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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Cat Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 26157
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 44 years of experience.
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My cat Coco is about 5 years old. I got m when he was about

Customer Question

hello, My cat Coco is about 5 years old. I got him when he was about 2 months. He has a behavioral problem of attacking by grabbing and biting people. What is so tough is that it is usually unprovoked. my mother , who is 82, was pushing the chair he was in closer to the window so he could get more sun and he scratched her leg. He has been taking pozac .5mg for 1.5 weeks now. It slows him down but he continues to have this aggressive play. I am not sure if what he did to my mother is aggressive play. If someone comes into the house that is male or is loud he will grab the perspns leg , bite, scratch and run.
I really don't wan to give him away but I have to look out for my mom as well. Please help.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Cat Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

I have advanced training in feline behavior and am pleased to discuss Coco with you. I understand your concern - particularly because your mother is frail and mustn't be exposed to such aggression.

I need to preface my discussion by telling you that feline aggression toward the owner can be challenging to manage. Many cats display aggression toward their owners when displaying assertiveness. Cats that have this type of problem usually display a confident temperament. They exhibit assertive or status aggression by biting or threatening when the owner attempts to approach or handle them or to simply show their displeasure or anxiety with their place in the hierarchy in your home. The bite behavior may be an attempt to control these situations. Assertive displays, pushy attention-seeking behavior and attempts to control the environment by blocking access to doorways and refusing to be moved from perches or sleeping areas may also be displays of social status. One sign that might signify this type of aggression is aggression toward members of the household that a cat can control, avoiding aggression with family members that control the cat and do not routinely give in to its demands. The prognosis is guarded as these cats may be dangerous and the problem may have both innate (he may have been feral as a kitten) and learned components (he may not have been socialized prior to the important age of 7 weeks). Too many of my owners have ended up hospitalized due to cat bites. You must decide whether Coco's risk to you and others is warranted vis a vis attempting to manage his inappropriate behavior. If you're willing, management involves the following:

Make the situation safe - identify stimuli leading to aggression - avoid confrontation and any stimuli or interactions that elicit aggression - teach simple commands such as "come" or "sit" by using food lures whenever Coco is receptive to food or play.

Withhold rewards unless earned - he should be taught to defer to you for any treats, affection or play. For instance, play, affection and treats should never be given on demand but can be given if he responds to a command. After a few weeks of teaching deference, he can be taught to accept stimuli that have triggered aggression. You would need to begin by performing a behavior that has triggered aggression in the past but in such a muted way that no aggression is elicited. If no undesirable behavior is exhibited, he is given a very tasty food reward or play. Once he's conditioned to accept a mild level of the stimulus, the sessions can progress with stimuli that very gradually become stronger.

Punishment must be avoided but undesirable behavior can be interrupted with alarms or a can of compressed air. Care must be taken with this approach since some strong stimuli can make a cat more aroused and aggressive.

Uninhibited aggressive displays that appear impulsive, explosive or excessive may be reduced with psychotherapeutic drugs - SSRIs - such as paroxetine (Paxil) or fluoxetine (Prozac) as you're curently doing. I prefer not to prescribe these drugs for what, in essence, is normal behavior for many cats. Drugs, however, are an important resource for the determined owner.

As mentioned above, Coco is a significant danger to you and others to whom you might rehome him. If you're highly motivated to keep him in your home, I would suggest your seeking council with a board certified veterinary behaviorist who will come to your home and examine the dynamics therein. His vet should be able to refer you to such a specialist or you can find one here: www.dacvb.com. I like the idea of keeping him sequestered in a quiet and dimly lit room until his level of arousal abates or perhaps allowing him outside more - where he needn't socialize to an extent past that which he's amenable.

Please respond with further questions or concerns if you wish.