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Last Thursday, we posted an article about aggression in cats, written by a Michigan veterinarian. The post focused on multi-cat households. In today’s post, the focus turns to understanding feline body language and how to respond to an agitated cat.

In the Summer 2017 issue of BluePearl’s Companion, Dr. Jill Sackman, DVM, DACVS, PhD, of BluePearl in Michigan writes,

How Can You Tell When Your Cat is Upset?
“Unfortunately, humans don’t do a great job reading feline body language in order to de-escalate a stressed or aggressive cat. Understanding feline body language can help with avoiding conflict, its escalation and aggression.
“Cats use a combination of visual, olfactory [sense of smell] and audible communication to communicate and to avoid confrontation. Threatening feline body postures include hissing, piloerection [fur standing on end], arching of the back and side presentation. Ear position is also a helpful stress barometer. Cats that are restricted in movement (i.e. cages, transport boxes) may choose to fight when unable to flee. The ability to get away, hide under something or jump up high can influence the expression of the aggressive responses.”

What To Do About An Aggressive Cat?
Try Understanding:
“The most frequent basis for aggression from cats to people revolves around fear, anxiety*, frustration and misdirected predatory behavior. Fearful cats learn that aggressive stances are effective at maintaining distance between them and people, and the behavior can evolve to a preemptive strategy.”

[*See more about anxiety in pets here.]

Try a Time-Out:
“Play-based aggression may arise from predatory play, which is an integral part of feline behavior and learning. Treatment is focused on finding outlets for play and directing the cat toward appropriate activities and toys. Playing with hands should be discouraged.
“Redirected aggression occurs when a cat faces an agitating circumstance and is unable to vent aggression. Stimuli include loud noises, odor of another cat, unfamiliar people or environments, and pain. Agitated cats† should be placed in a darkened room with food, water and litter box and left there with the door closed. If the aggression was directed at another unsuspecting feline, very SLOW reintroduction must be done.
“Punishment is contraindicated [i.e. not recommended] in all cases as this will lead to a worsening of the behavior.”

Dr. Miele notes that picking up or otherwise handling an angry cat can result in injury to the owner or handler. If you cannot safely remove the cat from the room, consider removing all people and other pets from the room, instead.

Dr. Sackman stresses that an aggressive cat should have a medical check-up to look for health problems that may lead to aggressive behavior. She also recommends evaluating the home environment to look for triggering circumstances that can be addressed appropriately.

Note: Your veterinarian is the best source of information on dealing with aggression in cats. An examination and testing may be necessary to discover underlying physical problems that may be at the root of feline aggression. To avoid injury to yourself or others in the household, talk to your pet’s veterinarian, or ask for a referral to an animal behavior specialist.* (*Not available in all areas.)

 

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Head-butting.

Hopping sideways.

Leaving a dead mouse on the doorstep.

     Let’s face it:  cats do some pretty weird things.  The question is:  Why?  Animal Planet has all the answers in their Top 10 Cat Quirks.  Check it out and learn the secret language of cats.

 

Reading List

Why Cats Do That:  A Collection of Curious Kitty Quirks

The Cat Bible:  Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know

The Cat Behavior Answer Book

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