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Ask the Doctor September 2015 Issue

Dear Doctor - September 2015

An elderly owner with concerns about her catís frequent aggression

Euthanasia: a possible option?

Q I am hoping that you can help me with my cat Buffy, who is six years old. Her behavior is vexing, and has gotten to the point where I am at my wit’s end.

My computer is on a desk near a window, where I had a platform installed for Buffy. She really enjoys looking out the window — but if there is a raccoon, bird or any other animal in the yard, she goes crazy and will turn around and bite me on the hand (not a gentle love bite, either!). This has happened about four times over the past six months. Each time, I have discussed this behavior with my veterinarian, who is concerned that a bite could one day turn into a serious infection (I am an elderly woman with a compromised immune system).

THINKSTOCK

Providing an indoor cat with a window view can be a nice option ó but what happens if it leads to redirected aggression towards the owner?

A few months ago, my vet put her on a small amount of Prozac in an effort to help make her less aggressive. However, last week she again went crazy when she saw a raccoon in the yard and bit my hand again. This time, I ended up going to the local walk-in clinic for medical care.

My vet suggested that I keep the blinds closed at night, which is when the raccoons tend to spend time in my yard. I have also sprinkled a substance on the ground surrounding the entrance to the yard and the flowerbeds that is supposed to repel raccoons and other animals. My vet has also suggested that I consider euthanasia if nothing works to control her aggression towards me.

However, 90 percent of the time Buffy is a very sweet and affectionate cat, and I don’t want to euthanize her if there is something I can do to stop this behavior. Any advice would be very much appreciated.
Hazel McInerny

A Dear Hazel: The behavior you describe is called “redirected aggression” and is one of the more common types of aggression that we treat here at the Behavior Clinic at Tufts. Redirected aggression is the feline equivalent of an angry man punching a wall out of frustration.

Fortunately, behaviorists do have good results treating this type of aggression — though there is no single formula that works for all cats. Instead, it’s a matter of trial and error to get things resolved. Avoidance of triggers for your particular cat’s aggression would certainly be advisable.

Then there’s mood-stabilizing medication, which can help a lot. Prozac is a good first choice, but the dose must be adjusted according to side effects and effectiveness. There are other medications that might help, too, ranging from pure anti-anxiety medications to anticonvulsants.

Either way, we can help you and your veterinarian resolve this issue through consultation. It’s too early to consider euthanasia because there is still so much that can be done with a good chance of success.

To find out more about how we can help your veterinarian manage this problem, you can call the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic at 508-887-4640 to discuss the options.

Nicholas Dodman, BVMS
Animal Behavior Clinic Director Cummings School of
Veterinary Medicine
at Tufts University

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