Thursday, November 17, 2011

Redirected Aggression

Do your cats like to watch animals in the yard? Are they glued to the windows when you hear rustling outside? Do they ever seem just a little too excited? Sometimes our indoor cats can get a bit worried about outdoor cats. Especially in households with multiple cats, one kitty decides that five (or four or two) cats in the house are more than enough.

Spraying is the most common problem for a territorial cat. (Remember, if your cat eliminates outside the box, your first call should be to the veterinarian to rule out a health problem.) A cat who is marking will almost always spray on a vertical surface. If you find or smell urine around your door or under a window, this is often an attempt by your cat to say “This is mine. Stay OUT!”

An overly excited cat may also unexpectedly turn on the nearest victim, usually his beloved housemate, and savagely attack her. This is known as redirected aggression, and seems to result from a frustration at being unable to reach the intruder. If your cats have an episode like this, separate them by throwing a towel over each cat and moving the aggressor to a dark room. BE CAREFUL when you do this. The aggressor cat is overly stimulated and may violently attack anyone, including you. When your cat has calmed down, slowly reintroduce him or her to the house. Because of the unexpected nature of such an episode, some cats need to be reintroduced as if they were strangers. The aggressor cat needs to realize that this is his lifetime companion, and the victim needs to see that she’s not about to be attacked again.

Although redirected aggression is an extreme example of feline ‘neighborhood watch’ stress, some cats just find the whole thing too exciting. How can we distract and calm the overexcited cat? First of all, restrict access to the windows. Heavy drapes can deter window climbing, and the nature channel can provide a calmer alternative. Most episodes seem to happen around dawn or at dusk when lots of critters are prowling about. Scheduling some feeding or play sessions around these times will provide safer activities for your cats. If you want to let your cats enjoy window time with less risk of property damage, consider giving them a cat tree with a nice scratching post next to the window. Scratching is a marking behavior for cats and this can be a much more acceptable outlet for that instinct than spraying. Finally, consider Feliway.  Feliway mimics the facial pheromones of cats and is designed to reduce the stress level of the cats in a room. When used with the environmental tips above, Feliway can help make your cats enjoy window watching as a calming, casual sport.

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