Mind of Your Cat

March 2009 Issue

Who Are You, Anyway?

Here's some help in understanding the cause of redirected aggression — and how to fix it.

Let’s be honest: Anyone can have a bad day. Maybe the car wouldn’t start. Or you forgot to set the alarm and were late for an important meeting. You might have snapped at a loved one who asked a simple question. When bombarded with an unidentified scary sound, a cat may believe that she is under attack. Perhaps your painter needed to power-wash the deck. Maybe something triggered your neighbor’s alarm system. Nellie, a nervous kitty, could take refuge in the closet. Or, she may instead attempt to learn the source of the scare. She will take a mental snapshot of the scene. Anything in the picture becomes suspect. Her housemate, Sue, seems a likely culprit. Frightened cats are not reasonable, and fear is a powerful trigger for aggression. Without taking time to recall that Sue has always been a friendly companion, Nellie initiates an attack. Naturally, Sue will be caught off guard. She could fight back, or will probably head for cover. As your day improves, you will probably get back on track. The victim of your ill humor — understanding that your behavior was nothing personal — will still treat you kindly. If only our cats could be as understanding. Sadly, a hiss, growl or swat from a trusted feline companion may set off a cycle of aggressive behavior that can take weeks, months or even years to resolve. Sometimes, an inciting event can clearly be identified. Often, folks come home to find that their cats seem to be at war.

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