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Dr. Geri Katz

Bandit Was Acting Out! Diagnosing Aggression in Cats

The Problem: Bandit was Being Aggressive

Bandit, a nine-year-old female Calico cat, was presented to me because her mom was concerned about Bandit’s aggressive behavior. Bandit would come into the bedroom at night and bite and/or scratch her human mom! This would be more pronounced after the family returned from a vacation. Bandit would also be easily spooked by unfamiliar noises and experiences on a daily basis, and would even be too timid to play with her human father.

Why is there increased aggressive behavior toward her human mom?

Bandit’s mom and I talked about conditions which could lead to Bandit’s aggression and anxiety. Anxiety occurs when a cat is threatened by an unfamiliar stimulus. Cats can adapt fairly well to stimuli they are exposed to during their primary socialization period which is between 2 and 9 weeks of age. When a kitten is not exposed to stimuli during that time, it may be much harder for that cat to adapt later in life. For example, if during that early time the kitten hears the dishwasher running nightly, this noise probably wouldn’t spook her when she got older. But if this wasn’t the kitten’s norm, the grown cat can become quite fearful of the dishwasher noise. Unfortunately, not many of us have spent this early period with our young cats, and even if we did, how many novel experiences did we actually share?

The genetic factor

If a cat’s father is a very anxious cat, it is more likely that his offspring will be anxious as well, which can make it difficult for the cat to calmly tolerate new experiences. if the father is, or was, an aggressive cat, it is very possible that his offspring will have a tendency to be aggressive. 

Non-genetic factors

Other factors include the cat feeling threatened by something, not feeling well, or not having needs met appropriately.

Fact: Cats need to hunt and play

One of the basic conditions that make for a cat-friendly environment is for the cat to experience play and predatory behavior frequently. Cats have an innate need to be strategic, stalk, and hunt. If cats are not given these opportunities to do so, it can be extremely frustrating. This frustration can easily lead to aggression.

We are lucky when our felines hunt stationary objects but not all cats will do this. Some don’t always completely fulfill their stalking and hunting needs. The best toys are ones that simulate and move like prey. Many wand toys meet these conditions when dragged across the floor, just as a mouse would move. Others can be waved through the air, simulating a bird.

The discovery phase

I asked Bandit’s mom about the frequency of Bandit’s playtime throughout the day, and the types of toys made available to her. Unfortunately, for many of us, life happens, and we don’t seem to have, or make, the time to give our cats consistent and frequent opportunities to satisfy primal needs. Many of us buy toys we think our cats will gravitate toward, but they often do not interest our felines.

Solution 1: Calming Supplements in Wet Food

To address the anxiety, I recommended using natural calming supplements on a daily basis. But Bandit’s mom was worried that she wouldn’t be able to give oral medications to Bandit for more than a few days because Bandit begins to resist. However, since Bandit would only eat dry food, and these supplements absorb better in wet food, her mom had to find a wet food that Bandit would eat. This was a challenge!

Solution 2: Play and Strategizing

To address the aggression, which I believed to be the direct result of frustration due to infrequent play sessions, I recommended at least 2-3 short play sessions daily with toys that would encourage Bandit to stalk and hunt. Also, because her aggression was mostly at night, I recommended some toys that would encourage Bandit to strategize. 

Once we found a wet food Bandit liked, I advised the owner to purchase puzzle feeders that hold dry food. This would be the only dry food Bandit would be offered. If Bandit wanted the dry food, she would have to work for it! I also recommended that when the humans go away on vacation, to make sure the pet sitter follows the same daily strategy for continuity.

The mystery of Bandit’s behavior is resolved

Bandit’s mom and I spoke regularly. She ultimately found a wet food Bandit would eat, and the supplements worked great! The aggression and anxiety were minimized and they are now a much happier family!

Note: When dealing with aggressive behaviors, the most important thing is not to put any other animal or human in harm’s way. I suggested Bandit’s mom keep her door closed at night, but she didn’t see her kitty as a violent threat.

If your cat has exhibited some unusual behaviors lately, don’t hesitate to reach out to us! We’re here to work together in resolving any issues your feline may be experiencing.

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