Redirected Aggression in Cats

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Tess Thompson

It is a known fact that all animals, including humans, have different methods of dealing with perceived threats. While aggressive dog behavior like dog biting is a more common response in canines, cats are more likely to take to flight. However, cats also choose between flight, fight, or freeze when they get cornered in a situation they perceive as fearful. Cats can also be aggressive, but they may choose to fight only in typical situations.
One of the most common types of aggressive behavior in cats is aggression that is redirected from the actual source of threat. Unlike dog aggression, that is more likely to be related to dominance, cats are more susceptible to redirect their aggression to a harmless bystander.
A cat that perceives a threat from a source that is inaccessible or is aroused excessively by a stimulus is liable to attack whosoever is close - an object, family member, or another cat in the household. Although redirected aggression is normal in a wild setting, it is one of the main reasons why some families give up their cats for good. Owners or other victims normally remain oblivious of the real reasons behind the aggression. The general perception is that the cat has become aggressive without a reason.
Cats enjoy sitting near windows, and they are prone to get excited or fearful if they see another cat outside. The presence of another cat in the house, as well as visitors, high-pitched noises, a dog, or an unusual odor are some of the other stimulating factors that trigger redirected aggression.
Recovering composure after anxiety or arousal depends upon the severity of the stimulus that has triggered the aggression or anxiety. Bringing the cat back to normal behavior can take months. However, if the cat is continuously exposed to the same environment that provokes an emotional response, the aggressive response can get strengthened over time.
Treating feline redirected aggression is difficult, as the stimulus is not easily identifiable. It is important to understand feline behavior so that you can deal with redirected aggression in cats. The key to treatment involves an understanding of these four vital factors:

  1. Cats can sometimes inflict serious wounds, and the primary step is to ensure the safety of the family members. The smallest detectable sensation can make a cat anxious, fearful, or instigate aggressive behavior. In such extreme cases, the cat should be isolated for safety.
  2. Identify the trigger. Look outside the window for signs of an intruder, smells of urine, paw prints, spraying against the window, or nose prints on the window pane. Try whatever you can to prevent recurrence. Request your neighbors to keep their cats inside for a certain period of time or put a curtain over the window.
  3. If the cause of the aggression and excitement is a dog chasing your cat, separate them and ensure that it does not happen again.
  4. If nothing works, take the ultimate step of using anti-anxiety drugs-- even though it is difficult to medicate aggressive and nervous cats.

The instinctive predatory nature of cats is what makes them concentrate fully on a particular object or animal. The general idea behind treating redirected aggression is to consistently desensitize the cat from what seems to trigger the emotional response. Counter conditioning by offering treats when the cat remains calm in face of the original trigger often helps to a great extent.


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