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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
First, hello to you all. It is a great forum you have here, and I am glad I can be a part of it. Secondly, I apologize in advance for the length; I don't know how else to explain our situation.


Our problem lies with our 9 year old male cat, Smokes. It is now three times that he has violently attacked some of us, with the first being by far the worst. I think I need a little back story first though.

Smokes, has always been a little rambunctious and aggressive when perturbed, but never ever out of the blue. In fact, 99% of the time he is an incredibly loving and approachable cat. Even when my sons were little, (they are teens now, with one approaching college), he would allow himself to be pick up and cuddled and squeezed with nary a complaint. However, if he ever had enough and was pushed, he would bite, and bite hard. But he never went after anybody. He also had a tendency to play sometimes rough with our 11 year old female, Cooks. Cooks has never wanted anything to do with her younger brother, so their play has pretty much resulted in him running and jumping on her, sometimes biting her, (it never caused her any visible harm), and with her running away. We would sometimes intervene by taking a few steps toward them and he would scamper off, allowing Cooks to escape. There was never, either with us or with the other cat any type of hissing or yowling, especially in our house.

Outside though is a slightly different story. For at least the last five years or so we have let him outside on a leash and harness, and he is perfectly fine. He even lets me occasionally walk him in the yard. The only issue ever is if he ever runs out by himself. If he does, he will immediately run to either side of our house near the neighbor's and smell around bushes and shrubs and plants himself. When this happens he makes himself difficult to bring back in. He will hiss and bare his fangs, and sometimes even charge a step at whoever is trying to get him. But we have always been able to get him in a short while, and he reverts back to his calm and loving self. Until this past week.

He snuck out last Friday, instantly going to some bushes where he had seen some stray cat earlier in the week. We got him back him, but he wasn't happy about it. A bit later we let him out on his leash and all appeared fine. However, our female cat came outside, (she never leaves our walkway area, and only stays out if one of us are there with her), and he made a run for her. It so happened that we were all outside at this time, and so my younger son ran a few steps towards them to break it up. For the first time ever, Smokes attacked my son, charging full speed and jumping up and biting his arm. He was literally hanging from his upper arm. My older son then ran to help, and the cat charged him biting him pretty good in the leg. Since he was on his leash, everybody was able to get away. We left him out there to calm down and tend to the injuries. After awhile we let him in, and he seemed fine. I even sat with him while he ate. But it wasn't over. He started meowing strangely, and it was almost as if he were stalking. I took a couple of steps back and he sprang at me three times, biting me fairly good twice. I don't even remember how, but we were able to get him into the hallway and out of the house, and eventually into the back room of the basement, where he stayed for the next day.

I slowly and carefully let him back into the house and everything was fine. He was normal and accessible as ever. This lasted a full day and evening until Monday. We let him outside again, (I know, I Know), on his leash. My older son complained he was acting strange, so we brought him in the house. I kept him in the mudroom for some time, but eventually let him in. Another mistake, because within a couple of minutes, he attacked me again. Luckily he didn't do any damage. We were able to finally get him back into the basement after quite a bit of hissing and yowling. We turned off the lights and let him go. The next morning, he seemed fine as we put him in the cat carrier and took him to the vet. He checked out, including negative for hyper-thyroid. The vet is a good one, helpful and nice, but didn't really offer many options.

So we took him back to his rooms in the basement, made up a couple of nice beds for him, and there he remains still. I have been going in a few times to check on him, give him more food, etc, and I don't know what to think. One time, the day after the vet, he attacked me again, but not as violently as before. I was able to get him by the scruff and stop him. Since then, he hasn't done anything, but I also haven't spent much time with him. My wife has only been in there with me. After doing some reading on re-directed aggression, our plan is to let him be by himself for some time, maybe a week or two, and very slowly re-introduce him to our family and home. I don't know if this is the right thing to do though. Is this a case of re-direction? Or can cats just flip our and turn ultra aggressive? I am afraid every time I go down to check on him, not so much that he will bite me, but far more because of what it might mean if he keeps attacking. And because of this fear, I think I am misreading everything he does. Are his meows because he is lonely and afraid or something else? Is keeping him isolated upsetting him more? I just don't know. We all love him as much as all you other Cat folks do. I can't imagine not having him around, but at the same time I don't want to endanger my family. Would really like some, any, thoughts and guidance. I am at a loss.

Thanks for reading, and sorry again for the length.
 

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Either this cat has a health issue that is making him aggressive or he needs to be taken down a peg in the social ladder.

Being an older cat I am going to say go to the vets. first to eliminate any cancer/thyroid/pain/other issue that many be causing this.

If this is not pain....then this is a very serious behavioural problem...and you do need to hiss and push him down off you....you need to be alph because right now he is.

Again...I would make sure there is no medical problem first before I began to work this issue in his language.
 

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Definitely with a behaviour change I'd say a vet visit is in order.

Assuming health is in order then perhaps some behavioural training. When Zoe was about 3-4 she got VERY aggressive and it required me changing how I interacted with her to stop it. One small change made all the difference in the world. Her vet recommended that I never allow her to be above my eye level whether I was sitting or standing. The other change we made was when filling her dishes I stopped filling them on the counter (including the water dish!) and left them on the floor, but she was not allowed to eat/drink until I was finished with filling her dish. I really think it was mostly the eye level thing though that helped.

Does your vet's clinic have a behaviour specialist? Perhaps if you're able to seek out an holistic vet clinic in your area and see if they have a behaviourist.
 

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Since you've already been to the vet and all is well, I agree that this is re-directed aggression. I've dealt with it between cats, but not between a cat and me. I agree with the isolation, I'd keep the lights low and if there are any windows I'd cover them so he can't see outside...you do not want him seeing one of those stray cats. And make sure your other cat doesn't get down there. I recommend a Feliway diffuser, this is an electric plug in (like an air freshener plug in) but it contains synthetic calming pheromones. This is not a miracle product but it does help. You also can use some natural calming treats (Pet Naturals of Vermont or NaturVet). The Feliway and calming treats would be part of my process until he is fully integrated back into the family (getting more diffusers for the remainder of the house when you let him back up...they're expensive, but if you get them on Amazon they're not too bad).

At least 2 weeks in the basement. If he seems receptive, you may want to wipe him down...he may have the scent of the stray cat on him. Then a very slow intro. I would start with people, keeping the other cat out of the picture until he's OK with the family. I would by bringing pieces of clothing from family members into his space...one at a time over a period of several days. When it's time for him to re-meet the family, I would put a dab of vanilla on the back of his neck and also on the family member so there is a common scent. Again, go slowly, one family member at a time over several days. Every one needs to remain quiet and calm, no loud noises, yelling etc. Then do standard introduction techniques including the scent swapping and vanilla with the other cat....but take it really slow.

Honestly, it took me 4 months to get them fully reintegrated. Kobi attacked Maggie and both cats had abscesses from the fight they had. I kept them fully apart for an entire month. It was another 10-12 weeks before I would go out and leave them alone together. And it was probably close to 2 years before Maggie stopped being on guard every time she came around a corner or didn't cringe whenever she saw Kobi come running. On a more positive note...this happened 6 years ago and now Maggie takes no crap from him...if he gets nasty with her, she kicks his butt and ends up chasing him from the room.

So...you may have a bit of a long tough road ahead, but it can work out. You're just going to have to be very, very patient. The biggest thing to remember is that this needs to happen on a schedule that the cat is comfortable with, not your needs.

I also would not allow him outside anymore and make sure everyone in the family is in sync about being very careful not to allow him to escape. You might also need to trap those strays and turn them over to a rescue as this will happen again. If that's not possible, the cover the windows that look out at the area where the strays are (or keep him away from them).
 

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doodlebug, (and SpellQ and Miss Callie),

Thanks so much for responding. It helps so much to hear from others who have gone through a similar situation. And after reading your reply, and experiencing one other thing tonight, I really think our other cat is being the trigger, or at least one of them.

To update, tonight we bought some calming treats and a pheromone collar. We also ordered some feliway diffusers. Do the collars work at all? And the other thing we did, or I should say my wife did, was make a screen door for the room in the basement. We thought that by keeping him isolated, but having the ability to see us through the screen, rather than being behind a closed solid door, might help. I am not sure if this is the true. A good idea or no? Would a closed solid door be better? Or perhaps a combination of the two?

The thing that happened tonight is that whenever me or my wife went down to check on him, he appeared fine, though obviously wanting out. But when our other cat went down, she immediately hissed at him from afar, (separated by the screen door), and he started meowing a bit off. We are going to try to keep them fully separate until we can do some of the things you have suggested. The vanilla seems like a great idea.

We also bought some boundary to spray around the areas where we have seen strays/other cats. Hoping that works, but as you stated, we are not ever letting him out again. We do need to cover a couple of windows as well. All in all, we are prepared for a long struggle, but after hearing from you and knowing that you succeeded we are far more optimistic than we were the past few days. It is just such a scary situation. Thanks again for the kind words.


And I will try to incorporate some of the other suggestions listed, particularly not letting him eat until I am done filling his bowl. Anyone else with similar stories or suggestions, please let me know.

Thanks again.
 

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Yes, cat to cat re-directed aggression is more common that with humans. But you ended up in the middle.

I would not utilize the screen door at this point. Complete isolation for a couple weeks. I know it's hard, but not being successful with this will be harder. Only one person interacting with him for that time as well. The screen door will be very useful when you get past the scent swapping when you re-introduce the other cat.

No experience with calming collars. From what I remember, Boundary needs to be reapplied regularly, especially if it rains. Not so sure it really works. Don't know what kind of set up you have around your house, the only thing I've seen that might be successful if you don't have a huge perimeter are the motion activated sprinklers. Stray cat crosses the sensor, triggers a water spray.

BTW, my incident was triggered by my neighbor's cat. I talked to them once about it and they promised to keep him in. Lasted a week. Issues started again (their cat would come up on my farmer's porch and look in my windows and my cats would screech their fool heads off at 3am). I talked to them again and they finally kept him in permanently. Good thing...my next step was going to be to call them the next time it happened in the middle of the night, hopefully waking up the whole household that included infant twins and a 4 year old. If that didn't work the cat was going to disappear.
 

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Yes, cat to cat re-directed aggression is more common that with humans. But you ended up in the middle.

I would not utilize the screen door at this point. Complete isolation for a couple weeks. I know it's hard, but not being successful with this will be harder. Only one person interacting with him for that time as well. The screen door will be very useful when you get past the scent swapping when you re-introduce the other cat.

No experience with calming collars. From what I remember, Boundary needs to be reapplied regularly, especially if it rains. Not so sure it really works. Don't know what kind of set up you have around your house, the only thing I've seen that might be successful if you don't have a huge perimeter are the motion activated sprinklers. Stray cat crosses the sensor, triggers a water spray.

BTW, my incident was triggered by my neighbor's cat. I talked to them once about it and they promised to keep him in. Lasted a week. Issues started again (their cat would come up on my farmer's porch and look in my windows and my cats would screech their fool heads off at 3am). I talked to them again and they finally kept him in permanently. Good thing...my next step was going to be to call them the next time it happened in the middle of the night, hopefully waking up the whole household that included infant twins and a 4 year old. If that didn't work the cat was going to disappear.
Thanks again. I haven't closed his door yet, but have closed off the whole basement. I will do the door this evening.

And yes it is hard. Not only do we feel guilty and sad, but also wonder if his being isolated is upsetting more. I guess that will be a small issue compared to him getting over the major problem. We are going to do whatever we have to. So thanks. Our whole family really appreciates the guidance.
 

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I agree with the advice doodlebug has given you. Keeping him entirely separated from the rest of the house is the first step. I would say both you and your wife should be involved with his care, but definitely no kids.
I have used the calming collars before if it came in a yellow and purple package. It worked pretty well for three of my cats, but it did nothing for Jitzu. Same with the feliway. I'd still give it a try.

I don't agree with some of the advice given, so I've picked those suggestions out to address why I disagree and what I'd suggest instead. Taking him to the vet, as you mentioned in your post that you have done, is already a great first step.

Either this cat has a health issue that is making him aggressive or he needs to be taken down a peg in the social ladder....you need to be alph because right now he is.

Again...I would make sure there is no medical problem first before I began to work this issue in his language.
...Cats do not have the same social structure as dogs, even if you DO believe the whol 'alpha theory' thing. Which I don't. Therefore you trying to become the 'alpha' is like saying you want to be 'pack leader' to a lady bug. It's silly, won't teach him anything, and could easily harm the animal.
Not to mention that we DON'T and CAN'T 'speak their language'. Their language consists largely of body postures and motions that we aren't physically capable of reproducing. What Miss Callie Kitty is suggesting is IMO kindo of like saying you can speak chinese if you just speak loud enough.

Instead of trying to 'assert your dominance' a better option would be to try training him to offer more positive behaviors. Look up clicker training and see if you can get his brain working. I've found that this really helps to reduce any pent up frustration in my cats. It also helps you teach him some basic manners.

Her vet recommended that I never allow her to be above my eye level whether I was sitting or standing. The other change we made was when filling her dishes I stopped filling them on the counter (including the water dish!) and left them on the floor, but she was not allowed to eat/drink until I was finished with filling her dish. I really think it was mostly the eye level thing though that helped.

Does your vet's clinic have a behaviour specialist? Perhaps if you're able to seek out an holistic vet clinic in your area and see if they have a behaviourist.
Alpha theory at work again. Her physical position in relation to you doesn't matter, except that if she's above you it's easier for her to scratch your face/head. Also cats really don't care where you fill their bowl. If you really care about them waiting before they eat set meal times and ask them to sit and wait as you set the bowl down. I have done this with my cats in the past, more to prevent them knocking the bowl and me spilling things everywhere than anything else.
BTW my cats food comes from the fridge, does this mean they're dominant? Nope. Just that I get the food out of the fridge before I give it to them. No biggie.

I do agree that the poster would benefit from seeking a behaviorist. however just because someone is a vet does NOT mean that they are in a position to suggest behavioral modification. IMO seeking a certified behaviorist is a great option. Ask your local SPCA if they have one they recommend. Then check the credentials!

Overall I'd suggest making sure your boy gets lots of non-contact exercise (wand toys, da-bird, laser pointers, ect), and only positive interactions. Give him treats, pet him, look into clicker training, and look for a qualified behaviorist.
 

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I agree with what has been said here by doodlebug and library chick.

I also don't believe that cats are in a hierarchy. Although cats are social, there is no 1 leader (except in a lion pride). Cats are independent, territorial creatures, not alpha leaders (like dogs).

In fact, I think it's very healthy for cats to be above eye level. Cats climb and the higher they are, the safer they feel. Of course, every cat is different and no two are alike.

Because your guy will be alone for a while in isolation, it's VERY important to keep him stimulated or else facing further problems. Add in places for him to climb and be up high, as well as interactive toys. Positive interactions are a huge plus. Cats are similar to children in that regard - give lots of praise ONLY when appropriate. Treats and lots of love (again, when appropriate) will go a long way.

I hope the best for you! It's definitely not an easy situation, but it will pass with patience, positive reinforcement, and lots of love. :)
 

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I'm glad to hear that your cat checked out medically OK. Did your vet suggest any behavior-modifying drugs for a couple of months? It might calm her down and let her forget whatever it was that triggered her attack on you in the first place. Have you any idea of what it might be? Accidentally step on her and not apologize, anything like that? Some cats are very sensitive to scents of other cats outside, and unfortunately a tomcat spray can even get through spaces around windows and doors; most houses are not air tight. So even if windows are covered, she still may smell other cats.

I somewhat disagree with the hierarchy and alpha discussion. With one or two cats in a household, there is usually one more dominant than the other. But when you have a larger group, generally speaking the females tend to hang together, so it's more of a matriarchal group with some males on the fringes or a few that get along and are liked by the females. There's usually a dominant or alpha female who will often break up disputes between other cats, like a referee, and makes everyone toe the line. Cats really like a peaceful and calm atmosphere, and dislike and are upset by a lot of infighting, especially if one decides to be a real bully.

I hope you can modify your cat's behavior, as it must be stressful for you and your other cat. If medication doesn't work, I would seek out a cat behaviorist or cat psychic. There are some people who are gifted in that way of "hearing" what a cat has to say and maybe your cat will communicate. Good luck and keep us updated.
 
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