Cats display a complex behavior known as redirected aggression. According to Dr. Debra Horwitz, ” Redirected aggression arises from the cat being in an aggressive or agitating circumstance, but unable to vent that aggression on the causative agent.” Here’s a common history. A cat is looking out the window and sees another cat invade their yard. The angry cat wants to attack the intruder lurking on the other side of the glass. Since they can’t, they attack whatever is close. This can be humans or other animals in their immediate vicinity who are innocent bystanders. The victim is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Redirected aggression can be caused by the sight, sound or smell of another cat or animal. Less frequently, unusual sounds, unfamiliar people or objects and even pain may trigger an episode.
Treatment is based on removing the inciting factor from the cat’s environment. This is often easier said than done. For outdoor cats or other animals, cover windows and remove perches and furniture from the area. Remove any sources of food, water and resting places from the yard that may attract other cats or animals. Discourage visiting cats with motion detector air canisters or water systems that provide a surprise shower. Shield the cat who suffers from redirected aggression from windows by blocking their access to the window. Removing furniture and/or covering the window will work for cats who are visually aroused but may not be enough if scent is the trigger.
Once a cat becomes aroused, it should be left alone to calm down. Create a safe room for the cat that contains a litter box, water, food and a Feliway diffuser. Gently herd the cat to the room with a broom or box. A cat in this state of arousal may inflict serious damage on people or other animals. Take extreme caution to avoid injury. If the cat must be picked up, use a thick quilt wrapped around their entire body including the head. Once in the room, turn the lights off and leave immediately. Give the cat plenty of time to calm down before entering. For some cats, it may be several days before they are back to normal. A video camera placed in the room is a great way to access their state of arousal from a safe distance. An aroused cat will have a bushy tail, dilated pupils, flattened ears and growl as they pace about the room.
If the inciting cause cannot be completely removed from the cat’s life, then counter-conditioning and desensitization may help control re-directed aggression. The cat is exposed to the stimulus at a low level and then rewarded for good behavior. Slowly the cat will learn to associate the stimulus with good things as the feelings of anxiety disipate.
-Horwitz, Debra. “Feline Aggression Toward People” Australian Veterinary Association Proceeding 2012, AVA2012, VIN.com.