Maternal Behavior Problems

Maternal Behavior Problems – An Overview

  • Abnormal maternal behavior is either excessive maternal behavior in the absence of newborns (more common in cats than dogs) or deficient maternal behavior in the presence of the dam’s own newborns (more common in dogs than cats)
  • The female dog is known as the “bitch” or the “dam” and the female cat is known as the “queen”

Genetics

  • No genetic basis has been identified in dogs and cats, but a breed tendency in Jack Russell terriers indicates that a genetic component may be involved
  • Genetic models of deficient maternal behavior in mice have been identified; the genes responsible for deficient maternal behavior in mice are imprinted paternally—if this situation is true in dogs and cats, one would expect that rejecting mothers were normally mothered themselves, but their grandmother may have been deficient
  • The genetic basis should be investigated in dogs and cats

Signalment/Description of Pet

Species

  • Dogs
  • Cats

Breed Predilections

  • Poor maternal behavior may be more common in Jack Russell terriers and cocker spaniels than in other breeds of dog, but no quantitative study has proven this observation

Mean Age and Range

  • No particular age at risk, but first-time mothers (known as “primiparous females”) and older bitches seem to be at risk of deficient maternal behavior

Predominant Sex

  • Female generally, but some males may allow suckling behavior

Signs/Observed Changes in the Pet

Deficient Maternal Behavior

  • Absent maternal behavior; the mother simply abandons her offspring—this is most apt to occur after cesarean section

Poor Maternal Behavior

  • The mother stays with her offspring but will not allow them to nurse
  • The mother may show inadequate retrieval of young, insufficient cleaning of the young, or failure to stimulate elimination (urination and/or defecation) by the young
  • The bitch carries the puppies from place-to-place without settling down or, in the most extreme form, kills some or all of her litter

Abnormal Maternal Behavior

  • The bitch or queen may allow her offspring to suckle, but kills her offspring either at birth or over a period of days
  • Occasionally the bitch, or more rarely the queen, will abandon or attack her offspring, if it has changed in odor or appearance
  • A female may be disturbed by another animal or by people and can redirect her aggression to her offspring
  • A bitch accidentally may disembowel or even consume offspring completely while eating the fetal membranes (placenta) and umbilical cord; this should be distinguished from normal licking, which can be quite vigorous, even to the point of dislodging the puppy from a nipple

Maternal Aggression

  • Cats (queens) with kittens may be aggressive to other animals, especially dogs in the same household
  • Dogs (bitches) with puppies may be aggressive to unfamiliar people or even to familiar people, especially if they have low levels of calcium in their blood (condition known as “hypocalcemia”)

Excessive Maternal Behavior

  • The “pseudopregnant” bitch or bitch spayed during the latter phase of the estrous or heat cycle may show signs of a false pregnancy; she attempts to nurse and guards inanimate objects (stuffed animals or even leashes)
  • The pseudopregnant bitch may have breast or mammary development and may be producing milk (lactating)
  • The newly spayed queen may steal kittens from a nursing queen; queens also may produce milk (lactate) if suckled, following the spay (ovariohysterectomy)

Causes

  • The presence of kittens in the environment of the recently spayed cat is a risk factor for excessive maternal behavior and kitten stealing
  • The risk of excessive carrying of puppies, redirected aggression, or even cannibalism is increased if other dogs or too many people are present in the nest area
  • First-time mothers (primiparous females) or those delivered by cesarean section (c-section) are at higher risk than mothers that have delivered previous litters (known as “multiparous females”) or naturally delivering females
  • Large litter of kittens or sick offspring

Treatment

Health Care

  • Normal health care

Diet

  • Adequate diet for nursing bitches and queens to meet energy demands
  • Restricted diets for pets with false pregnancies (known as “pseudocyesis”), to discourage lactation and diminish milk production
  • In the case of deficient maternal behavior, the bitch or queen should be fed free choice (known as “ad libitum”) to encourage lactation

Surgery

  • Delay spaying for 4 months post-estrus to avoid post-spaying maternal behavior and its accompanying aggression
  • Spaying avoids future excessive maternal behavior in the absence of young

Medications

Medications presented in this section are intended to provide general information about possible treatment. The treatment for a particular condition may evolve as medical advances are made; therefore, the medications should not be considered as all inclusive:

Excessive Maternal Behavior

  • Mibolerone (Cheque Drops) was the drug of choice for bitches with false pregnancies or those exhibiting maternal behavior and lactation following spaying; mibolerone inhibits prolactin (the hormone that stimulates secretion of milk) and thereby inhibits lactation; this medication is no longer available commercially and is available only at some compounding pharmacies
  • Bromocriptine (Parlodel) can be used to inhibit prolactin
  • Cabergoline inhibits prolactin and has been shown to be effective in treating false pregnancies in dogs; not commercially available in North America

Deficient Maternal Behavior

  • Oxytocin (the hormone that stimulates milk release during nursing) may be administered either by injection or by nasal spray (Syntocinon)
  • Prolactin (the hormone that stimulates secretion of milk) appears to be necessary for maternal behavior in other species; therefore, a dopamine blocker (acepromazine) can be used; dopamine inhibits prolactin release and thus a dopamine blocker would increase prolactin

Follow-Up Care

Patient Monitoring

  • The puppies or kittens of females with deficient or poor maternal behavior should be monitored daily to be sure that they are gaining weight

Preventions and Avoidance

  • Place a nursing female and her litter in quiet, comfortable quarters—away from noise and disturbances by other animals or people
  • Do not rebreed females with poor maternal behavior; deficient maternal behavior can occur with each litter
  • Determine whether any other female offspring of the female with abnormal maternal behavior also exhibited poor maternal behavior
  • In other species, poor maternal behavior is a paternally imprinted gene; the father must contribute the gene for poor maternal behavior; the daughters of rejecting mothers will not reject, but daughters of their sons may have poor maternal behavior

Possible Complications

  • Loss of offspring
  • Hand-reared puppies and kittens frequently have abnormal or deficient social behavior, due in part to insufficient suckling time and to consequences of lack of maternal licking, which adversely affects response to stress and reproductive behavior

Expected Course and Prognosis

  • Excessive maternal behavior usually wanes around the time of normal weaning (6–8 weeks)
  • Poor and deficient maternal behavior can occur with each litter

Key Points

Abnormal or Poor Maternal Behavior

  • The bitch that is carrying her puppies or exhibiting redirected aggression to them should be isolated in a quiet, dark area
  • The bitch that bites her puppies should be muzzled; the owner must stimulate elimination (urination and/or defecation) of the puppies, because the muzzled female cannot do so
  • An Elizabethan collar inhibits cannibalism in queens
  • The bitch should be attended at the birth of the litter (known as “parturition”) and puppies should be removed temporarily if she is biting the puppies themselves in addition to the umbilical cord
  • Bitches and queens with poor maternal behavior may exhibit the same behavior with subsequent litters

Excessive Maternal Behavior

  • Cats that have stolen kittens should be separated from the biological mother and kittens
  • Mothered objects (such as stuffed toys) should be removed from the “pseudopregnant” bitch (that is, the bitch having a false pregnancy)
  • Food intake should be restricted to inhibit milk production (lactation)

Maternal Aggression Toward Animals or People

  • The best treatment for excessive maternal aggression is to separate the kittens; weaning alone may not suffice because the presence of the kittens alone may sustain or even reinstate maternal aggression in a queen separated from her kittens for several weeks

House Soiling Cats

House Soiling Cats – An Overview

  • Urinating, marking territory with urine, or defecating in a location that the owner considers inappropriate; defecation is the act of having a bowel movement
  • Housesoiling includes inappropriate urination or defecation outside the litter box and urine marking or fecal marking (where bowel movement is deposited in prominent locations outside the litter box)
  • Inappropriate urination is characterized by the cat simply squatting and urinating on horizontal surfaces outside of the litter box
  • Urine marking occurs most commonly when the cat sprays urine on vertical surfaces outside the litter box; also known as “urine spraying”
  • The “lower urinary tract” includes the urinary bladder and the urethra (the tube from the bladder to the outside, through which urine flows out of the body)

Genetics

  • An inherited component may exist for urine marking; parents of affected individuals have been implicated as exhibiting the same behavior in some reports
  • Persians and Himalayans that exhibit inappropriate urination should be tested for polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder

Signalment/Description of Pet

Species

  • Cats

Breed Predilections

  • Housesoiling may occur in any breed
  • Persians, Himalayans, and their crosses may be more likely to exhibit housesoiling than other cat breeds

Mean Age and Range

  • Inappropriate urination can occur at any age

Predominant Sex

  • Housesoiling can occur in either sex, intact or neutered; an “intact” cat is capable of reproduction
  • Urine spraying is more common in intact and neutered males than in females

Signs/Observed Changes in the Pet

Inappropriate Urination

  • Sudden (acute) or long-term (chronic) problem
  • Urination in the vicinity of the litter box may suggest dissatisfaction with qualities of the litter box (such as location of the box, type of litter, frequency of cleaning of the litter box)
  • Signs of lower urinary tract disease (such as straining to urinate, blood in the urine [known as “hematuria”]) or generalized (systemic) illness (such as increased thirst [known as “polydipsia”], lack of appetite [known as “anorexia”], vomiting, diarrhea) may suggest an underlying medical problem
  • Presence of abnormal physical findings depends on whether problem is a disease-related or behavioral problem

Urine Marking

  • Marking may be a response to household disruption or another cat(s) in or outside the home
  • Usually manifest as spraying—the cat moves so the rear quarters are close to a vertical surface, the cat stiffens its posture, raises and quivers its tail, and directs a small burst of urine toward the vertical surface
  • Observation of urine marks on vertical surfaces
  • Urine marks around windows and door to outside suggest a response to the presence of an outdoor cat
  • Urine marks on prominent furniture or other objects or urine sprayed on new objects brought into the home

Inappropriate Defecation

  • Straining to defecate; vocalizing when defecating; hard, dry or bulky feces suggest painful defecation
  • Painful defecation may lead to avoidance of the litter box, as the cat may associate the pain with the litter box

Fecal Marking

  • Feces deposited on prominent, conspicuous locations

Causes

Medical Causes

  • Lower urinary tract disease (such as feline lower urinary tract disease [FLUTD] or lower urinary tract infection)
  • Presence of stones (known as “uroliths”) in the urinary tract (condition known as “urolithiasis”)
  • Diabetes mellitus (“sugar diabetes”)
  • Excessive levels of thyroid hormone (known as “hyperthyroidism”)
  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) infection
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infection
  • Liver disease
  • Senility or decline in thinking, learning, and memory, frequently associated with aging (known as “cognitive dysfunction”)
  • Caused by or related to medical treatment (known as an “iatrogenic abnormality”)—administration of fluids, steroids, medications to remove excess fluids from the body (known as “diuretics”)

Behavioral Causes

  • Soiled litter box
  • Inadequate number of litter boxes or locations (one litter box per cat plus one is recommended)
  • Litter box located in remote or unpleasant surroundings or subject to interference by Cats or children
  • Inappropriate type of litter box—a covered litter box may maintain odors at an offensive level or may be too small to allow large cats to move around comfortably; a covered litter box allows other cats, pet Cats, and young children to “target” the cat as it exits
  • Time factors—daily or weekly patterns of inappropriate urination suggest an environmental cause; sudden (acute) onset in a cat that previously has used the litter box reliably suggests a medical problem
  • Type of litter—litter type that is unacceptable to the cat (for example, scented litter may not be acceptable); preference tests indicate that most cats prefer unscented, fine-grained (clumping) litter; change in litter box habits that coincide with introduction of a new litter type suggest an association with the change of litter
  • Sudden shift from using litter in the litter box to urinating in an unusual location (such as urinating in a porcelain sink) suggests a lower urinary tract disorder
  • Location—urination outside the litter box may suggest a location preference or influential social factors
  • Social dynamics—consider social conflicts between cats and any changes in the social world of the cat at the time the problem started (such as addition of a new cat to the household)
  • Probability of urine marking or spraying is directly proportional to the number of cats in the household
  • Presence of outdoor cats may elicit urine marking or spraying around doorways and windows
  • Urine marking or spraying may be a response to another cat in the home or outside the home
  • Urine marking or spraying on grocery bags or new furniture suggests olfactory marking, associated with arousal in response to new stimuli
  • Urine marking or spraying on clothing or bedding may be associated with specific people or visitors

Risk Factors

Inappropriate Urination/Defecation

  • Inadequate or infrequently changed/cleaned litter box (or boxes)
  • Litter box features (such as litter type, scent, box size or style)

Urine Marking

  • Male
  • Sexually intact
  • Multiple-cat household
  • History of urine marking by a parent of the cat

Treatment

Health Care

  • Treat any underlying medical condition
  • Use environmental and behavioral therapies before or with medical treatment (see www.vet.osu.edu/indoorcat)
  • Restrict the cat from rooms in which urine housesoiling occurs
  • If the owner requires immediate cessation of the problem, it is helpful to confine the cat to one room in the owner’s absence; provide a litter box, water, food, and resting sites in this room; the cat can be let out of the room when the owner returns and is available for strict supervision of the cat
  • Clean urine “accidents” with an enzymatic cleaner specific for this purpose

Inappropriate Urination

  • Scoop out the litter boxes daily and clean thoroughly weekly and refill
  • Avoid deodorizers, scented litters, or other strong odors in the vicinity of the litter box
  • Move food bowls away from the litter box
  • Provide at least one litter box per cat, distributed in more than one location, and avoid high traffic or noisy areas
  • If the litter box is covered, provide an additional large, plain, uncovered litter box filled with unscented, fine-grained, clumping litter, with no liner
  • Additional boxes may be provided, using a different type of litter in each (so-called “litter box buffet”) to evaluate the cat’s preference for litter box type and litter
  • If one site in the home is “preferred” by the cat for inappropriate urination, place another litter box over this site—after the cat uses this box regularly, move it gradually (approximately an inch a day) to a site more acceptable to the owner
  • Confinement of the cat in a “safe room” when the owner is not available to supervise may be necessary

Urine Marking

  • If signs suggest that the cat is spraying in response to cats outside the house, prevent visual or olfactory access to those cats; an environmental product (Feliway, Ceva Animal Health), a concentrate of synthesized feline facial pheromone, is available commercially as a treatment for urine marking—the product is sprayed regularly or diffused in the environment and may improve urine spraying in up to 75% of cases
  • Block “inside” cat’s ability to see “outside” cats
  • Spend time interacting with the cat daily to focus the affected cat’s attention away from other cats
  • Medications play an important role in the control of urine marking

Surgery

  • Neuter intact male cats and spay intact female cats—this curbs spraying behavior in up to 90% of males and 95% of females that spray

Medications

Medications presented in this section are intended to provide general information about possible treatment. The treatment for a particular condition may evolve as medical advances are made; therefore, the medications should not be considered as all inclusive.

  • No drugs are approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of urine marking in cats; your veterinarian will discuss the risks and benefits of medical treatment
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine and paroxetine
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), such as clomipramine and amitriptyline
  • Buspirone
  • Synthetic progestins—the risk of serious side effects has diminished their once-common use; discuss the risks and benefits with your cat’s veterinarian
  • Pheromone therapy (Feliway) reduces urine spraying

Inappropriate Urination

  • Medications usually are not indicated, except in treatment-resistant cases or when inappropriate urination is associated with generalized anxiety or heightened arousal
  • Medications to decrease arousal and anxiety—medications commonly used include fluoxetine, clomipramine, amitriptyline, and buspirone

Urine Marking

    • Medications may be needed to decrease arousal, in order to decrease the frequency of urine spraying

Inappropriate Defecation

      • Medication usually is not indicated

Fecal Marking

      • Medications may be needed to decrease the arousal that drives this behavior

Follow-Up Care

Patient Monitoring

      • Regular follow-up is essential
      • Keep a daily log of elimination (that is, urination and defecation) patterns so that treatment success can be evaluated and appropriate adjustments in treatment can be made
      • Number the litter boxes and count and record the number of urinations and defections in each box and outside the litter boxes each day
      • For marking behavior, after 2 months of successful medication management, as a trial, gradually decrease the medication over 2 weeks; if marking recurs, medication may need to be continued; consult with your pet’s veterinarian
      • An annual physical examination and blood work (complete blood count [CBC] and serum biochemistry profile) and urinalysis are recommended

Preventions and Avoidance

      • Neuter cats
      • Restrict cat numbers to decrease the probability of urine marking
      • Discuss litter box selection, location, and cleaning routines with your pet’s veterinary staff to avoid housesoiling problems

Possible Complications

      • Treatment failure may result in the cat being euthanized, relinquished at an animal shelter, or released outside

Expected Course and Prognosis

      • Client expectations must be realistic—immediate control of a long-standing problem of housesoiling is unlikely; the goal is gradual improvement over time
      • If untreated, urine housesoiling is destructive to household belongings and may negatively impact the human-animal bond, leading to relinquishment to an animal shelter or euthanasia

Key Points

    • Urinating, defecating, or marking territory in a location that the owner considers inappropriate
    • Early identification and treatment of housesoiling problems improve treatment success
    • Cats do not housesoil to be spiteful or vindictive
    • Avoid scolding or punishing the cat, as such actions will cause the cat to avoid the owner
    • Understanding the underlying motivation for the housesoiling behavior is critical for treatment success
    • Create a harmonious, predictable environment to decrease anxiety and arousal that may contribute to housesoiling
    • Client expectations must be realistic—immediate control of a long-standing problem of housesoiling is unlikely; the goal is gradual improvement over time

Compulsive Disorders in Cats

Compulsive Disorders in Cats – An Overview

  • Repetitive, relatively constant, exaggerated behavior patterns (often derived from normal behavior, but taken to extreme) with no apparent reason or function; performed to the exclusion of other normal behaviors or to the detriment of the cat
  • Behaviors such as psychological hair loss in which the cat grooms excessively (known as “psychogenic alopecia”), frequently repeated meowing or vocalizing (known as “repetitive vocalization”), compulsive pacing, fabric chewing, or wool sucking may be considered compulsive disorders, when other reasons for the behavior cannot be identified

Signalment/Description of Pet

Species

  • Cats

Breed Predilections

  • Siamese and Burmese, other Asian breeds and crosses are more likely than other cat breeds to demonstrate repetitive vocalization, fabric chewing, and wool sucking

Mean Age and Range

  • Age of onset approximately 24 months (range, 12–49 months)

Predominant Sex

  • Both males and females are affected equally

Signs/Observed Changes in the Pet

  • Signs or observed changes are determined by the abnormal behavior itself. A cat may demonstrate one or more abnormal behaviors
  • Psychogenic alopecia—localized, symmetrical hair loss; most commonly involving the skin of the groin, lower abdomen, and inner thigh or back of thighs; appearance of the skin may be normal or may be abnormal, with redness or abrasions from excessive grooming
  • Compulsive pacing
  • Repeated meowing or vocalizing (repetitive vocalization)
  • Fabric chewing and wool sucking—secondary gastrointestinal signs, such as vomiting, may develop
  • These behaviors may quickly increase in frequency if they are reinforced with feeding or attention by the owner

Causes

  • Unknown
  • Organic or physical causes for the abnormal behavior should be ruled-out before a psychological basis is presumed

Risk Factors

  • Changes in surroundings may lead to abnormal behaviors
  • More commonly reported in indoor cats; may be an artifact of the higher level of attention such pets receive or may be related to the stress of confinement or social isolation

Treatment

Health Care

  • Reduce environmental stress—increase the predictability of household events by establishing a consistent schedule for feeding, playing, exercise, and social time; eliminate unpredictable events as much as possible; avoid confinement
  • Identify and remove triggers (triggers are situations or things to which the cat reacts, leading to compulsive behavior) for the behavior, if applicable
  • Ignore the behavior as much as possible; distract the cat and initiate acceptable behavior
  • Do not reward the behavior
  • Note details of the time, place, and social environment so that an alternative positive behavior (such as play or feeding) may be scheduled
  • Any punishment for an unwanted behavior associated with the owner’s voice, movement, and touch may increase the unpredictability of the cat’s environment, may increase the cat’s fear or aggressive behavior, and may disrupt the human-animal bond

Activity

  • Playing or exercise on a consistent schedule
  • Increase opportunities for social interactions

Diet

  • Depends on compulsive behavior exhibited and individual pet

Medications

Medications presented in this section are intended to provide general information about possible treatment. The treatment for a particular condition may evolve as medical advances are made; therefore, the medications should not be considered as all inclusive:

  • Anticompulsive drugs may be helpful
  • No drugs are approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of these disorders in cats; your veterinarian will discuss the risks and benefits of using these drugs
  • Goal—use drugs until control is achieved for 2 months; then attempt gradual decrease in dosage; treatment should be resumed at first sign of relapse
  • Tricyclic antidepressant (TCA)—amitriptyline or clomipramine
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI)—fluoxetine or paroxetine
  • Buspirone
  • Phenobarbital
  • Deprenyl (seligeline), if signs related to cognitive dysfunction (changes in behavior and awareness related to aging of the brain)
  • L-tryptophan

Follow-Up Care

Patient Monitoring

  • Before initiating treatment, record the frequency of abnormal behavior that occurs each week so that progress can be monitored
  • Successful treatment requires a schedule of follow-up examinations
  • Environmental modification program and/or psychologically active medications must be adjusted according to the cat’s response
  • If a medication is not effective after dosage adjustment, another drug may be prescribed

Preventions and Avoidance

  • Create an enriched environment for the cat
  • Do not reward the behavior
  • Ignore the behavior as much as possible

Possible Complications

  • Treatment failure
  • Fabric chewing/wool sucking—gastrointestinal problems, such as vomiting or blockage
  • Irritation or frustration of people in household

Expected Course and Prognosis

  • Realistic expectations must be understood; changing a behavior that has become a habit is very challenging
  • With treatment, prognosis for improvement is good; estimated that two-thirds of pets respond to the client’s satisfaction
  • Immediate treatment improves the prognosis, since the outcome is impacted negatively by prolonged problem duration
  • Immediate control of a long-standing problem is unlikely

Key Points

  • Any cat may develop repetitive, exaggerated behavior patterns that apparently have no reason or function
  • Ignore the behavior as much as possible and avoid rewarding the behavior
  • Abnormal behavior should be evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible to determine if a physical cause exists
  • Treatment may include behavioral modification and psychologically active drugs, if no physical cause is identified
  • Realistic expectations must be understood; changing a behavior that has become a habit is very challenging
  • Immediate treatment improves the prognosis, since the outcome is impacted negatively by prolonged problem duration

Aggression In Cats

Aggression In Cats – An Overview

  • Aggression can be a normal and appropriate behavior in certain situations, such as allowing the cat to protect itself, or it may be abnormal, with serious consequences for the cat’s physical and emotional well-being
  • “Aggressivity” describes both mood and temperamental traits that relate to the likelihood to show aggression when environmental circumstances dictate it might be used
  • Numerous types of aggression have been identified in cats, including the following:
  • Play aggression (toward people)
  • Typically refers to a cat that scratches and bites the owners during play
  • Not true aggression; overzealous play without proper impulse control due to lack of training or proper social feedback
  • The cat’s intent is not to harm the person
  • Behavior encouraged and rewarded by owners through rough play when younger (that is, a kitten); as cat grew and became stronger, overzealous play perceived as aggression
  • Predatory aggression (toward people or other animals)
  • Cats have an innate drive to “hunt” or show predatory behavior, which induces “stalk, hide, and pounce”
  • Predatory behavior is not a direct function of hunger
  • Typically stimulated by fast movements and can progress to the cat hiding and waiting for a person or animal to walk by
  • Play is a common way for young cats to perfect hunting (predation) skills; play aggression and predatory aggression may overlap
  • Redirected aggression (toward people or other animals)
  • Cat sees, hears, or smells a trigger (triggers are situations or things to which the cat reacts, leading to aggressive behaviors) and directs aggressive behavior toward the closest innocent bystander (a person or another animal)
  • In some cases, one person or animal in the home becomes the designated victim, and the cat may bypass a nearby individual and look for the preferred victim
  • Some cats may stay aroused for 24–72 hours after a triggered event
  • A common trigger inciting redirected aggression is the cat seeing another cat or wildlife outside the homeCat in wayne nj stalking prey
  • Fearful or fear-induced aggression/defensive aggression (toward people or other animals)
  • Cat will show body postures indicating fear and/or anxiety; cat may hiss, spit, arch the back, and hair may stand up (known as “piloerection”); turn away; run away; cower; roll on its back and paw (a defensive position and not a submissive position) if cornered
  • Territorial aggression (toward people or other animals)
  • Some cats, particularly male cats, show territorial behaviors in domestic home settings due to the size and presence of more resources (such as people, food, resting areas, feeding areas, litter box areas); the territorial behavior is designed to defend the cat’s domain
  • Turf may be delineated by various territorial behaviors, such as patrolling the area, chin rubbing, spraying, non-spraying marking, scratching; threats and/or fights may occur if a perceived offender enters the area
  • In severe cases, the aggressive cat may seek out other individuals (people or other animals) and attack
  • Body posture with territorial aggression is assertive and confident
  • Pain aggression (toward people and animals)
  • Cats in pain may show aggression (hissing, growling, scratching, biting) when they are physically handled or prior to or after movements, such as jumping onto or off a piece of furniture
  • Maternal aggression
  • May occur during the period surrounding the birth of kittens (known as the “periparturient period”)
  • Protection—mother cats (known as “queens”) may guard nesting areas and kittens by showing aggressive behaviors toward individuals approaching the kittens
  • Contact-induced/petting aggression (toward people)
  • Cat shows early signs of aversion when people pet or stroke him/her; ears go back, tail swishes
  • If physical contact or petting continues, cat typically will bite
  • Owners often miss early warning signs
  • When cats groom one another, they typically limit grooming to head area
  • Some cats do not want to be petted or stroked along their backs, which is commonly done by people
  • Cat-to-cat (intercat) aggression within a home
  • Fifty percent of cat owners report fighting (scratching and biting) after introduction of a new cat into the home
  • The number of cats, sex, and age are not significant factors in predicting which cats will show cat-to-cat aggression

Signalment/Description of Pet

  • Any breed of cat
  • Some types of aggression appear at onset of social maturity (2–4 years)
  • Males more likely to show aggression to other cats than females
  • Abyssinian, Russian blue, Somali, Siamese, and Chinchilla breeds showed more aggression than other cat breeds
  • Maine coon, ragdoll, and Scottish fold breeds showed the least aggressiveness

Signs/Observed Changes in the Pet

  • Aggressive behavior (such as staring, biting, hissing, and growling)
  • Physical examination findings are generally secondary to aggression, such as injuries, lacerations, or damage to teeth or claws
  • Continuous anxiety—decreased or increased grooming; anxious behavior (such as “meatloaf position” and averting gaze)

Causes

  • Underlying medical issues can cause aggression
  • Temperament/behavior is influenced by genetics, rearing, socialization, environment in which the cat lives, and types of interactions the cat has with people and other animals

Risk Factors

  • Poor socialization
  • Abuse—cat may learn aggression as a preemptive strategy to protect itself
  • Administration of steroids or other medications may induce aggression or remove normal inhibition for aggressive behavior
  • Underlying painful conditions

Treatment

Health Care

  • Never use physical correction or punishment, as it may escalate the aggression
  • Avoid known triggers (triggers are situations or things to which the cat reacts, leading to aggressive behaviors)
  • Identify triggers and desensitize and counter-condition cat to the triggers
  • Implement safety measures (for example, use of Soft Claws®, wearing long pants/long sleeves to protect people, keep flattened cardboard boxes around the home to place between the person and cat)
  • Behavior modifications to redirect the cat and reduce arousal
  • Train cat to respond to commands, such as “sit” or “go to” a certain place in the home
  • Implement environmental enrichment for the cat

Medications

Medications presented in this section are intended to provide general information about possible treatment. The treatment for a particular condition may evolve as medical advances are made; therefore, the medications should not be considered as all inclusive

  • No drugs are approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of aggression in cats; your veterinarian will discuss the risks and benefits of medical treatment
  • Anti-anxiety medications that increase levels of serotonin in the central nervous system, such as tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Amitriptyline (TCA)
  • Benzodiazepines: oxazepam
  • Buspirone; may make some cats more assertive; thus may work well for the victim in anxiety-associated aggression
  • Clomipramine (TCA)
  • Fluoxetine or paroxetine (SSRI)

Follow-Up Care

Patient Monitoring

  • Owners should consult with the cat’s veterinarian every 1–2 weeks for the first 2 months after a treatment plan has been recommended to evaluate response
  • If the cat is receiving medications, the dose should be evaluated every 3–4 weeks
  • Frequency of follow-up will be determined by the severity of the aggressive behavior
  • Blood work (including complete blood count [CBC], serum chemistry, and thyroid [T4] levels) should be obtained prior to beginning medications; 2–3 weeks after starting medication, blood work for liver and kidney tests should be obtained; thereafter, blood work should be rechecked annually in young, healthy pets and semiannually in older pets or at the interval recommended by your pet’s veterinarian
  • Physical examinations should be repeated semiannually in older pets as painful conditions may start to contribute to the aggressive behavior or make it worse

Preventions and Avoidance

  • Ensure appropriate socialization of kittens with people and other cats
  • Avoid provocation of the cat
  • Observe signs of aggression (such as tail flicking, ears flat, pupils dilated, head hunched, claws possibly unsheathed, stillness or tenseness, low growl) and safely interrupt the behavior; leave cat alone and refuse to interact until appropriate behavior is displayed
  • Avoid direct physical correction or punishment; may intensify aggression
  • Remember that a cat displaying aggressive or predatory behavior can bite or scratch any person or another animal—always be careful to ensure that you do not get injured; the best approach in some situations is to leave the cat alone in a quiet area until it calms down

Possible Complications

  • Human injuries; surrender of cat to animal control or animal shelter; euthanasia of cat

Expected Course and Prognosis

  • Ultimately depends on the specific kind of aggression and the ability of the owner to carry out the suggested treatment
  • Some types of aggression can improve or resolve within a few weeks, while other types may take several months or longer
  • Some forms of aggression have a poor prognosis

Key Points

  • Most cases of aggression need a combination of behavioral modification, environmental modification, training, and, when necessary, medication to maximize chances of improving the cat’s behavior
  • Behavioral medicine is concerned with recognizing and identifying abnormal or inappropriate aggressive behavior
  • Numerous types of aggression have been identified in cats