How should I deal with my suddenly aggressive cat?
April 24, 2010 6:46 AM   Subscribe

My cat had an aggressive episode about a month ago and has been tense and behaving uncharacteristically ever since. What can I do to help her go back to her usual self? Detailed info inside.

I adopted my cat, let's call her N., when she was a two months old kitten from a friend. I have had her for 5 years and recently she started behaving very aggressively.

For some background first. N. is a relatively shy cat. Usually if there is an outsider in the house she will stay in the same room, but away from them and would not welcome their attentions. I have never forced her to socialize if she doesn't feel like it and if she indicates that she has had enough petting I have stopped petting her. She used to be affectionate with me - she would sleep in my bed and I would brush her in the evening when I come home from work. However, she usually doesn't allow other people to hold her, and either quickly jumps out of their hands, or hisses at them. The hissing was at first very surprising as I've never seen a cat hiss this often before. She wasn't like that when she was a small kitten, but I couldn't say when exactly the hissing started.

N. is a picky eater and didn't seem interested in cat treats, which is why I started giving her wet food in the evening. We also play together - I roll paper balls on the floor and she runs after them and chases them. She seems to be interested in this game a lot more than the feathers on a stick game.

Recently N. had a very aggressive episode that has left us both bewildered and tense. It all started when my boyfriend (who I'd started seeing recently) came over to my house and tried playing with N. He also has cats and they are very friendly with strangers. N. hissed at him, and soon after started attacking him. He grabbed a jacket to hold in front of himself and she went into a rage and started attacking us both. We were very shaken. My attempts to get to her resulted in lots of scratches and bites. We brought N. to an emergency vet the next morning to rule out pain as a cause for her aggression and the vet did not find any physical problem with her. Since I had not spayed N. in the past I brought her over to her regular vet for spaying the week after the attack. Everything went well and N. is now back home.

Unfortunately things have not improved since she got back home. During one of the weekends I had a friend over and according to my regular vet's advice I kept N. in the bedroom while my friend and I were in the living room. When N. was in the same room with my friend and I she was really anxious and tense and there were two incidents of her trying to attack me or my friend.

N. is still very tense in the evenings, following me around all the time and persistently meowing for attention. I try to pet her and talk to her when I am home and I started giving her treats every once in a while. I try to be careful with what I do, so that I don't scare her, but at one point, when I was doing something as mundane as carrying a laptop from the bedroom to the living room she started hissing and attacking my feet again.

This has all been going on in the span of the past three weeks. I am looking for advice by people who've experienced something similar with their cat. What should I expect from future interactions with N.? What can I do to get her to calm down and make this period easier for her? What is the reason behind this? I don't really know how to evaluate what a cat shrink would tell me, since this is rather new to me, so if you can comment on your experience with cat shrinks that would be helpful too.
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (11 answers total)
Since I had not spayed N. in the past I brought her over to her regular vet for spaying the week after the attack.

It sounds to me like she's had a pretty traumatic medical procedure done recently. It's great that you got her spayed, but kitties, especially private, angry kitties, hate change--and going to a vet for surgery, and maybe wearing an embarrassing cone, is a major disruption in her usual routine. Although it sounds like she might always be a bit of a bitchy cat, if you're really, really patient with her--don't push her to socialize or play but make available lots of toys and brushes if she reaches out to you, don't press her or push her to far with attention, she should calm down. You might even consider not having friends over for a week or two to give her decompression time.

Also, if she ever attacks someone again, a good way to divert cat attention is to make a REALLY LOUD NOISE (grab a pot and bang it). Pulling a cat off someone they're attacking is just likely to get you attacked, but diverting their attention and scaring them away should work.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:02 AM on April 24, 2010

Oh, and not to send you down a path of frightening googling, but you might want to ask your vet about rippling skin disorder, as there are sometimes medical causes for this sort of behavior.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:05 AM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have a shy cat. She doesn't like to be around strangers, so I don't force her to. It sounds like the vet advised this ("according to my regular vet's advice I kept N. in the bedroom") but at some point you decided to do the opposite ("When N. was in the same room with my friend and I")?

Did you accidentally leave out a critical part of the story? I ask because you posted anonymously, and even gave an anonymous name for your cat, but there's nothing in your story that would warrant that? Cats can be weird, some can be scaredy-cats, but there's no need to be embarrassed by that!
posted by Houstonian at 7:05 AM on April 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have an outdoor kitten who has become an indoor cat. She's part Siamese and very twitchy. On one occasion last year when I was cuddling her, she became suddenly terrified for no apparent reason and bit me hard. There was no apparent physical cause for her distress, so I got her a calming collar at the local pet superstore. The collar smells of lavender and some other herbs and apparently contains kitty pheromones that serve to relax and reassure cats.

The cat is still twitchy and always will be, but we haven't had any more biting incidents since we put a calming collar on her.
posted by immlass at 8:28 AM on April 24, 2010

Maybe you could try kitty prozac? I was very uncertain about it, but my cat went a bit crazy for a while (lots of overgrooming so she had no hair on her stomach or back legs), and it stopped that and she is now slowly being weaned off it and going back to her normal self (with hair!).
posted by meepmeow at 9:10 AM on April 24, 2010

You don't have roomates by any chance do you?
posted by filmgeek at 9:16 AM on April 24, 2010

I have a cat who can be aggressive, particularly when he is scared or over-excited. I found these two links (via AskMe) useful:

Cat body language.

Dealing with low self-esteem in cats.
posted by paduasoy at 2:28 PM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I agree with Houstonian's comment above, I'm a little unclear on the timeline as to when the friend and the cat were in the same room. Do you live alone, or, is there a chance that the increased aggression was triggered by someone else is mistreating your cat when you're not there?

A lot of people seem to have good results with Feliway for dealing with aggressive/stressed out cats.
posted by oh yeah! at 5:18 PM on April 24, 2010

When any animal (including humans) has a sudden change of personality some kind of brain disease is a possible cause.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 7:09 PM on April 24, 2010

It sounds like having an unfamiliar person behave too familiarly was then compounded by Scary Monster Moment (jacket shield could look like a lot of scary things), and the event has rejostled a trauma center for N. The reaction to the laptop seems like she interpreted it as a Scary Monster Moment, too.

Time, patience, awareness of triggers (sounds like indistinct dark shapes moving above her might be in there) are the most necessary elements. It takes some cats a couple of years to work through things, positive and negative. Reinforce the positive, mitigate/avoid the negative, and always be consistent with her.

Your vet ruled out "no physical cause" - did that include examination for cancer? I had a kitty who had a personality change near what turned out to be the end of his life because he had cancer, and it went undetected by an emergency vet who gave him a clear bill of health just a few months before he passed.

Feliway might work best for you if in one of the auto diffusers - cats with big anxiety seem to need a more constant flow of it. Kitty Prozac is a good "nothing else has worked and her quality of life is reducing" solution...or even a "kitty is in crisis and needs to relax a little" solution.

posted by batmonkey at 8:01 PM on April 24, 2010

Once upon a time, I lived with a guy I was dating. I adopted an adorable, friendly little kitten who, a few months after I got her, started being a freaked out, "hands off!" type of cat. At first, I was bewildered, then I thought it was her "teenage rebellion phase"...

I thought that until I witnessed said guy tossing the cat from the second floor landing (two-story house, the landing was open to the living room). Guy thought it was a fabulous game: would the cat land on her feet every time he tossed her over?

The poor cat had come to associate being handled/petted by humans with being tossed over the railing of the landing.

Fortunately we had other roommates who prevented me from committing (oh-so-justified) homicide. After that, I was able to lock my bedroom door, giving the tortured cat a safe place to be away from her tormentor. It took her years to come back to being a loving, friendly cat towards me. Even now, though, at age fourteen, she fears most men and is wary around unknown women.

Since you are posting anonymously, I, like Houstonian, wonder if there isn't more to this story. Has there been a maintenance person/exterminator in your home lately? Someone who could have done something to N. that you aren't aware of? Is there something happening in the house that has her freaked out?

Good luck with N. I hope that you can calm her down. I'll nth the recommendations for Feliway and add one for Rescue Remedy (some might say it does nothing... in my house, it might have been the Feliway... it might have been the Rescue Remedy YMMV).
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 8:09 PM on April 24, 2010

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