Monday, June 30, 2014

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

Gray tabby cat and orange tabby cat fighting | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital Waterford, MI

If you have read part 1 and part 2 of this series, you now may have a good idea what reasons may be behind your cat's aggression and you have a list of behaviors and locations that clarify the aggression. However, what you really want is a solution, right?

Some forms of mild territorial aggression, such as conflict that occurs after the introduction of a new cat to the household, will resolve themselves over a period of 4 months. Temporary aggression issues, such as conflict after a veterinary visit or other traumatic event, may resolve in 24-48 hours.

Gray cat being petted on the cheek | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital Waterford, MI
Rub cats around the cheeks and face to transfer scents
Re-Scent: If your cats only have problems after one of them visits the veterinarian (non-recognition aggression), try to schedule vet visits at the same time, or segregate the cat that went to the vet in one room with food, water and litter, to let him regain the familiar smell of the household and de-stress before re-introducing him to your other cats. You could speed the process by rubbing the cats with the same towel around their ears and cheeks - the areas that cats use to mark their territory and rub other cats - and then across their bodies.

Re-Introduce: For troubles with a new cat in the house, or long-standing territorial issues, try re-introduction of the cats. Generally, the aggressor cat is the one that should be treated as the "new" cat and the victim should be treated as the "existing" cat. Use rewards to reinforce desired behaviors, but do not physically punish fighting. It will NEVER help the situation, and may make the situation worse. Patience is a big key to working with remodeling your cat's relationships - your goal in cases of aggression is not to make your cats into best buddies, but to give them the ability to tolerate each others' presence without fighting.

Poolga image by mckibillo | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital Waterford, MI
Method of exercising cats by mckibillo on Poolga
Redirect: Don't punish aggressive behavior, because that will cause stress, which may increase aggression. Don't reward aggressive behavior by trying to distract the aggressor with treats or attention, either. Instead, try to distract the aggressor before a fight occurs by redirecting his attention with an interactive wand toy, a game of fetch, or a laser pointer or flashlight and try to lure him away from the impending fight. Reward the cat when you catch him acting neutrally towards the victim.

Resource management: Increase the desirable space in your house by adding vertical territory, such as cat trees, perching shelves, or giving cats access to upper levels of existing shelving with ramps and stairs. Make sure that there are plenty of feeding and watering stations, so that essential resources can't be completely blocked, and make sure that you have at least one more litter box than the number of cats in your home, preferably at least one box on each level of your house, as well. This will help prevent inappropriate elimination related to resource blocking or stress.

Medications: If aggression issues are significant, your veterinarian may recommend the introduction of calming medications or anti-anxiety drugs to aid your efforts to train your cats to tolerate each other. These medications will help take the edge off the bully's attacks, or decrease the victim's reaction to aggressive posturing from the aggressor cat. Drugs are generally not the cure for the problem, but can be a useful tool to aid in implementing behavioral conditioning. Sometimes only one cat needs to be medicated, but sometimes the problem is significant enough that both cats need to receive drug therapy in addition to behavioral therapy. Medications such as fluoxetine, buspirone, alprazolam, clomipramine and elavil are prescribed based on the information that a cat owner provides about the types of aggressive incidents that occur. Because the dosages are different for humans and cats, and because the recommendation for medication is based on the behavior of the cat, it is only recommended to start behavioral drug therapy with the guidance of a veterinarian.

In addition to prescription medications, some of the other products that we often incorporate into behavioral solutions are pheromone products, wraps and treats.

Feliway | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital Waterford, MI
Pheromone products: Calming pheromones help decrease the stress levels in the household and lower the intensity levels of the aggressive encounters. Products such as Feliway and NurtureCalm contain pheromones associated with marking "happy places" and the chemical a mother cat produces to calm and reassure her kittens.

Wraps: The Thundershirt is a product based on information from studies of autistic children and adults indicating that pressure therapy, massage, and the use of a hugging machine can relieve anxiety. In addition, swaddling of infants has been shown to calm them. While research and controlledstudies are still in the works for this therapy, it is not harmful to employ them in an effort to calm hyper-anxious pets as a part of a behavioral plan.
Black cat in Thundershirt | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital Waterford, MI
Mr. B wears a Thundershirt to help him deal with all the cats in the hospital
Treats and Supplements: The pill Anxitane and Composure treats contain L-Theanine, (Gamma-ethylamino-L-glutamic acid) which is derived from the mushroom Boletus badius and Camellia sinensis tea leaves. L-Theanine causes a calming effect without drowsiness.

You will probably need to resign yourself to the fact that your cats will never be best friends. If aggression is a significant issue between your cats, the best you may be able to hope for is tolerance of the other cat's presence, and that can take months of baby steps forward (and a few steps back) to accomplish. However, if you are patient, and if you let the cats tell you when you can move forward, you will hopefully eventually be rewarded with a peaceful (if not amicable) household.

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