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My cat is being aggressive towards my other cat - what should I do?
Aggression is one of the most common problems seen in behavioural practice. Aggression can be defined as a threat, challenge or attack that is directed towards one or more individuals. Aggression may be normal or abnormal depending on the context in which it occurs.
There are many different reasons why cats can be aggressive towards other cats. To be able to successfully treat the problem, it's essential to work out what the underlying cause, or trigger, is. To do this, we recommend that you consult with a qualified veterinary behaviourist (your local vet can refer you). They will ask you lots of questions and may also visit you in your house so they can observe your cat in their own environment and their interactions with other cats in the household.
Medical conditions can cause aggression so it is important to rule out any underlying medical causes prior to addressing behavioural causes for aggression. Brain disorders, liver disease, epilepsy, poor hearing or sight, pain-inducing disease (e.g. arthritis) and hormone imbalances can cause aggression. Certain medications, including anaesthetic agents and corticosteroids (e.g. cortisone) have also been associated with aggression.
Some of the underlying non-medical causes for aggression between cats in the same household include fear, lack of socialisation, inappropriate introduction of a new cat, overcrowding (i.e. not enough vertical or horizontal space, too few resources etc), redirected aggression, play and predation.Some of the underlying causes for aggression between cats outside the household (neighbourhood cats) include fear, lack of socialisation, introduction of a new cat in the territory, hormonal (entire males or females) and redirected aggression.
Signs of aggression may be visual (e.g. changes in body posture, erect fur), auditory (e.g. growling, hissing), olfactory (e.g. urine spraying) and may involve use of teeth and claws.
This article provides some basic advice about five common types of aggression directed at other cats and how to deal with them:
1. Fear aggression
Fear aggression may be exhibited in a combination of offensive and defensive responses. The fearful cat may initially attempt to avoid the fear stimulus if that is an option. Fearful cats will typically hiss, spit, growl, pilo-erect (fur stands up), flatten their ears against the head and show a low or crouched body position. Pupil dilation is common. He/she may try to flee or attack, depending on the circumstances. Aggression is usually the last resort but it is often violent and over time may become learnt. Spraying may also occur.
2. Inter-male aggression
In male-male aggression the cat flattens his ears, howls, hisses, pilo-erects and uses both the teeth and claws in fights. The signs may be either active (threatening) or passive (blocking access).
3. Play Aggression
Cats often stalk, chase, pounce and lay in wait as a from of 'play', but this can also involve aggression in the form of biting and scratching. It is sometimes difficult to recognise play aggression as some cats play more roughly than others and do not retract their claws when they swat.
Direct punishment, such as smacking, must not be used as this may encourage the behaviour and may lead to other problems, such as fear aggression or redirected aggression. A regular routine that involves interactive play time involving toys 2-3 times daily for 5-10 minutes is important to provide a natural outlet for the behaviour.
Placing several bells on the cat's collar at varying intervals has been advocated so that the victim has a warning signal of the cat's presence. Acquiring a second kitten, preferably one that is not very young, may also help to teach the cat more appropriate behaviour.
4. Redirected Aggression
Redirected aggression occurs when the original target of the aggression is not accessible and the cat now directs its aggression towards an unrelated target, a person or another cat, that enters the area soon after.
Commonly, the behaviour of the target also changes and this then results in a prolonged conflict, with the second cat now acting warily, running away, and showing avoidance behaviour whenever the first cat enters the room or approaches.
The cats are then slowly reintroduced. Initially they are only in the same room during meal times. They are placed in cages at opposite ends of the room and are fed at this time. This should create a positive association with food and the presence of the other cat. If no hissing or spitting occurs and the cats eat the food, the cages are gradually brought closer and closer to each other over a period of days and meals. This may take several weeks. Then one cat at a time is allowed out of its cage to explore and, if no aggression occurs, then both are allowed to interact under supervision. The re-introduction needs to be slow.
In some cases medication may also be needed (your vet will advise). Synthetic pheromones - Feliway® diffuser plugged into the room can also be beneficial to decrease anxiety. Your vet will advise.
5. Territorial Aggression
The cat may patrol its territory and mark it by rubbing or spraying to maintain social distance as well as define hierarchy. The cat is aggressive to another cat that approaches or enters his territory and he may attack.
In some cases, medication may also be needed to treat the cat (your vet will advise). Physical punishment must not be used as it will exacerbate the problem.
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