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How to Deal With Redirected Aggression in Cats

This behavior occurs when animals, unable to respond directly to threats, vent their frustrations on whoever happens to be nearby.

 |  Oct 24th 2013  |   54 Contributions


Aggression comes in many flavors, each with its own label. One of the most frightening of these aggressions is called redirected aggression.

This aggressive behavior occurs when animals, unable to respond directly to threats, vent their frustrations onto another animal who happens to be nearby. Redirected aggression is not just a cat thing. All animals, when triggered, can exhibit this alarming behavior.

A common triggering event for cats is other animals. Neighborhood cats sometimes hang out around homes -- in full view of resident cats. Understandably, the indoor cats become agitated and frustrated. Unable to reach the unwelcomed visitors, they turn their frustration on whoever happens to be close. This may be any animal, another resident cat, a dog, or a person. Other startling occurrences can also cause the same reaction. Of course, it depends on the individual cat; some are bit more reactive then others.

Aggression can be serious for the aggressor as well as the victim. Animals and people, when bitten, often need medical intervention. Unfortunately, the aggression can become a death sentence for the reactive cat. Some people surrender cats to shelters or have them euthanized for this scary behavior.

This fractious behavior makes victims out of innocent bystanders, and it destroys relationships. Often, cats will direct their frustration onto a cat who, for years, was their best buddy. If not immediately addressed, it is so traumatizing that it can turn a once-sweet relationship into a vicious war.

Here are seven steps to help change war zones back into peaceable kingdoms.

1. Safety

Safety is always a priority. Never pick up an aggressive cat or block him with your hands or body. The victim is upset too. Do not try to pet and comfort her while she is agitated. Picking up, petting, or using your body to block fractious cats pretty much guarantees you will also become a casualty of war.

Redirected aggression is traumatic for everyone. Photo by Fotolia

2. Separate the aggressor

The resident cat who has his panties in a knot needs to be separated from his victim and from viewing the initiator of the violence. Large pieces of cardboard, poster board, and other flat objects as well as large pillows and towels work well for this. Position the separator in between the upset cat and his victim. Safely herd him into another room and close the door. Remember point No. 1! Stay safe.

Outside cats often trigger redirected aggression photo by Fotolia

3. Time to cool off and calm down

The upset cat needs time to cool off, away from any other household animals and people. Gently herd him into a quiet room that is complete with a litter box, food, and water. Darkening the room, by turning the lights out and covering windows, can help him to recover his composure quicker. Do not allow any of the other resident animals to fraternize with him during his cooling-off period. Time-outs can last a few hours; in extreme cases they can last a day or longer.

Time out to cool down

4. Keep unwanted visitors away

Stop repeat performances by discouraging the neighborhood animals from hanging out around your home. Start by convincing the neighbors to keep their cats inside, not allowing them to roam the 'hood. Sometimes a plate of freshly baked cookies will help, though usually not. If the intruders are feral cats, trap them and have them fixed. If these attempts at keeping the unwanted visitors away fail, place deterrents that will not harm them around the perimeter of your home. The goal is that the outsiders find your residence an unpleasant place to visit. Safe deterrents that are commercially available include motion-sensitive sprinklers (which are activated by movement); motion-sensitive ultrasonic devices that emit an unpleasant sound; plastic bird spikes placed on fences; lemon and Bitter Apple.

Freshly baked cookies may help convince neighbors to keep their cats indoors Photo by Fotolia

5. Eliminate scent

It is common for neighborhood animals to leave their calling cards by spraying the outside perimeters of homes. They are very adept at targeting doors and windows, places where there is an obvious air exchange between the outside and the inside. Resident cats, smelling the spray, sometimes become reactive and/or start spraying or urinating, marking territory in response to the outsiders.

Clean the targeted areas thoroughly with a good enzyme cleaner. Before cleaning the soiled spots, you have to find them. A black light, used at night, is very helpful for identifying the sprayed areas. Urine usually fluoresces under black light.

6. A room without a view

It can take awhile to ban the unwanted visitors from your property. Until that is accomplished, control what your cat sees. Either cover the windows that view the intruders or close doors to the rooms that look out on the areas where they like to hang out.

Covering windows keeps your cat from viewing the neighborhood animals. A black cat jumps on a door by Shutterstock.

7. Reintroduce the cats

Redirected aggression can be serious. It can convert friends into sworn enemies. Although cats may not remember the initial event, they often will associate the traumatic incident with each other. The perpetrator can become agitated around the victim and the victim can feel scared and threatened and may fight her former best friend.

In most cases, the relationships can be mended by gradually reintroducing the warring cats to each other. The cats need to be kept completely separated from each other during the reintroductions. Reintroducing cats to each other after a redirected aggression event can take longer than standard introductions.

Cats may need to be reintroduced to each other

Redirected aggression, if not handled right, can have serious and long-term repercussions for all of the parties involved. Peace can be restored back to the household when the proper steps are taken.

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Got a cat behavior question for Marilyn? Ask our behaviorist in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. If you suspect a behavioral problem, always rule out any possible medical issues that may be causing the behavior by first having your cat examined by a veterinarian. Marilyn can also help you resolve cat behavior challenges through a consultation.
 
Marilyn, a certified cat behavior consultant, owner of The Cat Coach, LLC is also an award winning author. Her book Naughty No More! focuses on solving cat behavior issues through force free methods that include clicker training, environmental changes and other behavior modification techniques. Marilyn is big on education—she feels it is important for cat parents to know the reasons behind their cat’s behaviors. She is a frequent guest on television and radio, answering cat behavior questions and helping people understand their cats.

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