Aggression in Cats Toward People

Aggression in cats toward people is a serious problem. Beside the pain, a cat’s teeth and claws may harbor organisms that cause serious disease. Scratches may causes cat scratch fever, a condition caused by the organism Bartonella henselae. Cats also often have several bacteria in their mouths including Staphylococcus sp, Streptococcus sp., Moraxella and Pasturella multocida that can cause infection. The worst infections are usually caused by Pasturella multocida which means ‘many deaths’ in Latin. Immediate medical care and antibiotic therapy is recommended for all bites.

Unfortunately, the reason for feline aggression can be hard to diagnose. Cats, like humans, have complex personalities with different emotional triggers. Feline aggression is broken down into categories based upon the inciting cause. The categories are: Misdirected Play-Related Aggression, Petting-Related Aggression, Redirected Aggression and Fear-Based Aggression. In the future, another form of aggression based on frustration may be added to the list.

In young cats, most aggression is a form a misdirected-play aggression. Kittens like to attack anything that moves, especially feet under blankets. To combat this, the kitten must be given a positive outlet for their energy. Interactive toys like a feather wand allow the kitten and human to play together.

Petting-related aggression occurs when the cat becomes over stimulated from petting. To prevent this, limit petting to the face and stop when tail twitching starts. Also, the cat must be evaluated by a veterinarian for a medial condition called hyperethesia syndrome that can have similar clinical signs.

Redirected aggression occurs when something upsets a cat but circumstances prevent the cat from engaging the thing that upset it. This is common when indoor cats notice a stranger cat through a window. The indoor cat becomes aroused and then takes their aggression out on the humans or other animals inside the house. To avoid injury, never interact with an aroused cat. Gently guide it into a dark room with food, water and a litter box then leave it alone until the cat is back to normal.

The last type of aggression is based on fear. Cats with fear based aggression attack first and ask questions later. They have learned that a good offense is the best defense. Most of these cats were poorly socialized as kittens and/or suffered a traumatic experience early in life. Punishment usually makes this type of aggression worse.

Successful treatment of feline aggression requires a thorough history, physical examination and environmental evaluation. The history taking starts with obvious questions as to where and when the aggression take place. In addition, it is important to determine what occurred right before the aggression. Did strangers enter the house? Was there an unexpected noise? Was the cat trapped in a corner or did the cat seek out a specific person?  The next step in the history is to note how the cat acted before, during and after the episode paying special attention to the cat’s facial expressions and tail activity. Videos of the aggressive episodes are helpful in answering these questions. Keeping a behavior log that records the above information is a huge help in documenting patterns of behavior.

Once the history is finished, the cat needs a thorough physical examination. Many cats suffer from osteoarthritis of their backs and legs just like humans. A cat may bite because it hurts when picked up or petted. Kidney disease, pancreatitis and hyperthyroidism which are common in older cats can make them feel bad and grumpy. Since cats are good at hiding their illnesses, routine blood and urinalysis as well as X-rays are performed to rule out a medical reason for aggression. Cats are just like humans … it’s hard to be nice when feeling bad.

If the results of the physical exam and testing are within normal limits and the history is consistent with aggression, the final step in working up aggression is performing an evaluation of the cat’s environment. Does the cat live alone or have roommates? Is the cat kept strictly indoors or allowed to go outside in an enclosed space? What kind of toys are available? How much exercise does the cat get? Does the cat have high resting places as well as low? Are the food bowls and litter boxes placed in an area with escape routes? Again, video of the cat in their home is helpful in assessing the environment.

Diagnosing the cause and then implementing a treatment plan for aggression can be challenging. The upcoming blogs will go into more detail on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of each type of aggression.

Source:

-‘Cat Scratch Fever’ www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/cat-scratch.html.

-Horwitz, Debra F. ‘Feline Aggression Toward People’ Australian Veterinary Association Proceedings 2012, VIN.com.

-Thomas, Nicole & Brook, Itzhak. ‘Animal Bite-Associated Infections’ Expert Rev Ant Infect Thor. 2011;9(2):215-226.

 

China Announces Decision to End Ivory Trade

On December 30, China announced that ivory sales would be banned by the end of 2017. As the largest consumer of ivory, this news is welcomed by wildlife advocates who believe it will put poachers out of business. The ban will start with the shuttering of legal ivory processing factories by March 31st. The Chinese government will transition legal ivory to museums and help affected workers find other jobs. Collectors of legal ivory products may keep what they already have and obtain government approval for sales.

Researchers estimate that over 100,000 elephants have been killed in the last 10 years for ivory. Poachers have taken advantage of the strife and corruption in central Africa. Rebels sell the tusks to raise money to buy weapons. “Like blood diamonds in West Africa in the late 1990s, ivory has become Africa’s new conflict resource,” write Edward Wong and Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times. Ending the trade of ivory may save human lives as well as elephants.

African elephants are divided into two subspecies, savanna and forest. They live in herds led by the most dominant female called the matriarch. Babies or calves are born after a 22 month gestation and are cared for by the entire herd. Males leave the herd at 12 to 15 years of age. They may join a bachelor group or remain solitary. Elephants are vegetarians that consume grass, leaves, bark and roots. An adult eats 300 to 400 pounds a day. Elephants are extremely intelligent with good memories. The females form strong social bonds with their relatives. Scientists have documented many human emotions in these magnificent creatures including anger, grief and joy.

Thank you to Yao Ming and countless conservation groups who worked tirelessly on the behalf of elephants. Since retiring from professional basketball, Mr. Ming has advocated for sharks, rhinos and elephants by denouncing shark fin soup, rhino horn medical remedies and ivory carvings.

Source:

-‘Basic Facts About Elephants’ Defenders of Wildlife, Elephant Fact Sheet, www.defendersofwildlife.org.

-Wong, Edward and Gettleman, Jeffrey. ‘China Bans Its Ivory Trade, Moving Against Elephant Poaching.’ New York Times Asia Pacific division, Dec. 30, 2016.

 

The Effect of Smoking on Dogs and Cats

We all know that smoking tobacco products is harmful to the smoker as well as their family who are exposed through second and thirdhand smoke. But what about the pets? Unfortunately, the pets are effected as well when they breathe in the toxic fumes or ingest the residue left behind in the environment. When burned, cigarettes release an amazing 7,000 chemicals including ammonia, arsenic, benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, lead, mercury, nicotine, toluene and uranium-236. Beside the smoker, other family members suffer secondhand exposure when they breathe the fumes. Eventually, the chemicals settle out of the air onto surfaces creating a residue. Thirdhand exposure occurs when chemicals are ingested, absorbed through the skin or inhaled through dust. Pets may also come into contact with these chemicals when they lick a smoker. These chemicals persist in the environment for months even with cleaning.

Dogs and cats who live with a smoker have an increased risk of cancer. The length of the dog’s nose will determine what kind of cancer they may develop. Dogs with long noses like Greyhounds and Dobermans have higher risks of cancer developing in their nasal passages because the cancer causing chemicals settle out there. The chemicals make it to the lungs in dogs with short and medium length noses.  This predisposes them to lung cancer. Cats have increased risk of lymphoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth when they live with a smoker. The risk of a cat developing lymphoma increases by three times when they live with a 3 pack a day smoker. The squamous cell carcinoma occurs when cats groom the toxic chemicals from their fur. The risk for this aggressive cancer increases two to four times.

To prevent secondhand smoke, many people will smoke outside. Unfortunately, this does not prevent thirdhand exposure to pets and children because the toxic chemicals from tobacco contaminate the smoker’s hands and clothing. The chemicals are transferred to the children and pets through thirdhand contact. As mentioned above, pets are at the greatest risk if they lick the smoker.

For more information of the effect of smoking on pets, please check out the FDA website. Here’s the link: http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou/AnimalHealthLiteracy/ucm520415.htm

Sources:

-Bertone, E.R., et. al. ‘Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Risk of Malignant Lymphoma in Pet Cats’ J. Am. Epidemiology 2002; 156:268-273.

-Matt, G.E., et al. ‘When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure.’ Tobacco Control 2011: 20(e1) 1-8.

-Reif, JJ. et al. ‘Cancer of the oral cavity and para-nasal sinuses and exposure to harmful tobacco smoke in pet dogs’ Am. J. Epidemiology 1988:  147(5):488-492.

-Schick, S. ‘Thirdhand smoke: here to stay’ Tobacco Control 2011:  20(1):  1-3.

-‘Be smoke-free and help you pets live longer, healthier lives.’ U.S. Food and Drug Administration Animal Health Literacy, last updated 9/22/16. www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou/AnimalHealthLiteracy/ucm520415.htm