Cat aggression redirected to people: 14 cases (1981-1987)

Barbara L. Chapman From the Department of Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, 3800 Spruce St, Philadelphia, PA 19104.

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Victoria L. Voith From the Department of Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, 3800 Spruce St, Philadelphia, PA 19104.

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 DVM, PhD

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Summary

Among 27 cases of cat aggression manifested toward people, 14 cases were diagnosed as redirected or probable redirected aggression, because the cat was already highly aroused by other stimuli before attacking a person. A detailed behavioral history enabled identification of arousing stimuli. The most common arousing stimulus was the presence of another cat. Other arousing stimuli included high-pitched noises, visitors in the house, a dog, an unusual odor, and being outdoors unexpectedly. Medical problems or other behavioral abnormalities were not detected in any of the cats that could explain their aggressive behavior. Management consisted of avoidance or elimination of arousing stimuli wherever possible and extensive client education. On follow-up there was no recurrence of redirected attacks in 4 cats, variable decreases in the severity and frequency of attacks in 5 cats, and no change in 1 cat. Three cats were euthanatized, including one that had shown some improvement. Follow-up information was not available for the 2 remaining cases. Redirected aggression in cats is not well documented and may be misdiagnosed as idiopathic aggression or other behavioral abnormality. Although redirected attacks may be sudden, severe, and frightening, with careful management, a favorable outcome is possible.

Summary

Among 27 cases of cat aggression manifested toward people, 14 cases were diagnosed as redirected or probable redirected aggression, because the cat was already highly aroused by other stimuli before attacking a person. A detailed behavioral history enabled identification of arousing stimuli. The most common arousing stimulus was the presence of another cat. Other arousing stimuli included high-pitched noises, visitors in the house, a dog, an unusual odor, and being outdoors unexpectedly. Medical problems or other behavioral abnormalities were not detected in any of the cats that could explain their aggressive behavior. Management consisted of avoidance or elimination of arousing stimuli wherever possible and extensive client education. On follow-up there was no recurrence of redirected attacks in 4 cats, variable decreases in the severity and frequency of attacks in 5 cats, and no change in 1 cat. Three cats were euthanatized, including one that had shown some improvement. Follow-up information was not available for the 2 remaining cases. Redirected aggression in cats is not well documented and may be misdiagnosed as idiopathic aggression or other behavioral abnormality. Although redirected attacks may be sudden, severe, and frightening, with careful management, a favorable outcome is possible.

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