Dr. Denise Petersen held one of our seminars on feline behavior problems this month, and we had quite a few clients attending whose kitties are peeing outside the litterbox, being aggressive towards each other, and even showing aggressive behaviors toward the clients themselves. This topic is so important because these behavioral problems quite commonly lead to the relinquishment or euthanasia of the pet. We don’t want this to happen! There are many ways to address unwanted behaviors and to prevent them from developing.
Aggression can develop from inadequate socialization, genetics, or overstimulation. We always would like to rule out a medical cause for the aggressive behavior before moving forward to address the problem as behavioral. This would involve a trip to the vet where our doctors will determine if pain or other medical ailments may be causing these behaviors. Once the medical side of things has been ruled out, we would aim to determine which types of aggression is the culprit. Fear related aggression, territorial aggression, petting induced & play related aggression, and redirected aggression are the different types we would look at.
One of the most important aspects of managing aggression in cats is keeping the humans, other pets, and the aggressive cat himself safe. Ignoring and walking away from the aggressive cat may be the safest option. Interrupting the behavior in a way that is not associated with the owner, such as tossing a pillow in the direction of an altercation between cats, may be another option. Redirecting aggressive behavior, particularly with play related aggression where the cat sees its owner’s feet as prey, can be very effective; this is done by having cat toys on hand to toss and redirect the aggressive play behavior toward the toy and away from the human.
Our veterinarians will have a conversation to determine what might be the best strategies for your kitty as an individual. Decreasing stress and engaging the cat in positive behaviors are very important to implement in a home where aggression is present. This involves increasing playtime, introducing more toys and opportunities for exercise, and providing adequate resources for multi-cat households. Depending on the type of aggression, we can work to gradually expose the cat to the aggression-inducing stimulus and then changing the emotional response to that stimulus through counter-conditioning. The use of pheromones and anti-anxiety supplements may also be introduced.
Cats peeing and pooping outside the litterbox is something we commonly see at our practice. Just like with aggressive behaviors, we would like to rule out medical problems as the cause. Urinary tract infections and constipation can both lead to the cats forming negative associations with the litterbox and thus lead to them using your comforter or couch as their potty. We will do the appropriate tests and make sure the cat is healthy before addressing it as a behavioral problem.
When the cat is deemed healthy, there are quite a few things to rule out and changes to make. This includes insuring that the litterbox is easy to get into and easy to find, that litterbox liners are not in use, that there is an adequate number of litterboxes available (which is the number of cats in the household, plus one). Litterboxes should be scooped daily and the areas outside the litterboxes that they have soiled should be thoroughly cleaned with an enzymatic or bacterial cleaner such as Anti-Icky Poo. Strategies like placing the litterbox where the cat is soiling may be suggested. There are many different ways we can curb these behaviors, and we will develop a game plan for each individual cat that comes into our office. The key is patience and perseverance!