Winter 2010 Newsletter
A friend recently called me in great distress because her two male cats were fighting. They'd been good friends until recently. Then a cat from the neighborhood sashayed past the window. One of her cats, Oscar, made all the right moves to attack the intruder on the other side of the window - hissing, screaming and arching his back. But he was thwarted in his desire to attack due to a pane of glass. Then her other cat, Herman, walked past, probably drawn by the commotion. Turning away from the window, Oscar spied Herman and took out all his pent up aggression on him. A fight ensued. My friend managed to separate the two cats into different rooms. Now whenever Oscar sees Herman, it acts as a trigger for him to go on the attack again.
According to animal behaviorists, aggression is second on the list of feline behavior problems people most want to solve with the first being inappropriate elimination. Cats display several different types of aggressive behavior. There is status-related or dominance aggression, fear aggression, territorial aggression and redirected aggression. Oscar and Herman displayed a full-blown case of redirected aggression. My friend loves both her cats and doesn't want to see either of them hurt and she definitely doesn't want to find a new home for either of them. But what is she to do about this problem?
There are several ways of treating redirected aggression but the key to a successful outcome is patience. This is not a quick process. The steps to follow are as follows.
If you achieve less than satisfactory results with this method, some animal behaviorists suggest using drugs or holistic interventions to help the situation. Drugs such as Amitriptyline, Buspirone or Valium need to be prescribed by your veterinarian. These anti-anxiety drugs can help calm cats. Holistic remedies and aids are available in pet supply stores. Feliway Plug-In is frequently used to calm the atmosphere. The plug-in works in an electrical socket and diffuses pheremones thoughout the room. It was made to imitate the friendly facial pheremones cats use to mark territory. Bach's Flower Essences, especially Rescue Remedy, also is used in stressful situations. A drop or two in the cat's water bowl every day has a calming effect.
Remember patience is the name of the game here. This process is slow and can take several months before you have acceptable results. These techniques work well with some cats but they don't always work.
Another thing for you to work on is getting rid of the original trigger. If there is another outside cat involved, as there is here, you might talk with that cat's owner about keeping his cat indoors. You might try re-arranging the furniture or covering the window where the outside cat is likely to appear. This is almost impossible to accomplish however. There may also be unidentified issues between Oscar and Herman that no one knew about which were set off by the outside cat.
Redirected aggression is one of the most difficult behavior problems to treat. It takes tremendous patience on the owner's part and some luck for affected cats to be friends again. In this case both cats were neutered. However, if you have cats that aren't neutered, it definitely can contribute to this behavior. The non-neutered cat wants to defend his territory. By all means neuter your cats.
You need to understand some cats will always fight if they are alone together. However, they may be happy living in different rooms of your home. This solution is more work for you but it works for the cats. In extreme cases, you may need to consider re-homing one of the cats, difficult as that decision is. You need to consider the happiness and safety of your whole household when making this decision.
My friend is working her way through these steps and hoping for the best. My hope is that she succeeds.
For a handy chart to help make the reintroduction process easier go to: www.Petroglyphsnm.org/cat_reintro_chart.html
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