A reader wrote asking me what to do about her cat, who has been hissing and twitching her tail when strangers come into the home. I asked my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker, to share her thoughts.
Q: My cat is aggressive to people who come into our home, whether it’s workers or guests. She crouches, flicks her tail back and forth and hisses. I’m afraid she’ll attack someone. Why does she do this, and what can we do?
A: Cats who behave aggressively may be warning strangers off their territory or expressing fear of a new person. Whether cats are territorial or fearful, they start with body language and vocalizations to try to drive off the person or animal who’s invading their home or scaring them. It’s an impressive display, and you are right to be concerned that an actual attack could occur.
While it might be nice for some people to know an attack cat has your back, most of us want people in our home to feel welcome and not at risk. A cat’s teeth and claws are formidable weapons that can cause real harm.
If this problem has begun suddenly, take your cat in for a veterinary exam to rule out health problems that could be causing the behavior. Conditions that can cause cats to be irritable include hyperthyroidism, arthritis and cancer.
For a cat with a clean bill of health, manage the problem by putting her in a safe place before you let people into your home. A “safe room” might be a bathroom, a guest bedroom or an outdoor “catio.” Whatever area you choose should contain all your cat’s needs: food, water, toys and a litter box.
Keep your cat there until guests or workers leave. If your cat will be in an area where she can see and be seen, ask guests to ignore her — no talking to her, trying to pet her or even looking at her. Consult a behavior expert about ways to desensitize and counter-condition your cat to visitors. — Mikkel Becker
Read more, including the health risks faced by dogs with “smashed” faces, in this week’s Pet Connection!