Last week, Zoe, a two-and-a-half-year-old cat, was brought to the clinic by her worried parents. They had recently introduced another cat to Zoe, and not only had she acted aggressively towards it—something she had never shown towards anything or anyone earlier—she had also made an attempt to bite the owner.
Numerous factors may lead to aggression, like past trauma, shelter living, and lack of socialisation as a kitten. Being a pandemic kitten, Zoe had never encountered another cat at close quarters; as a result, the meeting caused fear and led to aggressiveness. It is simply a protective action taken for one’s own safety.
In a multi-cat household where one cat is trying to establish a hierarchy and is guarding resources, some cats may display territorial aggression towards the others. Aggression might also result from frustration. A cat without many opportunities for play, for instance, might notice a squirrel outside the window but is unable to get to it. If her owner were to be walking in that direction, the hyper-stimulated cat might swipe at them. Essentially, the hostility is a cry for help.
Knowing the early warning signals of aggression is crucial to preventing a full-blown attack. Before biting, cats will stoop, flatten their ears, raise their hackles, and hiss. Back off if you see a cat displaying any kind of aggression.
Inter-cat aggression can manifest in a variety of ways, from the blatant, like a real cat fight to hissing. However, there are other covert indicators, such as physically preventing access to supplies like food, water and the litter box. Some cats will hide behind furniture or sit on high shelves when a specific cat enters the room as a form of avoidance.
In a home with multiple cats, inter-cat hostility should not be disregarded. Inappropriate urination, excessive or inappropriate scratching, weight loss or gain, physical signs of stress, chronic vomiting without a known medical reason, decreased frequency of urination, psychogenic alopecia, urinary tract infections, and other behaviours or associated illnesses may all have inter-cat hostility as a root cause.
It’s essential to take your cat to the clinic if they exhibit any of these symptoms. The crucial distinction for ruling out aggression is pain. A lot of cats will act aggressively when they are uncomfortable. Painful conditions include arthritis, tooth disorders and wounds.
if you are dealing with an aggressive cat, verbal and physical punishment, as well as physical involvement with the cat (such as picking the cat up), should be avoided if the aggression is aimed towards the owner. Petting should be brief, concentrated around the whiskers and under the chin; cats are more tolerant of petting in these areas.
Introduce toys that take care of their hunting instincts. Make sure they get play time of at least 10-15 minutes. Switching toys can help them stay more mentally active. Playing with feeding/hunting toys that release food or treats can enhance the cat’s intrinsic need to stalk, capture, kill and eat.
Separate feeding locations, separate litter trays in different areas of the home and possibly physical separation can all help prevent aggression towards other cats. Create enough vertical spaces for your cats to retire to individually.
Because aggression is a behavioural response a cat may use to cope with fear, it’s critical to lower stress and anxiety. Medication can be used to reduce fear- based aggression. Anxiolytics such as amytriptyline can help. An amino acid called L-theanine has been demonstrated to lessen anxiety and stress symptoms. Pheromone dispensers are also available. Pheromone dispensing collars are an even more convenient way to keep each individual cat in a good mood. Consult a veterinarian, though.
Ultimately, being aware of their interpersonal relationships and noticing patterns of aggression, even if subtle, is the best way to ensure care at the right time.
Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai.