It’s frightening when cats that are bonded with each other suddenly have violent fights with one another. The aggression doesn’t come out of nowhere — there are always reasons for the behavior. A common cause of this alarming behavior is other animals that can be seen but are out of reach. This type of aggression is referred to as redirected-aggression.
Redirected aggression typically occurs when animals can’t immediately confront threats. Instead they vent their frustrations on whoever is nearest to them. This might be another cat, dog, or even a person. The behavior isn’t just limited to cats. All animals, including humans, can engage in redirected aggression.
The primary triggers for cats’ redirected aggression are neighborhood cats that hang out around homes in full view. Indoor cats, unable to reach the outsiders, become agitated and attack whoever is nearby. This fractious behavior can destroy relationships — sometimes cats will attack other kitties who have been their best buds all their lives. It depends on individuals — some have no problems with visitors while others don’t tolerate them.
Be safe: Safety is always the priority. Everyone in the household, including other pets and people, need to be safe. Never pick up a fractious cat or try blocking him with any part of your body. Also, don’t try to pet or comfort the recipient of the aggression. The victim is also upset and may bite or scratch you — thus making you another victim of redirected aggression. Although the cats need to be separated, it can be done so that no one is bitten or scratched. Poster board, large pieces of cardboard, pillows as well as other flat objects, can double as separators. Position them between the two fighters and then herd the aggressor into another room and close the door. If that doesn’t work, then try squirting the aggressor on the side with water. Sometimes stamping one’s foot will stop the violence.
Time to chill: The instigator needs time to cool off in a quiet room alone — no other animals and a minimum of people should be allowed in his space. Turning off the lights and covering the windows in the room will help calm him down. Timeouts can last a few hours, but in extreme cases, they can last days. Sometimes the trauma persists, and the cats need to be kept separated from each other and then gradually reintroduced to each other. Depending on the individuals and severity of the aggression, reintroductions can take a few months or longer.
Eliminate scent: Cats that aren’t spayed or neutered typically mark their territories by spraying. Popular areas that are frequently targeted include windows and doors. Because these spots aren’t usually air tight, the air is exchanged between the outdoors and inside. The resident kitties smelling the outsiders’ calling cards sometimes react by marking inside the house or by venting on other resident animals.
All the areas that have been sprayed, inside the home as well as outside, have to be thoroughly cleaned with a good enzyme cleaner. It usually takes a couple of applications to remove the scent. A black light, used at night, will help you find the targeted areas. Urine fluoresces under black lights.
Keep unwanted visitors away: Encourage the neighborhood animals to stop hanging around your home — the goal is to make your home an unpleasant place for them to visit. Deterrents that won’t harm animals, such as motion sensitive sprinklers, plastic bird spikes placed on fences, lemon, and Bitter Apple will help keep the unwanted visitors away. Also, if you’re caring for feral cats, don’t feed them in view of the resident cats. Ideally, find another area to feed the strays that is away from your home.
Limit the view: Banning the trespassers usually takes time. Until they move on, be in charge of what your cat sees. Cover the windows or close the doors to the areas that look out on the intruders. After the neighborhood cats have stopped visiting, gradually uncover the windows.
Redirected aggression can be serious, and if not handled right can have long-term repercussions for the whole household. Peace can be restored when proper steps are taken and with patience.
Marilyn Krieger, a certified cat behavior consultant, is owner of the Cat Coach LLC (TheCatCoach.com) and the author of Naughty No More!, a book that focuses on changing unwanted cat behaviors through positive reinforcement. In addition to domestic cat behavior, Krieger is interested in the local mountain lion population and how urbanization is affecting mountain lions. She is helping the Felidae Conservation Fund with a wildlife study and blogging about her adventures at Ginger789.wixsite.com/felidaeblog and maintaining six wildlife cameras. Find the Cat Coach on Facebook, too: Facebook.com/TheCatCoach.
Are you a San Francisco Bay area cat behaviorist, cat consultant, or cat expert who would like to contribute to this column, Kitty Corner? Send email to Editor@BayWoof.com.
Main article photo by: Photo by VAlekseeva-istock