The Aggressive Cat
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2004
Patrick Pageat, DVM, PhD, Dipl Behaviourist FVS, DECVBM-CA

Aggressive reactions in cats as well as in dogs, are very impressive behaviours that could induce severe injuries for humans. Even if it looks as a group of very typical signs, aggressions are not specific of any behavioural nor physical condition and as symptoms, they only make sense when related to the other clinical signs.

In clinical practice, the strategy of the vet must include two main steps:

 identifying the type of aggressive reaction

 looking for the other clinical signs (physical and behavioural)

Identifying the aggression:

Several authors have proposed classifications and descriptions of aggressive behaviours in cats. Some of these descriptions are not adapted to the clinical purpose because their criteria include a very precise description of each step of the behaviour sequence and thus, a good videotaping of the aggressions is necessary to make the identification possible. Some other authors have proposed less precise classifications which are more adapted to our practice. The one we propose in this lecture is inspired of several authors and is used in several countries of Europe. The criteria of identification are summarised in the following table.

After this identification, the vet will study the association with other symptoms. Most of the aggressive reactions of the cats are related to physical condition, anxiety, territorial competition or lack of interspecific socialisation.

The aim of this examination is to identify the signs of phobia, anxiety, disturbance in the territory and poor interspecific socialisation.

Type of aggressions

Description

Traps for the vet

Predation-related aggression

Cat hidden, more and more excited by moving stimuli. Attacks suddenly, blocks the prey with the claws, pushes the prey up and down, finally blocks it and multiple bites.

Confusion with territorial aggression because of the sudden attack in cats with chronic territorial competition. In these cases, the cat does not try to block they challenger but to runs after him.

Fear aggress

Cat cornered, hissing, shaggy hairs on the back, mydriasis, unpredictable and uncontrolled aggression

Irritative aggression: but the cat rolls on the flanck in this aggression and shows the claws of the four legs and the teeth

Irritative aggression

Ears folded, mydriasis, hissing, shaggy hairs, quick movements of the last third of the tail, the cat rolls on the flank to show his claws (4 legs) and teeth. He bites or scratches if the enemy tries to touch him.

Territorial aggression

Typical because of the "crab walking". Ears folded, hissing yelling, shaggy vertical tail, the cat runs toward his challenger being crosswise. Sometime, being to the enemy, he sprays urine on him.

The signs are scored F for fear, A for anxiety, I for inhibition. The total number of F, A or I, with some modulation using information given by the owners, helps in evaluating the cat.

Observation of the free cat

The owners are asked to let the cat free in the corner of the examination room which is the longer way from the vet's desk. Two elements are used to familiarise the place: some fresh food (kitten food which is more attractive) and the open transport crate of the cat. During 5 minutes, the vet observes the cat and discusses with the owners to avoid them to interact with the cat. He uses the following evaluation form.

Physical examination

It is a classical physical examination but the vet will take care of some specific symptoms and behaviour reactions. The evaluation is divided between physical and behavioural signs. Physical signs include the neurovegetative signs which have been identified previously.

Physical signs

Signs

Scoring

Onychophagia on the forelimb, specially on finger no1

A

Extensive alopecia or licking granuloma
without any identified somatic cause

A I

Rolling Skin syndrome

F A

Obesity (without any identified cause)

A I

Frequent diarrhea

F I

Idiopathic cystitis

A

Sweat from paw pads (keep the cat on a cold
surface like an inox table)

F A

Reactions

Intermittent

Continuously

Mydriasis

F A

A I

Myosis

F

A

Alternates continuously mydriasis and myosis

A

A I

Panting

F

A

Ptyalism

F

A

Walking up and down without any
organised exploration

F A

A

Hissing when someone moves in the room

F A

A

Hiding in a corner and watching (face visible)

F A

A I

Hidden in a corner but face hidden too (invisible)

A

A I

Hides in his transport crate and does
not move anymore

F A

A I

Shakes for any noise

F

A

Self-grooming after any strong reaction
(shaking, hissing, ...)

A

A I

Upper position, fixed mydriatic eyes on every
people inside the room, folded ears

F

A

Labial licking

F

A

Evaluation Form

Behaviour signs

Reactions

Intermittent

Continuous

Myosis with folded ears and fixed eyes

F

F A

Hissing, tries to scratch for each contact

F

F A

Runs away

F

F A

Growling with movements of the last third of the tail
(still on the floor)

F

A

Mewling and flying away to the owners or the crate

F

F A

Folded ears, rolls on the flank, growling/hissing, bite/
scratch if any contact

F

F A

Does not move, on edge, gathered

A

A I

Questionnaire for the owners

Question/ Answer

Sometime

Often

Continuously

Does your cat spray? Yes

F

F A

A

Does your cat scratch a wall or a furniture
(in particular)? Yes

F A

A

Does your cat scratch several walls or furniture? Yes

F

F A

A

Does your cat eliminate elsewhere than in
the litter box? Yes

F

A I

Does your cat eat regularly? No

F

A

A I

Does your cat eat exclusively during the night? Yes

F

F A

A I

Is your cat hidden most of the day? Yes

F

F A

A I

The following information will be helpful

 Other animals living in the same home?

 Number of litter boxes, number of meals, number of plates, number and where are the place to sleep?

 Management of the litter boxes (how often are they cleaned and how)?

 Where are they located regarding the doors and the other animals of the family.

Then count the number of F, A et I.

Total

Diagnosis

Less than 5 F

Fearful cat: enrich the environment

Only F (> 5)

Phobic cat: desensitization ± pheromonotherapy

Some F and less than 5A

Severe phobia: counter conditioning + pheromonotherapy

Most scores are A without I

Intermittent anxiety: pheromonotherapy

Most scores are A with at least 3I

Chronic anxiety with inhibition: selegiline + pheromonotherapy

More than 3I and As

Depression : antidepressants

References

1.  Landsberg G., Hunthausen W., Ackerman L. (2003): Handbook of behavior problems of the dog and cat. Saunders, Toronto, 323-331

2.  Pageat P. in Landsberg G., Hunthausen W., Ackerman L. (2003): Handbook of behavior problems of the dog and cat. Saunders, Toronto, 455-483

3.  Pageat P., Gaultier E. (2003): Current research in canine and feline pheromones. Vet Clin Small Anim, 33: 187-211.

Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker)

Patrick Pageat, DVM, PhD, DBFVS, DECVBM-CA


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