We hear a lot about inter-cat aggressive behavior, but less so about cats who are aggressive toward strangers who visit the home. I teamed up with my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker, to help a reader facing this problem.
Q: My cat is aggressive toward people who visit our home. Is there anything I can do to help solve this problem?
A: Surprisingly to many people, aggression is the second most common behavior problem seen in cats, right behind not using the litter box. Cats who threaten or attack strangers — either human or feline — do so for a variety of reasons. Most often it’s because they’re fearful, but cats can also be territorial (especially after changes in the household) or irritated by repetitive touching, such as petting.
Aggressive cats hiss and puff up to what looks like double their size. If cornered, they may scratch or bite. Your cat will probably never be an affectionate greeter of guests to your home, but you can take steps to help her chill out in their presence.
The first is to get her checked by your veterinarian, particularly if this is a new behavior. Certain conditions can cause cats to become irritable or aggressive. They include hyperthyroidism, hypertension, osteoarthritis and cancer.
If your cat gets a clean bill of health, never force her to interact with strangers. Have a safe room, stocked with food, water, toys and a litter box, where she can retreat before their arrival. For many cats and people, this is the optimal solution.
You can also use desensitization and counterconditioning to help your cat be more accepting of the presence of guests. For instance, a guest who will visit often can toss treats in the cat’s direction (being careful not to look directly at him) or offer interaction with the cat’s favorite toy, also without giving the cat direct attention. It’s also a good idea to ask guests to ignore the cat, letting him approach (or not) on his own terms.
Read more, including tips on selecting a puppy, in this week’s Pet Connection!