Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Aggressive cats? 5 innovative solutions to bring the peace back

Eamon hasn't been feeling his best, and that means I've seen an uptick in aggressive episodes. He's been lashing out at the other pets (and at me), and the other cats have been striking out at one another, due to the increased stress the whole household is facing.

Fun times.

I've been pouring through cat behavior books, reading up on training blogs and otherwise looking for solutions for the past few weeks. Here's what I've tried that seems to be turning the tide in this household.

1. Find the root of the problem. 
Normally placid cats don't simply become aggressive out of the blue. There's something bothering them that's forcing a change in their behavior. Finding that little problem is often the first and most meaningful step to take in bringing peace back to the community.

For Eamon, that meant getting him an adequate level of pain control.

The Adequan supplement I had been using wasn't providing him with enough relief from his arthritis-based discomfort (read more about that here). I could see that clearly, as he was limping in addition to lashing out. Once I added in a pain reliever (Gabapentin), he was much more comfortable and a lot less angry. His problems were solved.

The other cats didn't see this kind of immediate relief. They remained a little fearful, on edge and feisty. Their feelings were hurt, and the community had been disrupted. So most of these other steps were designed to help them to recover.

2. Provide more hiding spaces. 
Cat attacks in my household happened when Maggie and Lucy walked a little too close to Eamon. I think he was worried about being stepped on, so he became aggressive as a defensive mechanism.

Even though he is not attacking them now, they remain nervous about being out in the open. I moved a few favorite beds to tucked-in corners protected by furniture. Lucy is in one such bed in this photo.
When the cats feel nervous but they still want to nap, these beds provide them with the perfect solution.

3. Encourage helper animals. 
Sinead has been (strangely) an excellent ally in this struggle for control. She's fearless, so displays of aggression don't really work on her, and she likes to snuggle, so she provides affection when Eamon isn't feeling well enough to do so.

I've been providing her with treats for interacting gently with the cats. I've also been talking in a calm and soothing voice whenever I see her snuggle or provide some kind of cat affection. I'm training her to be ever-so-nice, and I think her help is allowing these sad cats to remember that this household is still a place filled with love.
4. Spend additional time on grooming. 
In a healthy cat household, cat scents intermingle with grooming. One cat licks another, and then they switch roles. All of that licking and petting allows the two scents to blend, which allows the cats to remember that they know one another and like one another.

There's not a lot of that going on right now, so I've been spending more time on grooming. I brush one cat with the cat brush, and then rub that cat down with a towel. I then use the same towel and the same brush on the next cat.

I'd like to think that helps the scents to intermingle, but even if it doesn't, it allows me to spend more time with each cat, doing something they like. That's bound to be helpful.
5. Try not to overreact. 
As the cats become reacquainted with one another, there are bound to be wee squabbles. They bicker and grumble and posture. That's just something that fearful cats do when they're unsure or uncertain. While those little spats can sound scary, I try very hard not to interfere.

If I step in too soon, I risk transmitting the message that the other cat should be avoided. If they can work it out between them, they should do so. There's no need for me to pop in there unless things are dire.

Same goes for cat/dog interactions. Eamon smells a little different to the dogs, and they feel the need to sniff him and check him out. I let them do that, and I let Eamon grumble and swat if he's had enough. I trust them to work through things.

I do stay close at hand, however, and ready to step in if things seem to get too rambunctious or if one party seems especially aggrieved. That's exceedingly rare, thankfully, but it's something to watch for.
I'm hoping these steps will help Eamon to heal up in relative safety, without putting the rest of the cats in harm's way. And I hope that I can keep their relationships intact, too!

Special aside: I've started a Facebook fan page for this blog. If you'd like to keep up on the comings and goings of these guys on a daily basis, check it out! Love to see you. 

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