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Issue: 61 - Jan 15, 2014
Preventing Feline Housemate Aggression
By: Dr. Sally J Foote DVM CABC-IAABC
Dr Sally Foote

Housemate cat fights are very common in our feline patients. We rarely see problems directly related to this in practice.  It takes a very bold, aggressive cat to cause deep puncture wounds requiring care. We may think this is just a single, bad event. Maybe we offer some suggestions or the client says they know what set the cats off and can take care of it. If you were to watch a video on how these cats are interacting around the home, you would see that there are a lot of subtle signs on anxiety, tension and aggression between the cats daily.

Dr Kelly Moffat ACVB recently wrote an article in September 2013 Clinician's Brief on feline aggression. One of the points that Dr. Moffat makes is how excessive play and petting aggression is a risk factor for status aggression after kitten hood. What does this mean? That bold, confident kittens who grab onto people (or are encouraged), treading the back feet and biting in play learn to do this on the owner regularly. People equal pounce and attack. These same cats may not like long periods of stroking and petting.  They will turn and grab onto the owner during petting and again associate petting - biting owner.  Bolder cats will also pounce on a housemate cat first in play as a kitten, then continue as an adult seeing the other cat as a target for predatory play.  So at first, these behaviors are not harmful and are play based, so they are accepted as normal or even fun.  As the cat grows up, the pouncing and grabbing becomes the way the cat control's its environment.  This cat becomes the attack cat using pouncing and biting to get other cats away from food, toys, perches and even people.  Any threat results in sudden jumping/grabbing and biting.

Preventing these behaviors at home is important.  In our practice we have been handing out small catnip pillows, empty paper towel tubes, and real bird feathers to clients showing them how we want their cats to pounce and "kill" these objects. Empty Kleenex boxes are great food puzzles.  We save all of this from our daily trash and give our clients a solution. At the kitten appointments I stress how it is normal for the kitten to pounce but very important that it is not on our hands, feet or very limited to their buddy cat. Show them how to put a few food kibble in the paper towel roll, stuff the end with Kleenex and watch a kitten attack it.  It is fun and a great predatory play outlet. Tossing kibble to redirect these bold cats, and teaching them to go to a crate positively is fun and important to prevent big attacks later in life.

This is a huge step toward s preventing housemate or human aggression later in life.

At all of your cat exams, just ask if either of the cats does any pouncing and grabbing of the other. Just stay quiet if the owner says yes and assures it is all in fun and play. This is why we don't hear about it - it looks like play but if one of the cats is yowling, ears back, tail swishing, or hissing and crouching it is not fun. Earlier in my career I did no t appreciate that this is not play but intercat aggression. This status aggression and the set up for possible future fights. Other problems such as in appropriate elimination, and hiding are often related to staring or body blocking from a bold cat. Ten  minutes a day of human play with cat using toys on a long stick, attack paper towel tube, or tossing kibble can help reduce the risk of inter cat aggression. Clients tend to be most receptive to playing with their cat when they find it fun, and see the cat acting like the hunter. If your client does not think the rough housing cats are a problem then just focus on how it is fun to get your cat to engage with the human and toys. It is also a great way to get our cats to lose weight - that may motivate your client to play with the cat. 

If you would like to use some cat play videos to share with your clients, I have a few on my you tube channel drsallyjfoote. It does not take too much to save a few paper towel rolls, Kleenex boxes or feathers that you find. Keep them in the exam room so they are handy during exams and easy to give away. Your clients will love you for this.

Dr. Sally J Foote CABC-IAABC 

www.drsallyjfoote.com