Nobody likes a cat who attacks other cats or dogs or even you. Territoriality and fear are usually the causes and the good news is both can be controlled.
Cats don’t plan nasty behaviour. They probably don’t lie around the house waiting to punish their humans for some perceived behavioural infraction or slight. “It’s more likely they are saying, Hey, This is my house,” says Katherine A Houpt, VMD, PhD, Director of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Behaviour Clinic, NY.
Kitty behaviour…it’s all in the genes
Probably more than 50 percent of cat behaviours is genetically programmed. Cats were originally solitary hunters and territorial animals. Cats began to live together in social groups only when humans began to provide concentrated sources of food.
Early socialization…a must
Cats must be socialized early. The critical period for the socialisation of cats is 2-7 weeks of age. During that time, kittens should meet other cats, humans and dogs. Cats who are not socialised early may end up as difficult house cats.
A one-cat household will have fewer socialization problems than a two-cat household. And having three cats in the house almost always leads to some trouble – aggression, spraying, or litter box infractions. When a new cat joins the household, it is not necessarily the original cat who is the aggressor; it can be the new cat. If this arrangement occurs, keep the litter boxes separated as well.
The problem can also develop with as simple an act as taking one cat to the veterinarian. Another cat doesn’t recognize him upon his return. The returning cat smells different.
Besides obvious behaviour, how do you know when an attitude develops? Cats stare and they walk with their hind legs extended so that their backs slope form tail to shoulder. Sometimes they make caterwauling sounds and hissing noises (although hissing can also indicate fear). In addition, a cat staring at a human in irritation may lash his tail from side and point its ears backward. A wagging tail is a happy dog but an angry cat.
Taming the kitty…
- Bell the cat: One way to discourage staring and tension between cats is to put a bell on the aggressor; the bell warns the other cat.
- Keep the two cats separate: It is important that the victim not be frightened of the other cat. One elaborate way to reintroduce cats if they become hostile is to keep the aggressor in a less desirable area of the house behind a solid door, gradually replaced by a plastic door, a screen door, or a door open just a crack. It is not always possible to do this unfortunately but as an alternative the aggressor can be put in a cage while the other cat remains free.
- Feed them together: Feed the cats their meals together, although initially with their food bowls on opposite sides of the room. Gradually, move their food dishes closer together. When the aggressor is first let out of the cage, keep him on a harness.
- Medication for both: Medication for both cats, prescribed by a veterinarian, may be useful – to reduce aggression in one cat and reduce anxiety in the other.
- Careful with a pup: Don’t introduce a puppy to an adult cat – what is play to a puppy can be torture to a cat.
- Redirected aggression: Cats go after human as well, especially after what they may consider to be a threatening experience. Owners do get attacked, but most often it is a case of redirected aggression; a cat seeing another cat out of the window may become aroused and attack his companion cat, a dog or his owner. The cat picks the handiest target and it is a good example of how tenuous cat social bonds are.
- Work out a solution: Don’t let a bad attitude continue. Cats can become enemies forever unless you do something. It is wise to talk to your veterinarian as they will often have a good solution to the problems.
Thus, cattitude can be controlled and your kitty can be the epitome of love and friendship…your friend for life!
(Joan Henderson is based in Australia and she has judged furry felines in many other countries including the USA, Bermuda, Malaysia, South Africa, Hong Kong, Philippines and New Zealand).