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Dr. Scarlett
Dr. Scarlett, Veterinarian
Category: Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 4078
Experience:  I am a practicing small animal veterinarian with 16 years experience.
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I have an adult cat, male, neutered, 7 years old. He has become

Customer Question

I have an adult cat, male, neutered, 7 years old. He has become quite aggressive towards non-family members lately and attacked a few times. Where can we find help? Is there a cat behaviourist/psychologist we can consult with?
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Scarlett replied 1 year ago.

Dr. Scarlett :

Hi,

Customer :

Hi

Dr. Scarlett :

It sounds like Tyron is having a lot of stress with a new baby. Have you had Tyron since he was a kitten? How old is the baby? Has he always been a nervous cat--running away when people come over to visit?

Customer :

The baby is now 7 months old. Tyron was 3 weeks when I got him. Tyron has always been a bit nervous but he was not very aggressive when he was a kitten.

Dr. Scarlett :

Ok, it sounds like all the new things going on around and with the baby have probably really stressed him out.

Customer :

The first time we noticed aggressive behaviour from Tyron was about 2 years ago, when I agreed to have my friend's cat stay in our house when he went on a business trip. Tyron wad chasing that cat around and attacking him.

Dr. Scarlett :

One thing I would get is a Feliway diffuser, maybe two if you have a large house. Feliway is a pheromone, or scent, that is calming to cats. It may not do everything you want with Tyron, but it will lower his stress level a bit. Plug the diffuser into the room he hangs out in the most and maybe in the baby's room. The Feliway won't be smelled by humans and certainly won't affect you or your baby.

Dr. Scarlett :

Tyron is having some territorial issues, for sure. Cats don't take well to having other cats (or people, sometimes) in their space. I'm not surprised about the reaction to the visiting cat!

Dr. Scarlett :

It would be a good idea to have Tyron in to your regular vet for a good physical exam and a urinalysis and bloodwork. While I don't expect anything to be physically wrong, he is at the age where male cats start to show bladder problems. This can come about because of stress (so don't be surprised if Tyron starts urinating outside the litter box), but also with diet and lifestyle. Bladder problems are painful, which would make him even more aggressive.

Customer :

When we had my mother in law come visit us, Tyron was nervous too and almost scratched her. Two weeks ago, when our friend came to visit with their toddler (2 yrs), Tyron scratched and bit the kid.

Customer :

I haven't noticed any problem with Tyron physically or urinating outside the litter box.

Customer :

A check with the vet may be helpful. I am not sure what we should do to prevent any harm to our baby in the future, I'm very worried.

Customer :

It seems that Tyron's aggressiveness is progressing.

Dr. Scarlett :

I would definitely NEVER leave Tyron in the same room with the baby unless supervised. And for right now, shutting him in a bedroom when anyone comes to visit will be the best for everyone. He will actually be happier by himself--no one will be bothering him, and he will have some peaceful time to himself. Be sure to have some toys, catnip, food, water, and a litter box in that room for him, along with the Feliway.

Dr. Scarlett :

I would also talk to your vet about starting Tyron on Prozac, if his physical and labwork all are normal.

Dr. Scarlett :

I don't advocate declawing, especially not an older cat, but you can buy plastic nail caps to put on his claws. That way if he does swipe at someone, he won't be able to do any damage.

Customer :

my friend mentioned "soft paw", do you think it will help?

Dr. Scarlett :

Yes, that is the plastic nail caps. It won't help the aggressiveness, but will help with scratches on people.

Customer :

We are from Asia, so not very familiar with things here in north america. If my cat attacked other people, what responsibilities do I have, do you know?

Dr. Scarlett :

Also make sure he has several scratching posts, so he can mark his territory. Give him lots of one-on-one attention, playing with laser pointers and fishing-type toys. Make sure he has a tall cat post with some hiding holes so that he can get up and away from the baby and any visit toddlers.

Dr. Scarlett :

If someone gets bit, they may end up at the doctor's and require antibiotics. I would expect the owner of the pet who bit me to pay for any bills I might have in regards to that. Have 3% hydrogen peroxide and bandages on hand to clean scratches and small wounds.

Dr. Scarlett :

But I would put him out of harm's way (to him and from him!) whenever people come over to visit. He obviously doesn't like them, it upsets him, and it upsets you and your visitors!

Dr. Scarlett :

Make sure Tyron is up-to-date on his rabies vaccine, too!

Customer :

Yes, Dr. Scarlett. We have a big scratching post for him in the basement, Tyron's litter box and his toys and food are all in the basement. But he likes scratching our stair rail post on the first floor for some reason.

Customer :

Yes, he is up-to-date on his shots.

Dr. Scarlett :

Put a scratching post (it can be a smaller one) near the front door, too. That might be why he is scratching on the rail post. Scratching posts need to be near where the cat sleeps and near entrances--he is marking the areas to let other cats know not to come in there.

Customer :

So far Tyron has been calm around our baby, but he is very nervous around other babies or kids. I think it might have something to do with one of the friend's kids getting too excited to see Tyron and screamed at him. Do you think that could be why Tyron is aggressive now?

Customer :

OK. That's a good idea. I will do that.

Customer :

Dr. Scarlett. Could you tell me more about Prozac?

Dr. Scarlett :

I think all the changes, loud noises, etc are certainly making him a lot worse, behaviorally. I certainly don't like it when people or kids make really loud noises.

Dr. Scarlett :

I use prozac quite a bit for stressed, nervous, aggressive cats. Here is more info:http://www.VeterinaryPartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&A=2742

Dr. Scarlett :

I need to go see an appointment, but I'll be back later to answer any other questions you might have, ok?

Customer :

Thanks. I used to clip Tyron's nails regularly but now he would not let me do it. He would try to escape from me when I hold him and would bite or scratch me if i won't let go. I'm a little afraid of him now too.

Customer :

Do you have any suggestions for me on this?

Expert:  Dr. Scarlett replied 1 year ago.
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Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Hi, Dr. Scarlett. I was hoping that you could recommend some steps to take in terms of how to get Tyron recovered from his "bad experience" and be more relaxed around other people. Thank you for your advices! Hope to hear from you soon.

Expert:  Dr. Scarlett replied 1 year ago.
Hi,
Sorry--that appointment turned out to be a little more involved than I expected!

Truthfully, Tyron may never be completely comfortable around other people, especially loud, noisy ones that chase after him. The best you should hope for is that he stays loving around you, your husband, and your kid(s). If he wants to run and hide when people come over, don't force him to come out and don't let anyone follow after him to pet him.

But I think the Feliway long-term and the Prozac (hopefully just short term--several months, but they can take it for longer if need be) will go a long way to keeping him relaxed and happier in general.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners came out with recommendations on how to have a "happy" cat that I summarized in an article I wrote. Here it is--maybe it will be helpful in making Tyron a happier cat!

Keeping Your Cat Happy

(adapted from the AAFP/ISFM feline environmental needs guidelines)


Understanding the needs of your cat will go a long way to providing all of you with a happy home and, hopefully, avoiding undesirable behaviors from your cat in the future. Making sure your cat has a comfortable environment will result in fewer unwanted behaviors, less illness, less stress in multi-cat households, and more love between you and your pet.


There are 5 pillars of a healthy cat environment:


Pillar 1 - Provide a safe place for your cat

For a cat, a safe place is a private and secure area, often in a raised location. Cats like to be able to hide in something. If a cat can't see the potential threat, the cat feels safer, even if his/her body is not completely hidden.


There are a number of ways to provide hiding places for your cat.


  • cardboard box - placed on it side to allow easy access and a "roof" on which the cat can perch

  • enclosed cat carrier - a transportable safe place that smells familiar to the cat. Don't use open wire cages as they don't hide the cat. If you always leave your cat carrier out, it will be much easier to bring your cat to the vet as he will have his safe place throughout the visit.

  • perches on a tall post - should be long enough to allow the cat to fully stretch. Cats like a hammock-style dip in the perch as it aids in feeling hidden.


In multi-cat households, a safe place should have more than one entry so access can't be easily blocked by another cat. There should be at least as many safe places, sized to hold a single cat, as there are cats in a household. These multiple safe places should be in separate areas of the house.




Pillar 2 - Provide multiple and separated resources

Key environmental resources include the feeding, drinking, toileting, claw scratching, play and resting/sleeping areas. These resource should be available in multiple locations and separate from other resources. A cat should have choices--at least two resting areas, two feeding areas, two litter boxes. Food and water resources should be separated from each other.


Indoor resting areas should include a location that allows the cat to see outside. In multi-cat households, every cat should have its own separate feeding station. This allows for the privacy needed to prevent the stress associated with feeding competition, particularly between social groups.


How do you know if two cats are in the same social group? They will:


  • face and/or body rub between the cats

  • tail wrap

  • rest or sleep in physical contact or close proximity

  • play together

  • groom each other



Pillar 3 - Provide opportunity for play and predatory behavior

Cats have a strong instinct to display a predatory behavioral sequence consisting of locating, stalking, chasing, pouncing, killing, preparing, and eating its prey. Failing to provide cats with opportunities for these behaviors can result in obesity, boredom, and frustration that can cause overgrooming, stress-associated disease, or misdirected aggressive behavior.


There are many ways to encourage this behavior:

  • Hide food in multiple locations

  • Scatter or toss dry food for cats to chase

  • Provide puzzle feeders to promote small and frequent meals

  • Use "fishing" toys or a wand with fur or feathers on the end to mimic flying prey and ground prey (be sure to let the cat catch the toy to simulate "capture")

  • Use large, soft toys that can be raked and bitten

  • Reward your cat with a treat following playtime

  • Rotate the cat toys to prevent boredom

  • Avoid using hands and feet in any type of play to prevent injury to yourself or your cat

  • In multi-cat households, make sure there are toys in separate locations.

  • Play with individual cats at separate times and locations


Pillar 4 - Provide positive, consistent and predictable human-cat social interaction

Social preferences among cats vary widely and are influenced by many factors. Consistent and positive handling of the cat from a young age leads to reduced fear and stress and a strong human-cat bond. Many cats prefer a high frequency, low intensity level of social contact with humans--a scenario that gives the cat a good deal of control. Cats prefer to initiate, moderate and end their interaction with humans.

  • Do not force interaction with a cat. Let your cat initiate, choose, and control the type of human contact they want. Avoid fixed eye contact and give the cat time to approach and make physical contact.

  • If the cat appears relaxed and wants to interact, gentle stroking on the head and around the cheeks is the most appropriate way to make contact.

  • In multi-cat households, every cat should receive individual attention without intervention by other cats.


How do you know if a cat is relaxed and wants some human interaction?

  • slow blinking

  • purring, chirruping

  • facial rubbing or head bunting on the hand or other parts of the human body

  • attempts to climb onto a person's lap

  • staying in close physical proximity with the person

  • pushing the body into the hand of someone who is not interacting with the cat

  • a relaxed roll onto the side to expose the belly (avoid touching the belly, however, as many cats find that spot vulnerable and may attack your hand)


Pillar 5 - Provide an environment that respects the importance of the cat's sense of smell

Unlike humans, cats use smell and chemical information to evaluate their surroundings and maximize their sense of security and comfort. Cats scent mark by facial and body rubbing, which establishes the boundaries of their core living area where they feel safe and secure. Wherever possible, humans should be careful not to interfere with these signals and scents.

  • avoid the use of cleaners, detergents, scented litter, etc. that may disrupt the scent profile the cat associates with its customary surroundings

  • use synthetic pheromones (Feliway) to reduce anxiety and increase grooming, interest in food, and appropriate use of the litterbox.

  • provide scratching areas that allow a cat to deposit its scent through glands in the pads of the feet (even declawed cats need a scratching post!)

  • scent marking as well as inappropriate elimination should never be punished

  • a cat returning to a multi-cat home from a visit away (like to the vet) may smell different. In such cases, cats that previously got along can display aggressive behavior toward one another. Using a Feliway diffuser in the home can help maintain the existing scent profile and aid reintegration. When a cat returns home, keep it in a separate room until the other cats are calm before reintroducing them.


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