quirks (I mean really, they live with ours!) but cat bites and scratches hurt like the dickens and can cause infections.

Yes, cats are considered pets, but by nature they are hunters and stalkers with the teeth and claws to back that point up. No matter how pampered your Maine Coon Cat is, they will still lie in wait, stalk and pounce. That's just the way it is! You've seen them rip about your house batting and pouncing on anything that moves, including the dog's wagging tail (which sets the dog off too). In the world of a small kitten, and at times older cats, anything that looks like it might be "prey" is worth hunting. It's a great blast playing hunt! However, if you decide to encourage this kind of behavior, beware! It can and will get out of hand.

Kittens usually have litter-mates to test their boundaries. If one of them gets out of line, they get an attitude adjustment from the kitten they just peed off, or Mom steps in and reads them the riot act. If a kitten is adopted out too early, this rough play transfers to the owner. Owners don't always let the cat know what's out of line and what isn't. Likely under the mistaken impression that it's "just" harmless play and you can't discipline a cat like a dog.

There's a difference between harmless kitten/cat carousing and aggressive play. Just look at your kitten/cat and you will know the signs right away - highly exaggerated postures, the "crouch", ears flattened, dilated pupils and that wicked switching tail. What to do? Re-direct the kitten's/cat's behavior if you like by clapping your hands loudly or making some other ruckus that startles them.

Frankly the easiest solution is to not encourage this acting out by rough housing with them. Refuse to participate and yes, they will grow out of this.

Territory aggression is a bit of a bummer. The racket a cat lets out when another feline comes onto "their" property is horrendous. You can't miss it. It might sound funny, but in terms of staking a claim to a place, a cat is way worse than a dog. This kind of behavior usually starts when they are between 1 and 2 years old. They not only get upset, they get downright bent out of shape at any other cat daring to intrude. It will sometimes take them more than half the day to get their noses out of joint.

Territory aggression is the "hey this spot is mine" kind of clash that happens right in front of you in the house. The hissing, growling and spitting starts, there's usually some fast foot action, a yowl or two and the chase is on. If you interfere you may get bitten, clawed or hissed at. If you do succeed in separating the cats, the instigator may displace his bad mood on the other cats in the house (and sometimes the owner).

There are times when the feline grumbling can escalate into a full rear attack made by the more dominant member of the pack. The submissive cat gets tail and loin injuries. When in that spot they usually retaliate and spray the house to get their rank in the pack back. You won't always see this coming either because the signals they give each other are really subtle. Although multiple cat households are mostly peaceful because they've all worked out their differences over a period of time, clashes do happen when something causes stress. Turf battles can be loud and ugly. Adding a new cat to the mix without following the "Introduction" protocol will invite a disaster.

What to do with a turf battle? Separate the combatants with gloves, or something to protect your hands. Take them to separate rooms. By the way, if you are returning from the vet, leave the cat in the carrier for an hour before letting it out. Don't punish them past separating them after the battle. Instead withdraw affection for a few days and they'll get the message quickly.

You can also try a product called Feliway. Although it's usually used to stop cats from peeing in the house, it can be used to calm aggression in cats. Don't spray it directly on the cat. Use a cloth of some sort like paper towels, wait until it's not damp then rub the towel on the cat's back and sides of the head. Have lots of super sturdy scratching posts and good pounce toys. Keep nails clipped short.

Aggression directed against humans is more than a bummer. It can be dangerous for both you and the cat. This type of aggression is usually instilled due to improper handling while the cat was a kitten. They will be frightened of people, pin their ears back, curl their tails inward, angle their bodies away from the threat and lash out with claws and bite. The hissy fit usually involves a show of sharp, pointed teeth and their hair may be standing on end.

Really about the only thing you can do in this situation is to make sure kittens are handled gently and appropriately and properly socialized to humans, other cats and dogs. Stroke slowly and gently when kitten is relaxed, and treat with food when you are done. If you're dealing with an adult, then this is more difficult to manage.

Adults can take a long time to overcome fear, but it can be done with patience. Let the cat get hungry then offer its favorite food. Don't approach the cat! Wait until it comes to you. This might not happen for a while but if you act slowly and carefully, with respect, the cat will eventually come around and eat out of your hand. The cat needs to work out its fears in its own good time, pushing it will not help.

Oddly enough, cats also manifest something called redirected aggression as well. What happens is something upsets the cat and instead of taking its aggression out on the cause of their angst, they beat up the owner or another pet. Obviously this would ruin any trust built up between the cat and the other cats and the owner.

The only solution to this is to find and remove what caused the aggression in the first place. If it was another cat, shut the blinds, tear outside and shoo it away. Leave your cat alone until it calms down. Don't try to calm it down or you will likely get bitten for your trouble. Separate the upset cat from the others by putting it into a room by itself and leave the lights off. If you need to, use gloves to pick the upset feline up, or wrap it in a towel. Once calm, reintroduce the cat to the others. This by the way is why cats coming back from the vet get pounced on. The others can smell strange "cat/other animals" on the returning feline.

Aggression related to medical difficulties is another problem to consider. Although this does not happen that frequently, it is something you need to check with your vet. You need to check with a vet when the aggression happens literally out of the blue.

Handle the cat with care and make sure it remains in the carrier until the vet is ready for the exam. You'd be ideally asking for a complete exam and x-rays to rule out a problem. The exam may catch arthritis, which is painful for the cat when handled. There may a neurological problem. Take the time to find out what ails your cat. It will make life easier.

There are a number of possible medical solutions to problems your cat may have. It of course depends on the diagnosis, which could be anything from arthritis to "ghost" pains or epilepsy to "dry" feline infectious peritonitis (terminal). Work with your vet and cat to get the best medication possible to help them.

Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde at times take up residence in your cat (petting aggression). While petting them they suddenly whirl and bite you. Hmmm, they wanted up on your lap in the first place! What's up with that?

What's up with that is that some cats have a low tolerance for affection. So at the first signs they're getting peed - restlessness, twitching tail, flat ears that are twitching and moving its head toward you hand - release the cat. You can try handing them a yummy fish treat just before you think they might attack, but this is a little like trying to guess the winning numbers in the lottery.

There are other forms of aggression such as dominance aggression and maternal aggression. Both display the classic signs of a perturbed puss that we have already discussed in this article. Yes there are drugs you can try that range from Valium to Acepromazine (tranquilizers) and from antihistamines to amytriptyline. The bottom line is really this: do you want your cat on drugs? Will it help them curb the aggression? Tough questions that only you, in consultation with your vet, can make up your mind about.

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