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Posted on 09-27-2013

Everyday at Eagle Animal Hospital we are encountered with the dilemma of our client's difficulty getting their cats to the hospital for veterinary care. This is in large part due to their cat's aggression towards being placed in a carrier, put in the car and brought to the hospital. Unfortunately, this may lead to many cats not receiving the best care possible. By understanding our cat's aggression, we can better implement plans at home to help avoid escalating aggression and potentially harmful encounters for both clients and their cats.

There are several categories of aggression in cats: pathophysiologic, Play, Redirected, Petting, Status,Fear, Maternal and Territorial.

Pathophysiologic aggression can occur when a cat has an underlying disease processing leading to pain, increased metabolism and neurologic/ behavior disorders. Hyperthyroidism, arthritis, dental disease, infections, central nervous system tumors are a few of the common diseases that can lead to aggression. Cats exhibiting aggression should be evaluated by a veterinarian to address any underlying potential causes and treated accordingly..

Play aggression is very common in young cats and kittens. In the wild, this play helps cats develop the hunting skills needed for survival. Kittens raised with littermates learn how to bite and scratch with play-appropriate intensity. However, kittens raised without playmates may not and become more aggressive in their play. By acting as the kitten's littermate and giving the appropriate signals as to appropriate play, owners can avoid escalating aggression.

Redirected aggression occurs when a cat is stimulated by something that is not accessible (a cat outside the window, for example). The cat then redirects it's aggression at the nearest target, such as a housemate or owner.

Petting aggression occurs when a cat seeks owner attention, yet attacks the owner during petting. Most owners do not see the escalating signals of aggression (lashing tail, dilated pupils, tensed body) and think the cat spontaneously attacked. These cats often have a clear threshold for physical attention and, when recognizing  the early signs of aggression, can be avoided.

Status aggression, or dominance aggression, occurs with cats that are more assertive and control situations with bold posturing or actual attacks. This may be directed at owners or other housemates to control territory (a room/ bed/ etc) or a resource (food/ toys/ etc). Maturing kittens with more aggressive play aggression may be more prone to developing status aggression and be more dominant.

Fear aggression is a defensive behavior directed at unfamiliar or threatening stimuli. In the veterinary clinic, fear aggression is the most common. This aggression can be avoided by letting cats get used to their carriers at home from a young age. Keeping carriers out regularly where cat's can have access to them so they can sleep in them, eat in them, etc will help to alleviate the stress of seeing the carrier once a year. Frequent handling if your cat's feet/ feet/ ears/ face/ mouth from a young age will make it easier to handle the cat during exams as they get older. In the veterinary hospital, these cats can be handled carefully, slowly and generally using towels and blankets to allow them to hide and feel safe.

Maternal aggression occurs with the mother protecting her offspring.

Territorial aggression is common and often triggered by a new cat's introduction into the household. It can also be directed at an established cat bearing odd odors from outside or a trip to the vet office. This can start gradually and build to result in both cats being aggressive, one territorially and the other fearfully.

Treatment for aggression primarily involves trying to isolate the trigger for aggression, changing the environment and modifying owner behavior. Some medications are available that can help in these situations along with behavioral/ environmental modification.

Please contact Eagle Animal Hospital (610) 458-8789 and speak with one of our knowledgable receptionists, technicians and doctors if you feel you have an aggression problem with your cat. We serve Chester Springs, Downingtown, Exton, Glenmoore and the surrounding area.  

Written by David Matunis, VMD

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