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Dear Doctor- Frustrated by Cat’s Displaced Aggression

[From Tufts April 2011 Issue]

A few years ago, I lured a stray cat into my house because I felt sorry for her with winter approaching. I named her Smokey. I had my veterinarian spay her and give her all the necessary vaccinations. However, there is a problem. My neighbors approached me and told me I have to keep her inside (she was killing chipmunks and birds) or they would notify animal control and have her picked up. 

I realize that it is better for Smokey to be inside because she once became quite infested with ticks and fleas. Now, she sits in the bay window and watches the squirrels and birds, but when a cat comes into my yard and I approach her, Smokey turns on me. She hisses and growls and a few times, she was ready to attack me. I show her that I am not afraid of her, but her behavior is quite annoying. I tried to spray her with water, but that makes matters worse.

Do you have any suggestions how to break her of this nasty habit? Your answer would very much be appreciated.
Helen Totilo

Dear Helen: As distasteful as it is to us, cats’ killing of small varmints is natural for them and not really something that should alarm an animal control officer. It is estimated that indoor-outdoor cats kill approximately 1 billion small animals per year — most of which are rodents, but about 100 million are birds.

I’m sure your cat chatters her teeth at the sight of the squirrels and birds outside and longs to get at them, but that has very little to do with her issue with other cats and her redirected aggression to you when she sees one in the yard. For reasons best known to her (fear or territoriality?), on sighting another cat, she wants to attack it. Being unable to get at the cat because there is window in the way, she redirects her aggression onto you. This is quite a thorny problem because it’s difficult to prevent her from seeing other cats ever again. I offer these suggestions:

- Try to keep visiting cats out of your yard by using various dispersive tactics to keep them away. One strategy is to employ lemon-scented crystals that are designed to keep unwanted animals out of your yard. Another is to treat your flower beds with blood meal or bury mothballs just below the surface of the soil. Alternatively, there are motion sensors, ultrasound devices or lawn sprinklers that can startle cats and divert them from your property.

- Cut down visual access through the windows by applying decorative translucent plastic film to the lower half of your windows or using micro-blinds or perhaps deny your cat access to window sills by blocking them with heavy ornaments.

- If the above measures fail, your anti-social cat could be rendered less volatile by the use of mood-stabilizing medication. See your veterinarian about this option.

- As a self-protective measure, you could have your cat fitted with Soft Paws™ (plastic nail caps) to minimize any damage she may inflict on you. Also, strategically position citronella sprays (Spray Shield™) or air horns around the home to use in self defense.
Nicholas Dodman, BVMS
Animal Behavior Clinic Director
Cummings School of
Veterinary Medicine at
Tufts University

Comments (2)

Agree with first comment above. Just walk away and let Smokey calm down. Ignore the entire incident and when she is calm again, resume your normal relationship as if nothing happened.

Posted by: JackiePHD | November 28, 2016 10:20 PM    Report this comment

How about just giving her space and not approaching her when she is reacting to another cat outside?

Posted by: Sensible | November 28, 2016 10:00 AM    Report this comment

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