Monday, June 23, 2014

Why are my cats fighting? Part 2: Fighting Styles

If you read last week's blog post, you know about some of the common types of aggression that you may see between cats. This week, we will discuss how to recognize aggression and conflict between cats.

There are two main styles of aggression displayed by cats:

1) Overt - This is behavior that is obviously hostile, such as hissing, growling, spitting, biting, piloerection (fluffed up fur), lashing the tail, staring at the other cat, standing over the submissive cat, flattening the ears, dilating of the pupils, and swatting. The following images can be helpful in reading the level of your cat's aggression. In general, the more aggressive cat tries to make himself larger and more intimidating, and the more submissive cat tries to make himself smaller and less threatening.

Cat facial expression chart | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, Waterford, MI
Cat facial expressions

Cat tail communication | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, Waterford, MI
Cat tail communication

Body postures of the cat, increasing in aggression towards the right and increasing in submission/fear towards the bottom

2) Covert - Physically blocking another cat from resources like food, water, sleeping areas and litter, either through actual contact, chasing, or by sitting in a position of power over the resources. Excessive marking of territory (either with facial pheromones or with urine and/or feces) may also occur. In addition, human contact and attention may be deprived from the victim by physical blocking or threats. The victim may end up urinating or defecating in other places than the litterbox if the aggressor is successful in completely preventing access to the box.

We had one client who had introduced a new, shy cat to her house, and her older, existing cat started urinating inappropriately. She was sure that it was because he was marking territory in the house because of the new cat. However, after consulting with one of our staff members and having a thorough physical exam and urinalysis to determine that there was no medical cause for the inappropriate urination, the owner went home and watched her two cats and discovered that when her existing cat got up and walked towards the litterbox, the new cat would run to the box, get there first, use the box, and then sit next to it and stare at the older cat. He would then turn away and go urinate by the door. There was no fighting or overt physical aggression between the two cats; in fact, they mostly ignored each other. However, the new cat was being covertly aggressive towards the existing cat by blocking his access to important resources. 

Even though these cats aren't fighting, one is acting aggressively towards the other

Determining the best way to find a solution for inter-cat aggression issues can be a complex process, but being able to identify all the ways in which your cat displays aggression can help give a lot of insight to your veterinarian. If you have a problem with aggression between cats in your home, you can provide some helpful information by doing the following:

1) Identify problem areas of the home - areas where most of the conflict takes place. You may even want to draw a map of your home, identifying areas of conflict and prime resource locations (food, water, litter, sleeping spots, favored perches, etc.). 

2) Document the aggressive interactions that you witness - who is involved? How did they behave? How did the conflict resolve?

3) What are the relationships between the humans in the house and the cats in the house? Who spends peaceful time together and when?

4) Describe your cats' personalities in detail. How does each cat feel about visitors, food, affection, and things that happen outside? Do your cats have any health issues?

If you can provide this information to your veterinarian, you will be helping him or her help you and your cat.

Why are my cats fighting? Part 1: Three reasons your cats might not get along

Why are my cats fighting? Part 3: Finding solutions - the 5 "R"s

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