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Dealing With Fear, Aggression And Stress In Cats

Updated on January 17, 2015

Dealing With Fear And Aggression In Cats

Mild fear may be overcome by the owner. A timid cat needs a safe, quiet place to retreat to, such as a covered bed. Avoid forcing your attentions on the cat, wait for it to approach you.

Always move slowly, speak to it softly and evenly and keep strangers or strange situations at bay until it has become more confident. It is important to identify the cause of a cat’s fear so that you can deal with it.

This may not always be easy, unless it is obvious, a one off visit to the vet, for example. There may be an ongoing situation, such as mild teasing behavior by a child, or a persistent noise or confinement.

Once the cause is established, it must be removed and the cat’s confidence regained. It may be that you can persuade the cat to overcome its fears.

Cats have a highly developed flight response and when faced with any threatening situation, such as being trapped in a carrier or a car, their immediate reaction is to try to get away.

You may be able to control this with soothing words or by gradually making the cat realize it need not be afraid by exposing it little and often to the situation. After an initial shock reaction, cats often settle down in catteries or veterinary hospitals after about 48 hours.

If they are handled, however gently, during that time, they may associate the handling with the initial fear and bridle every time anyone approaches to feed them.

Left alone, the usually calm down and soon start to make overtures to the very people that they hated the day before. If a cat that is normally calm and well behaved suddenly starts to scratch and bite, it may be ill, bored or frightened, and the underlying cause should be addressed.

It is important to train a kitten from the beginning that aggressive behavior is unacceptable, even in play. A firm no, immediate cessation of play, and a light tap in the nose whenever it bites or scratches should eventually correct this behavior.

Do remember that a cat likes its independence, and if you impose your attentions on it when it does not want them, for example, if it is asleep, it may react instinctively by attacking you.

Symptoms Of Stress In Cats

It is sometimes difficult to recognize symptoms of stress in the solitary, individualistic feline. Some breeds are more nervous than others. Highly strung Orientals, for example, can react very badly to strange situations, and even the first visit to a cattery may change the personality.

Stolid domestic shorthairs may be equally upset, but are more likely to react aggressively by hissing, scratching and biting.

Cats probably show stress to a greater extent than dogs, but the first signs are sometimes too subtle for us to notice. When feeling vulnerable, a cat withdraws into itself, and cold aloofness is one of the first clues to its condition.

A cat about to go into battle tries to appear as large as possible, but in distress it tries to become mouse sized. Fur is flattened, tail is curled around and the cat crouches.

If the situation continues, the cat starts to shake. Salivation, vomiting and defecation can also be signs of nervousness and tension. A cat may react actively or passively when it is frightened.

Typical, active signs are pupil dilation, arching back, pilot erection, the hair stands on end and hissing. A cat may react to any attempts at reassurance, such as vocal intonations or body contact, with further aggression.

Passive symptoms of fear are more subtle and harder to detect. The cat may hide or try to appear smaller, placing the ears back and becoming immobile. A timid cat will start at the slightest movement or unexpected noise.

This may be because it was abused as a kitten, or simply because it lacked proper socialization. If you breed, it is important to socialize your kittens to prepare them for everyday household life and noise.

An aggressive cat hides in a position from being seen by an unwanted visitor. Neutering makes a cat more placid. A timid cat crouches or hides when feeling threatened by the slightest noise or an unexpected situation.

The areas between a cat’s eyes and ears are often more sparsely covered with fur than elsewhere. On this cat, however, the extreme baldness may be a sign of stress and be due to excess rubbing.

The Effect Of Neutering In Cats

Neutering or altering dramatically reduces a cat’s urge to exert territorial rights. Territory becomes confined to an area around the home although this will still be robustly defended by a neutered cat of either sex.

In a neutered, or castrated, male, the means of producing the hormones that fuel sex drive, the testes, are removed. Castration takes place ideally from four months of age.

It is done under general unaesthetic. No stitches are needed, recovery is complete within 24 hours, and there is no discernible traumatic effect on the cat.

Long term, however, the animal’s territorial, sexual and hunting behaviors are modified. A female is neutered or spayed by the removal of her ovaries and uterus, or womb, so that she cannot become pregnant.

She no longer comes on heat or attracts all the local males. The operation is ideally carried out from four to five months of age. Once the cat has removed from the anesthetic, she is usually fine. Long term she may become more friendly and placid.

Desexed animals do tend to convert their food more efficiently, and may be less active. If they start to look plump, some attention to diet may be necessary.

Two neutered or altered Burmese, who have known each other since kitten hood, are happy to share their limited territory of house and garden amicably.

A kitten begins to explore outside, ready to take its place among the local community and hierarchy of cats. A male Burmese goes hunting; it could roam as far as seven miles in search of food and female company if it is neutered. So, ages six months, is keen on keeping close to his mother.

The dominant, unaltered female, however, is not always this complacent, and often asserts her independence. A cat sprays to mark the boundaries of what it considers to be its territory.

If the cat, whether male or female, has been neutered, the smell is unlikely to be obvious to humans. Two cats demonstrate their affection for each other by rubbing their foreheads together. Other signs of friendship may include licking each other or brushing whiskers.

Spraying in Cats

The cat marks the boundaries of its patch with a spray of concentrated, very strong smelling urine. It will also do this if it feels threatened or insecure, for example, if strange visitors or animals come into the house.

The most common and the most pungent spraying come from unaltered males, but entire females spray, especially when they are on heat. Neutered cats also spray, but the odor is usually less offensive.

In extreme situation, the marking may involve dropping farces away from litter trays or pans. This is not simply dirty behavior, but dysfunctional, and the causes must be established.

A cat that constantly remarks its territory is trying to reassure itself that it is worth something. The wise owner checks with the vet for medical advice. Home treatment of attention and affection may solve the problem.

If the behavior continues, you may be referred to an animal behaviorist. Some countries insist on a period of quarantine to keep rabies out of rabies free areas.

In Britain, although the law is under review, there is still a statutory six months' quarantine before an imported pet cat may be released to its owners.

Do carefully consider the effects on the cat of such a long separation, and the expense involved.

A quarantine kennels may want guarantees of a cat's fitness before accepting it, and may also require a male cat to be neutered.

A nine month old Greek stray raised by an English family severed a nerve in its leg shortly before it was due to move in Britain.

As well as the stress of the journey, it would have had to be neutered and its leg amputated, followed by six months' quarantine and a complete change of climate and environment.

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