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Cat Aggression: My Experience
Cat Aggression and Cio Cio San
Cio Cio San: Cat Aggression Against Cats
A very small cat came into the rescue which had been stray. As per protocol, she was taken immediately to the vet for examination and shots. I wasn't there but was told by the rescue members that she literally climbed the walls. She went wild and acted wild at the vet. One of the rescuers took Cio Cio to her house but was scared to death of her. So I took her and put her in my bedroom.
Cio Cio was very vocal but was never aggressive towards me or any other person I let see her. Obviously she had just been scared at the vets. She did a lot of chittering and meowing for attention or food but no aggressive sounds. She was extremely gentle and easy to pick up and hold. She was pretty and petite, so I named her after Puccini's opera heroine Cio Cio San (Madama Butterfly). To my surprise she went from six pounds to eight pounds (I was told she was fully grown). I was also told she had been living outside for quite a few months but she acted to me like she had been a pet earlier in her life.
Personally I liked having her in my bedroom. I only had to tell her once not to poke her face in mine to wake me up at 5 am. After that she took to laying on my hip and her 8 pounds was so light I didn't mind. Sometimes she preferred to sleep at my feet. If CioCio was cold she cuddled up near my stomach. She had an uncanny knack from the beginning of reading my feelings. If I woke up from a bad dream feeling scared and panicky she would lay on my chest as if to slow my racing heart down. If she heard me weeping in another room she would cry at the door until I went in to be with her. No question, Cio Cio was sympatico with me. I never had this close of a connection with a cat and decided to keep her. She reminded me of the animal partners in the Golden Compass.
Meanwhile my baby Zeke who I had been Mama to since he was 3 weeks old, started darting into the bedroom and Cio Cio ignored him pretty much. Of course Zeke 13 lbs to her 8 pounds and towered over her. Also Zeke is supremely confident. In the next month I was to learn that confident cats could put Cio Cio in her place.
So I decided to try Cio Cio with the general population. Now all the other cats are bigger than her. Only one of my male cats is petite and all the females are large. Things seemed fine for 20 minutes and then my neurotic cat Jasmine took one look at CIo Cio and started to run. That triggered something and Cio Cio took chase, caught her and started a fight. It was the first time I literally saw "fur flying." I got them separated and put CIo Cio back in my bedroom. She had a little scratch but Jasmine was fine. Since Jasmine was already neurotic I thought this better not happen again.
Jasmine: Victim of Cat Aggression
First Solution to Stopping Cat Aggression
I saw Cio Cio's behavior as a clear case of fight/flight instinct. When she was stray, being so little, she must have been afraid of larger cats and she must have been hardwired to fight rather than flee. And Jasmine's running really triggered her. From then on I tethered Cio Cio San in the living area with a collar and a light lead. This allowed her a change of scene and to be with me. She tried chasing Lydia, Blaze and Mittens but they just stood up to her and didn't run. So they developed an understanding. They no longer hid from her but would lay right near her. Another of my females, Fiona, was afraid with her but figured out how long the lead was and so how to stay out of Cio Cio's reach.
Cio Cio still wanted to chase Jasmine - if Jasmine went dashing by. But Jasmine soon learned that Cio Cio couldn't catch her and learned to slink by but at the correct distance. However, more often than not Jasmine just stayed in the other room.
So there were no more fights but the aggression was still there and I didn't consider this a solution.
Jasmine Gets Along With Other Cats
Thundershirt and Cat Aggression
Then I read about the Thundershirt. It was originally developed by the company for dogs who became panicky during thunderstorms. The results were very positive. So now they had started to make Thundershirts for cats.
The idea was that the Thundershirt was snug and it had been proven that pressure calmed animals. First suggested by animal behaviorist Temple Grandin, putting pressure on the sides of cattle succeeded in keeping them calm when they had to be corralled. In fact, snugly wrapping autistic children calms them. Autism Speaks, the worlds' leading autism science and advocacy organization promotes weighted blankets for wrapping and pressure vests for wearing.
The packaging stated that the Thundershirt might lessen aggression but it said is was most affective in helping frightened cats. I knew Cio Cio's aggression was based on fear and having felt vulnerable as a small stray. For me, it was expensive but I thought it was worth a try.
Cio Cio Relaxed in Thundershirt
Thundershirt Working on Cat Aggression
When the Thundershirt arrived, the first warning was to expect the "drop and flop."
Sure enough, after putting the Thundershirt on Cio Cio San, the first thing she did was fall over. After that it was more that she walked like a drunken sailor. However I let her out with the other cats and there was no hissing, growling, vocalization or any sign of aggression from her. After the original confusion over her balance being off, Cio Cio's demeanor was calm and placed whenever wearing the Thundershirt.
The other cats were curious but kept a certain distance so none of them took advantage of her vulnerability. By the second time she wore the shirt, Cio Cio had found her balance and since then the only thing it seems to affect is her ability to jump....I help her up on the couch.
I only ever left her wearing Thundershirt a couple hours and only when I am home. I am especially careful in hot weather not to leave it on long.
It fastens on with Velcro and if she doesn't feel like cooperating I leave her in my bedroom or tether her again. Putting it on her goes quite fast and doesn't bother her; she just sometimes isn't in the mood.
Cio Cio My Cat
Footnote: Cat Aggression
About dot Com says that fear aggression is the most common form of cat aggression. So I feel the Thundershirt has great potential to help cat owners integrate a cat aggressive cat. In my case, it made Cio Cio's adoption possible. I hope it will make many other adoptions possible for other people.
I had hoped that if I consistently put the Thundershirt on Cio Cio every time she was out with the general population, that she would associate calmness with the family and not need the Thundershirt anymore. That was not the case. The aggressive behavior was learned very early and had served her as a good coping mechanism. It made the scary big cat go away when Cio Cio was living out in the wild as a kitten. She is never going to unlearn this behavior. But her senses can be calmed by the Thundershirt.