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Pet Behavior => Cat Behavior & Training => Topic started by: noisymouse on January 23, 2012, 11:23:39 PM

Title: Redirected aggression!
Post by: noisymouse on January 23, 2012, 11:23:39 PM
I haven't posted here in ages, because things have been pretty uneventful. Tonight we had a fight out of the blue and I'm a bit freaked out.

My cats are both three and were adopted about a year and a half ago. Sophie is quiet and a bit nervous. Howl is very laid back, though I notice he can be a bit of a jerk to Sophie at times. Although they are not best friends, they have always gotten along well enough, and like chasing each other around occasionally. There have been one or two times where their play-fighting has gotten a little too rough, and one of them runs off sulking. But tonight out of the blue we had a full-on fight. The cats suddenly ran screaming up the basement stairs, pulling bits of fur off each other. I grabbed Howl and tried to get him to calm down, but when I let him go, he ran right off to try and get at Sophie again, so I shooed him away. My husband followed him and said that he then ran straight to a window, fur all fluffed up, and stared out of it like he does when he sees another cat outside.

Howl REALLY does not like outside cats. Really, really, really does not like. You can always tell when he sees one, because he snorts and fluffs up and gets very upset, running back and forth to various windows trying to get a better look. I am assuming that he saw a cat outside and finally got so mad that he attacked Sophie because of that redirected aggression thing. I've read about it before but never actually seen it.

It's upsetting though! Howl got a little scratch by his eye, and Sophie has some kind of small cut on one of her nailbeds. Although they're not seriously hurt, I worry about what would have happened if I hadn't been there to break up the fight. After I assessed the damages and everyone calmed down, I let them back into the main room, and they seemed okay together... Sophie is acting a bit skittish and Howl is sulking, but neither seems interested in taking another chunk out of the other. ... for now.

Any tips on dealing with something like this? Is this something that will just get worse as time goes on, or could it possibly be a one-off thing?

Title: Re: Redirected aggression!
Post by: August on January 24, 2012, 12:32:14 AM
Noisymouse, ack, what an evening.   :P   I don't have any experiences with that (knock on wood!) but I just wanted to send you and your DH some calming cyber vibes.  I'll bet others have had this happen and can tell you what they experienced.  I'm glad you're all all right!

That dang outside kitty!   ::)

Title: Re: Redirected aggression!
Post by: catbird on January 24, 2012, 06:15:17 AM
Sorry to hear about the cat fight!  It can be very frightening, especially because of the sharp weaponry that cats possess.  Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing that indeed can escalate; I've seen it. 

You are right about the redirected aggression.  What sometimes happens afterwards is that one or both of the cats begins to associate the scary events of the outside cat and the fight with each other instead of the original cause.

My first recommendation would be to get Feliway diffusers going right away to cover your entire house/apartment, to help get everyone calmed down (unless Howl is one of those very few cats who reacts negatively to it.)

For further suggestions, I'd recommend exploring any of the books by Pam Johnson-Bennett, such as Cat Vs. Cat, which are likely available through your local public library, or as a purchased e-book download from Amazon.  There are a lot of tips for de-escalation in the books, which you could try.

If there is any way that you can keep Howl from seeing outside cats (close drapes? ask neighbors to please not let their cats out? put cardboard over the lower parts of windows?), that might help, too.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

Title: Re: Redirected aggression!
Post by: bug on January 24, 2012, 08:02:07 AM
Oh, yeah. This has happened at my house. They see another cat, get all freaked out and attack the closest cat out of the blue. Then, it gets worse because they just get more and more freaked from fighting. Mine wasn't caused by another cat, though. It happened because one of them got scared by a noise and thought the other cat scared him. This does not happen often, and, it only seems to happen in the basement, so when I'm not home, it's off limits.

Title: Re: Redirected aggression!
Post by: noisymouse on January 24, 2012, 11:33:14 AM
It's weird that it happened right now. Things have been pretty quiet lately with the outside cats, as compared to a year ago. For a few months, we had a queen in heat hanging around our yard, and there would be a steady stream on tom cats fighting. Poor Howl would be running back and forth from window to window all night long. She suddenly disappeared after a while, :-\ and then our neighbor's awful, awful cat started hanging around our yard. Awful cat! He would walk right up to people walking down the sidewalk and scratch them. He used to sit by our windows and screen doors and stare right at Howl. Howl got so upset that he started spraying by the doors for a while. >:( But then they moved in the fall, and really we haven't seen a whole lot of cats since then! Howl sleeps on the couch in the evenings, instead of patrolling the windows.

Today all is quiet, anyways. There's been a lot more face sniffing than normal, but everyone is being nice. They had a play-wrestle in the morning, (initiated by Sophie!) and now they are sleeping on the same bed. (on different sides, but that's normal) I found a couple more hair clumps on the floor, but I think they must have been ones that I missed last night. I've been home all day, so if they were fighting again I'd have heard it.

I'm pretty sure they're both good with feliway... I think the shelter we got them from was using it. Unfortunately I don't think talking to neighbors is going to be possible... my close neighbors might be reasonable, but they don't have cats. The real problem is this house about 1 block away. They have at least 4 cats that I know about, and they barely take care of them. The cats always are running outside, and of course are not spayed or neutered. (the girl cat in heat was from that house) They aren't very nice or approachable people, and I would imagine they would laugh at me (or worse) if I ever asked them to keep their cats inside. Frustrating! HOWEVER, I think they might be getting ready to move! Suddenly they are piling up a lot of junk furniture in the alley  >:( and seem to be home less. (If they do end up moving, I hope they take all their cats with them instead of just dumping them!!!) I'll look into that book as well. I think I've exhausted all the internet resources!

There's no way I can keep Howl from seeing cats out of all of the windows, and besides he really likes to look at the birds. However I think I'll board up the worst one. It's at ground level, and right by our dryer vent. When it's cold out, the outside cats sit under it when the dryer is going, and that seems to be the thing that makes Howl the angriest. I think that was the one he was looking out of when they got into their fight last night. Hopefully that will help.

I don't know why Howl has to be so paranoid about the outside cats. He is neutered, originally came from a house with two other cats, was put in a room with several other cats in the shelter, and got used to Sophie pretty quickly. I used to have it in the back of my mind that I wanted to get a third cat someday, but I don't know about that now!

Title: Re: Redirected aggression!
Post by: merrihart on January 24, 2012, 01:34:12 PM
Noisymouse, I really feel your frustration.  Bisi and Beau got into it last night and when I got them separated, Beau was spitting fur out of his mouth  :(  But Bisi forgave him fairly quickly.  Faster than she forgives me for giving her a bath!

Title: Re: Redirected aggression!
Post by: catwoods on January 24, 2012, 02:16:12 PM
I sympathize! I am now seeing more cat discord than I ever had, even with previous groups of four, and later five. I will be trying to get ahold of a copy of Cat vs. Cat myself.

One thing I can say is that my small and very aggressive male (neutered) cat has a history of going berserk whenever there was another cat outside the window. Most cats are upset by that, but his upset was epic. All cats are territorial to an extent but some are just moreso than others.

Our experience is that our old group of four weren't exactly friends but only had an occasional serious conflict over many years. So I'm sending all my hopes that your cats will go back to getting along most of the time, and you'll find effective ways of dealing with any conflicts that may arise.

Title: Re: Redirected aggression!
Post by: catbird on January 24, 2012, 03:15:54 PM
I'm happy to hear that they were able to play-wrestle and sleep on the same bed today.  It sounds like their relationship isn't totally broken, which is good.  But you are probably not completely on solid ground yet.  What happens sometimes is that a situation occurs where there are reminders of the fight, and then they go bonkers again.  It could be something as similar as a sound having nothing to do with the fight but occurred at the same time, a certain angle of the light at the time of day, or any other environmental factor that was present at the time of the fight.  I think it would be safest if you continue to watch them pretty closely, and do the Feliway.

And I hope your neighbors do move!  You don't by any chance live in a municipality that has leash laws for cats, do you?  Where I live, cats are not permitted to roam "at large" off of their owner's property, and can be picked up by Animal Control if they do.  Usually, Animal Control does this only if there is a complaint.

Some cats are just more freaked out by strange cats than others are, it's true.  I've experienced that also.  One of my cats literally threw himself at the window when he sighted a strange cat on the deck.  He's a complete marshmallow otherwise, very much dominated by my other (female) cats, although he had a rough start in the household.