What can we do about this cat?
November 26, 2020 2:59 PM   Subscribe

One of our cats periodically gets violently aggressive and we’re not sure what to do anymore.

We have two cats, one since 2004 and one since 2007. The second one has always been high strung, but loves people. He’s an extroverted and opinionated cat who loves to climb on shoulders and have you rub his face. He’s very territorial though, something we didn’t realize the extent of because he came in as the second cat and the older boy is very chill. As the second cat, he’d just decided that first cat was his bud and for years we had two boys who snuggled and groomed each other.

Now however, the younger boy has gotten increasingly anxious as he’s aged. On most days that manifests as some pacing and wanting more pets. A few years ago he tried to attack a 100-lb super friendly doberman that our neighbor let get a little too close to front door (thankfully blocked by the door), and he always would scream if he saw a cat, behaviors we’d sooth him through. But now sometimes he turns into something we don’t recognize. A year ago May, the younger boy spotted a cat in our backyard from our three season porch and freaked out. I’d called him back inside, and keeping a normal distance, went to slide our door closed. The noise startled him so he attacked my arm with a deep bite and back leg scratches. Then the older boy, who was having serious health issues where he was not at all able to defend himself, came over to see and the younger boy turned on him so I ended up pushing younger boy away so I could grab older boy and flee. I ended up with two serious bites and extensive scratches across my arms and legs.

We took our time in reintroducing them, and for a while it seemed like they would be fine. Then in early July 2019 (two months later), I came down for breakfast where my husband had left the older boy on the porch to eat (because of food competition and meds in the food) and younger boy had poofed and was growling. Because there was no way for me to remove the older boy from his location, I tried to distract younger boy to get him away from the bad stimulus using a blanket and he again tried to attack me. At that point I had a panic attack, and my husband had to come home to lure him into a carrier where he screamed and screamed terrifying noises.

I’ve been a cat person most of my life, and I’m very familiar with normal angry cat behavior and giving cats space. The problem is that when he’s afraid, he doesn’t want to escape, he wants to pursue and attack. I’m also very familiar with normal angry tom cat noises but this is so much beyond that. My mom who has no problems with chasing off an angry screaming stray in her yard heard these noises from two floors away and she said it was terrifying to listen to.

But we are people who believe that adopting a cat is for life though, so we’ve been trying to do everything we can:
- We set up a nice cat sauna in the basement bathroom for when he needs quiet.
- Unfortunately, the older boy is now much older and has had some health problems so he’s had to be on a steroid and will probably stay on one indefinitely. His behavior to our human senses hasn’t changed but as the younger stopped recognizing him (smell maybe?). We’ve kept the cats separated since then, and after initial limited interactions through a door failed, we’ve kept them fully separated for over a year with two doors between (though scheduled exchanges to keep the scents fresh).
- We had younger boy into the vet multiple times, and he is healthy and other than having elevated anxiety markers his bloodwork was fine. We clip his claws regularly, so there shouldn’t be issues there.
- We’ve used all of the standard recommendations: play, love, feliway (plugin and collar), worked with our vet on prozac (pills that my husband has spent at times an hour a day trying to get him to eat and ear goop that he flees), more love.

Most of the time, he’s fine. Two of these photos are from this morning when he was in my lap. That was about an hour before he managed to escape a door so he got upstairs and was only one door away from older boy. Again he freaked out, and camped under tables on our main floor attempting to attack anyone he could. He spotted me through a glass door, and again tried to attack me even as I was saying calming things and avoiding aggressive body language. So, I went and had a panic attack outside, and we spent three hours of Thanksgiving sitting in a car waiting for him to calm down before we could get him into a separate space where he’s still pacing and periodically screaming.

We’re at the end of what we know to do. The vet keeps giving us normal cat advice, all of which we’ve tried. He’s otherwise healthy but who could take a cat who becomes dangerous just seeing another cat through a window? But he’s such a sweet boy and the idea of putting him down is so terrible we both start sobbing just thinking of it. Yet we can’t keep living like this, afraid of when he’s going to go off on us. So please, help us. What can we do?
posted by past unusual to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should maybe clarify too that they are both fixed and up to date on general medical care.
posted by past unusual at 3:01 PM on November 26, 2020

This sounds so hard. My first thought is to watch as much of "My Cat from Hell" as you can; I believe there are some aggressive and randomly aggressive cats (a number of them, actually), and maybe some of the patterns and solutions will be similar to your situation.

If it's possible, I would certainly look around for another vet -- just the act of changing vets or seeking a second opinion will make the new vet take you more seriously, and you could find one with behavioral training or experience that will be more helpful to you. You could look for a behaviorist as well, if you're in a location where that's an option. I can't help but think there are a lot of things that you could try that your vet just hasn't suggested because they don't know about them and don't realize how much of an important situation this really is.

You need better help than you're getting. Look around for it.

Since office visits and house calls aren't as expected, now, you might even be in a moment of increased opportunity -- you could probably find a really good behaviorist who will do video consultations with you, and if they will work with your vet, any medications could be easily obtained through that vet.

Good luck.
posted by amtho at 3:37 PM on November 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

Oh dear. This is definitely worrisome and I am so sorry he, you, and everyone around is going through it. :(

Is it possible he's going deaf? I remember a childhood friend's cat becoming increasingly agitated and aggressive and it was because his hearing was going and everything startled him.

Also, I agree that you should change vets and have the new one do an ultra thorough body exam.

Sending love to your kitty. Poor guy.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 4:01 PM on November 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Definitely get a new vet and/or a second medical opinion. Even if you love your first vet, they're no longer able to help here, so time to try something else.

Is there any chance there's an allergy to something thats causing your cat stress, and therefore this behaviour? Have you tried different diets and litter?

If the prozac didnt work in pill form (or ear form) is there another delivery method available? I've had cats i've had to crush pills up (make sure they're crushable) and mix with a cat-approved liquid, then syringe it into their mouth...

What about other things like gabapentin or another anti-anxiety med? (I'm not sure if gaba is appropriate for continued use, but dang it's helpful for reducing feline anxiety in advance of a vet appointment. But this is why you need a -different- vet's advice, not this internet stranger's who just happens to have a house full of cats).
posted by cgg at 4:07 PM on November 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry, this sounds so stressful. Obviously, confer with vet, but cats can take gabapentin long term for anxiety. Everything I've read about makes it sound like a pretty safe drug. You might find this blog post of interest.

Also, I believe Jackson Galaxy has recently restarted his individual consulting service.

Good luck, it's so stressful to have pets in such distress despite your best efforts. Agree that if you have a behaviorist or cats only vet in your area they would be worth a try.
posted by whistle pig at 6:38 PM on November 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Seconding looking into the gabapentin as a thing to try. We had a cat who had occasional sudden aggro moments (not as bad as yours) and it really helped (he was prescribed it just for pre-vet-visit calming but it was stunningly effective at that).
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:00 PM on November 26, 2020

He’s otherwise healthy but who could take a cat who becomes dangerous just seeing another cat through a window?

If it comes to a point where it's not safe for younger boy to live with you, perhaps you could find him a home with someone who lives in a not-first-floor apartment. On the second or higher floor, he really wouldn't ever see another cat close enough to matter. But I hope you are able to find a way to make it work!
posted by insectosaurus at 7:41 PM on November 26, 2020

Check your memail. :)
posted by Violet Blue at 7:52 PM on November 26, 2020

A friend's mother's cat was as good as gold until certain stimuli upset it. Then the kitty became homicidal. The first vet found nothing wrong. The second vet discovered a previously undiagnosed and serious medical problem. That problem was corrected by a simple surgery, and the cat has been wonderful every moment since. Nthing that you get the cat to a different veterinarian.
posted by bryon at 9:34 PM on November 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have a cat who also freaks out and attacks her brother whenever she sees another cat through the window. This hasn't happened since we moved to an upper story apartment.

So, while looking for more permanent fixes with another vet, it sounds like your house's layout may allow for keeping the troublesome cat upstairs, where it's likely to be triggered?
posted by Metasyntactic at 1:59 AM on November 27, 2020

Pilling a cat can in some situations just compound the trauma so if pilling isn't working & the meds aren't reliably getting into the cat, you might want to change the delivery mechanism. For medicating the cat, we've had great success having meds compounded into flavored liquids & then dosing wet food (or baby food) with a small amount of the med compound. Specialty pharmacists or vet pharmacies can compound. We use vetsfirstchoice.com for prescribed compounded meds by mail.

We've given cats oral meds for a few years with compounds including gabapentin for long-term pain management. Our routine is very livable and easy on the humans and the cats.

While we haven't used medication for behavior, veterinary science is really very advanced in many areas and there are likely a number of options to medicate for behavior management. As others have mentioned, I would encourage you to pursue & also to find a way that the medication part is easy for the cat & easy for the humans.
posted by countrymod at 7:48 AM on November 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh man I feel for you. I have a big boy, who has serious territorial aggression towards other cats. at one point I had 6 cats. Right now I have 4. My husband ended up in the emergency room after trying to split up a fight. He goes for the kill and has caused A LOT of problems. I'll save those stories for another time. I had finally decided to consider rehoming him but then he started having other issues.

Anyway, what has finally worked is prozac. We tried the ear stuff and that didn't work. We tried the liquid compound and that didn't work. Pill pockets didnt work. We would get the chewable compound, chicken flavor and chop it up into tiny bits and add it to his food. That worked. He didn't love it though. It's around $50 a month. We recently switched over to a non-compounded version that is less expensive and it is working great.

There is zero chance that we would be able to pill this cat so we crush it up and add it to his food. He weighs around 19 lbs and we split a 10 mg pill into quarters and give it to him every night. It feels like we can finally sleep and the other cats have peace too. He would be activated by another cat going to the litter box. If cats were playing he would have to go over and investigate and break up the fun. He's like the cat police.

Oh and we recently had him on gabapentin for a different issue and I kind of feel like it activated him more. I know it's supposed to be good for anxiety but it didn't work that way for him. Your cat may vary. We also give them a variety of flavors because some of them seem to get bored with eating the same food. New flavors make them gobble up the food and make the medicine less noticeable. There are food toppers as well. Good luck!!
posted by mokeydraws at 3:18 PM on November 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

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