Sunday, April 17, 2011


Last week's discussion on vegan diets for your pets aroused some interest from some of you, but only to the extent that you were curious about the concept.  Most of you (90%) responded that you have never attempted to feed a vegan diet to your pet.  And, only 5% of you replied that you weren't sure about whether you might consider a vegan diet for your pet after reading the information.  The other 95% said they would not consider doing so.  That's a pretty conclusive response.  Be sure to answer this week's poll questions in the column to the left.

OK, I'm ready for all the e-mails I'll get this week from our dog-loving readers asking why I need to devote a whole issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats to...well, cats.  Over the last 3 years, there haven't really been that many issues in which cats were the sole topic.  But, following those issues, Helpful Buckeye invariably receives a lot of appreciative e-mails from our loyal cat-loving readers.  So, I guess you might say this is a "no win" situation for Helpful Buckeye.  However, my view is that it's a "win-win" scenario because this is some good information not only for cat owners, but also for those of you who might have friends that have a cat or for those of you who might acquire a cat in the future.  Additionally, it's helpful to know that people with other types of pets can experience problems.  So, take a deep breath, sit back, and enjoy this voyage into the land of...FELINES.
When a snuggle-puss turns into a snarling ball of claws, owners are at a loss to understand or deal with kitty aggression. Besides hurt feelings, cat aggression can cause injuries or cause the cat to lose a loving home.

Aggression can be the result of health issues, including pain or hyperthyroidism, so any sudden personality change demands a veterinary exam. But cats don't aggress because they're mean -- they always have a good reason, whether it makes sense to humans or not. Recognizing the four common types of aggression will help you learn to keep the peace.

Petting Aggression: Your cat begs for attention, but then he bites you! Some cats simply can't tolerate more than two or three strokes and use the leave-me-alone bite to stop the petting. The bite does stop the owner's touch, which trains the cat that biting works, so he repeats the behavior. Instead, confine petting to the back of kitty's neck instead of the whole-body strokes that some cats find offensive. Also, stop petting before he asks -- his ears will probably turn sideways or flatten, and the tail gets active right before he nails you. If this happens, don't touch him, just stand up and dump the cat off your lap.

Play Aggression: Kittens don't know how to inhibit teeth and claws during play and will target humans in painful play-attacks. Luckily, kittens are so cute we usually forgive them -- and most outgrow the behavior by 6 to 9 months. But if it is a concern for you, play aggression is one of the few behavior problems that can be fixed by adding another kitten to the household. That way, the babies play-attack each other and learn to pull their punches on their own kind.

Fear Aggression: Most cat aggression arises from fear. The fight-or-flight instinct means if a frightened cat feels she can't escape, she'll attack. Cats also naturally fear strangers and consider anything unknown a potential threat. That's why it takes many cats a long time to accept new people or new cats.
  • Fearful cat clues: He hides, slinks close to the ground, turns his ears sideways like little airplane wings, and hisses to signal "stay away."
  • More serious warning signs: Growls are a step up and are a serious warning to stay away or risk an attack.
  • Triggers: Direct stares intimidate cats and increase fear, so avoid eye contact.
  • Soothers: Give fearful cats space, extra hiding spots like cardboard boxes or cat tunnels, and elevated perches to help them feel safe. In multicat homes, provide a house of plenty with multiple toys, litter boxes, cat trees and resources, so cats don't have to compete for them.
  • Strategies: Sit on the floor with an interactive toy like a fishing pole or feather lure and tempt the scaredy-cat to approach. You're less frightening on the cat's level.
Redirected Aggression: This happens when the cat can't reach the intended victim, like a critter outside the window. Instead, kitty takes out his frustration on the nearest pet or his owner. It's like being mad at your boss -- you can't chew him out, so instead you lose your temper with a spouse. Redirected aggression is tough to solve because each cat fight practices aggressive behavior until it can become a habit. Use these steps to mend fences.
  • Immediately separate the cats for two or three days.
  • Allow one cat out while the other stays confined, so they can meet with paw pats and smells under the door.
  • Feed cats on opposite sides of the door, so they associate good things with each other's presence.
  • After a few days of no growls, hisses or airplane ears, allow supervised interaction.
  • Separate immediately and start reintroductions again if the cats aggress.
  • Be sure to cover windows and block sight of the evil squirrel that created the angst. If you see your cat window-watching, avoid petting until his tail talk calms down.
Understanding what makes your cat tick -- and what his triggers are -- can help keep you scratch free and your cat happy.

This beginning discussion on aggressive cats is from:

OK, if a cat is going to show some type of aggression, how might you know that something is about to happen?  By paying attention to how the cat is communicating with you, that's how.  Here are the best things to look for that signal what might be about to happen:

We love our cats but don't always understand cat communication. Our feline friends use a combination of vocalizations, body language and smells to talk with each other and their special people. Here are 12 ways cats communicate.
  • Meows: These are rarely aimed at other cats. Instead meows are requests pointed at humans. For example, cats meow to be petted, for you to open the door or for you to wake up and fill their bowls. The more demanding Kitty becomes, the lower the pitch of the meow.
  • Purrs: These vocalizations signal nonthreat. A cat's purr has been described as a feline smile, and cats purr in the presence of other pets and humans. Purrs often express happiness.
  • Hisses: Keep your distance if you hear a hiss. Cats hiss at other pets and people. Hisses can be defensive or offensive, and arise from frightened or hostile felines.
  • Growls: This is a serious warning from a cat that an attack may be coming. Hisses that don't succeed turn to growls when the cat can't escape.
  • Chattering: This odd sound indicates frustration. Cats that watch critters through the window may chatter when unable to reach the evil squirrels.
  • Spit: This not-so-pleasant communication is the equivalent of a feline gasp of surprise.
  • Body Position: These movements indicate attitude. Confident cats face forward, while fearful cats stand sideways with arched backs to look larger than they really are. Defensive or submissive cats want to look small and nonthreatening, so they crouch low, with feet tucked, and ears and tail held close to the body. Cats show trust by placing themselves in vulnerable postures such as rolling.
  • Fur Position: The hair on a cat can telegraph emotional state. Fur is smooth in relaxed cats. Any kind of arousal -- fear, aggression, happiness, stress -- may prompt fluffed fur that stands straight off the body. For instance, you'll see a bottle brush tail when kitty becomes excited.
  • Ear Position: The ears of relaxed and interested cats face forward. Ears turn sideways in uneasy cats. Fearful kitties hold ears sideways like airplane wings. Ears that flicker back and forth very quickly indicate great agitation. The cat slicks his ears tight to the head in preparation for attack. Cats with one ear forward and one sideways aren't clear how they feel.
  • Eye Reactions: They dilate suddenly (pupils go from slits to round) any time the cat feels sudden excitement. That arousal might be anything from the sight of a dog to a bowl of favorite food or a feather toy. Cat stares indicate a challenge. Squinting shows strong emotion and possibly impending attack. But a slow eye-blink to other cats or people signals nonthreat and is known as a "kitty kiss" when aimed at people.
  • Tail Position: While these vary somewhat between cats, a tail held straight up, with just the end tipped over, is a feline "howdy" that signals to other cats and people a friendly greeting -- it means kitty wants to interact with you. Relaxed cat tails are held in a gentle U, and the greater his interest, the higher the cat holds his tail. Tails tucked between the legs or wrapped around the crouched body show fear. The end of the tail flicking back and forth indicates frustration that may progress to tail-thumping wags that warn of imminent attack. A bottle-brush tail held straight up or behind the cat shows aggression, but if it's held in an inverted U it is a defensive posture.
  • Rubbing/Scratching Behavior: When cats rub against you or scratch objects they are leaving the equivalent of scented Post-It notes. Scent glands in the forehead, cheeks, paw pads and tail leave behind the kitty's signature scent. Cats rub or scratch to mark territory as owned -- including scent-marking a beloved human with cheek rubs.
Understanding cat vocabulary can help you become more attuned to what your cat has to say. But every cat is different, so pay attention to what your favorite feline does. Some cats develop their own way of communicating -- a particular meow, for example -- the same way people who speak the same language may have different regional accents. Watch your own kitty to learn the way he or she talks.

So, by observing what your cat is showing you, you will hopefully be able to stay out of the way if some nasty behavior is about to be on display.  These pointers are from:

In addition to a cat being aggressive toward its owner, there may also be aggressive behavior BETWEEN cats, either in the house or outdoors.  This is a description of that situation from the Humane Society of the United States:

Your cat's best friend may not be another cat. Cats are very territorial creatures and often vehemently defend their turf.

Two's company

Many people adopt a second cat thinking that the resident cat will be happy. This is a risky move. Just because your cat is sweet and loving with you doesn't mean he's going to be sweet to another cat.

Although you can increase the chances that they will get along or at least tolerate one another by making proper introductions, there's no way to predict whether cats will get along with each other. Unfortunately, there's no training method that can guarantee that they ever will. But we're here to help negotiate a truce.

Types of aggressive behaviors

First, let's understand the different types of aggression and what causes them.

Territorial aggression: This occurs when a cat feels that an intruder has invaded her territory.  A cat may be aggressive toward one cat (usually the most passive), yet friendly and tolerant with another.

Problems often occur when a new cat is brought home, a young kitten reaches maturity, or a cat sees or encounters neighborhood cats outside.  Typical behavior includes stalking, chasing, ambushing, hissing, loud meowing, swatting, and preventing access to places (such as the litter box, bedroom, etc.)  Female cats can be just as territorial as males.

Inter-male aggression: Adult male cats may threaten, and sometimes fight with, other males. This is more common among unneutered cats. They may fight over a female, for a higher place on the totem pole, or to defend territory.  Cats stalk, stare, yowl, howl, and puff up their fur (picture the arched back of the Halloween cat) to back each other down. If one does back down and walk away, the aggressor, having made his point, will usually walk away as well.  If no one backs down, cats may actually fight. They may roll around biting, kicking, swatting, and screaming, suddenly stop, resume posturing, fight again, or walk away. If you see signs that a fight may occur, distract the cats by clapping loudly, tossing a pillow nearby, or squirting them with water. These actions can also be used to break up a fight.  Keep your distance.

Defensive aggression: Defensive aggression occurs when a cat tries to protect himself from an animal or human attacker he believes he can't escape.

This can occur in response to:
  • Punishment or the threat of punishment from a person
  • An attack or attempted attack from another cat
  • Any incident that makes the animal feel threatened or afraid
Defensive postures include:
  • Crouching with the legs and tail pulled in under the body
  • Flattening the ears against the head
  • Rolling slightly to the side
  • Continuing to approach a cat in this posture is likely to cause an attack.
Redirected aggression: Cats direct this type of aggression toward another animal, or even a person, who didn't initially provoke the behavior.  For example, your cat is sitting in the window and sees an outdoor cat walk across the front yard. He gets very agitated because that cat is in his territory. You pet him; he turns and bites you. He doesn’t even know who you are at that point—he's so worked up about the cat outside that he attacks the first thing that crosses his path.

Smoothing ruffled feathers

Your first step should always be to contact your veterinarian for a thorough health examination. Cats often hide symptoms of illness until they're seriously ill; your aggressive cat may be feeling sick and taking out his misery on others.

If your cat gets a clean bill of health, consult your vet or an animal behavior specialist for help. A behaviorist will advise you on what can be done. You may need to start the introduction process all over again, keep the cats in separate areas of your home, or even find one of the cats a new home if the aggression is extreme and can’t be resolved.

Consult with your veterinarian about a short course of anti-anxiety medication for your cats while you're working on changing their behavior/s. Never medicate your cat on your own.

Prevent future fights

This could mean keeping the cats separated from each other while you work on the problem, or at least preventing contact between them during situations likely to trigger a fight.

What to avoid

Don't count on the cats to "work things out." The more they fight, the worse the problem is likely to become. To stop a fight in progress, make a loud noise (like blowing a whistle), squirt the cats with water or throw something soft at them.

Don't touch them, or you might get seriously scratched or bitten. Seek medical attention if you're injured.

Don't punish the cats involved. Punishment could cause further aggression and fearful responses, which will only make the problem worse. You could even become a target for redirected aggression.

Don't add more cats. Some cats are willing to share their house and territory with multiple cats, but the more cats who share the same territory, the more likely it is that some of your cats will not get along with each other.

It's a mystery

Many factors determine how well cats will get along with one another, but even animal behavior experts don't fully understand them.

We do know that cats who are well-socialized (those who had pleasant experiences with other cats during kittenhood) will likely be more sociable than those who haven't been around many other cats.

On the other hand, "street cats," who are in the habit of fighting with other cats to defend their territory and food, might not do well in a multi-cat household.

Either way you look at it, an aggressive cat, whether toward its owner or another cat, can be a handful to work with.  This HSUS reference is from:

If you or someone you know happens to unfortunately be on the receiving end of a cat bite and/or scratch, here is some good advice to follow:


The small, neighborhood, stray cat seemed hungry. The Good Samaritan thought he'd give it some nourishment. Instead of being thankful, the puss nearly bit the hand that was feeding it.

We are often moved when we see a furry feline who appears neglected. It may remind us so much of our own pet, who we may consider a part of our family.  But cats are still animals and when they are spooked or frightened, they can react with scratches and bites, which if untreated, can often lead to serious health care concerns.

Our Good Samaritan, who preferred not to be identified, had seen the stray in his neighborhood a lot. He merely thought it looked hungry, so he approached it with some food.  "I was wearing a robe," he explained. "I wonder if the movement frightened it in some way."

Rather than being appreciative, the cat attacked the Good Samaritan, biting and scratching his leg. Then, it ran off, leaving the Good Samaritan, bloody, sore, gouged and flabbergasted.  What happened when the Good Samaritan went to the emergency room was even more astounding.  After cleaning the bites, wounds and scratches, the Good Samaritan expected some prescription antibiotics. Instead, he was told to return at eight-hour intervals to receive an IV drip of antibiotics.

"We are aggressive in our treatment of cat bites," explained Dr. Joseph Liewer, medical director of the emergency department and trauma center at Mercy Medical Center. "With any bite there is a threat of infection, but cat bites have more potential for problems."

The reason is the cat's teeth are sharper, Liewer clarified.  "A cat bite is more like a puncture wound," he said. "It's almost like injecting bacteria right into you."

Dog bites have long been feared as problematic, Liewer acknowledged.

"It's not a question of a cat's mouth is dirtier or a dog's mouth has more bacteria," he said. "A dog bite is more of a tearing wound that may not lead to a serious infection because it would likely be cleaned more appropriately either at a medical facility or at home, thus decreasing the bacterial contamination in the wound."

Other factors can go into how serous the nature of a cat's scratches and/or bites are, Liewer pointed out.  "The hands and extremities are at higher risk for infection partially because their blood supply is not as good as other parts of the body," he said. "Also, we look at one's personal health. There may be health issues that would make them more prone to infection."

Liewer has seen more dog bites than cat bites in the emergency room.

"I think it's because dog bites typically need laceration repair," he said. "But we do see more infections when someone comes in with a cat bite."

The IV approach to treating the wounds has to do with getting a higher concentration in one's system, Liewer said.  "Certainly oral antibiotics or a one-time shot of antibiotics may be appropriate," he admitted, "but it really depends on the severity of the bite and subsequent infection and the personal health of the patient."

The situation is not something to take lightly, Liewer stressed.  "Usually people don't come in until infection has developed," he said "The infection could go into a tendon or joint or travel into the deeper structures of your hand, which is a valuable part of your body. It certainly has the potential for a serious situation."

Rabies is certainly a concern if the cat isn't known, Liewer said, and shots may be needed.

"Most likely you would also need a tetanus shot," he added.

Clearly one should exercise caution when helping any animal in distress, Liewer recommended.  "Animals may not understand that you are trying to help and may possibly take it out on you," Liewer said. "As much as people interact with cats, their bites should always be responded to with concern."

It was probably best the Good Samaritan didn't pussy-foot around with his injuries.

"The cat was caught in a trap and did not have rabies," he said. "There have been no other side effects from the bites and scratches, so all is good."

This valuable advice is from:

Makes you appreciate what your veterinarian has to deal with on a daily basis any time a distressed cat requires attention, doesn't it?

In a future issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats, Helpful Buckeye will address other types of unusual (but not aggressive) behavior shown by cats.

The LA Dodgers have gone into a downward tailspin, losing 5 in a row.  We are now tied for last place in our division.  So much for the high hopes of a new season and a new manager.  It's still more of the same old, same old.

The San Antonio Spurs opened the first round of NBA playoffs today with an upset loss to Memphis.


Desperado and Helpful Buckeye took a day-trip to the tiny mountain town of Crown King, AZ this past week.  We had to drive 27 miles on a dirt, sand, and rock road that zig-zagged back and forth up to the top of the Bradshaw mountain range.  Our speed was never more than 30 MPH and most of the time, it was in the 5-10 MPH range.  Crown King was a bustling gold-mining town back around 1900 but today only has about 150 full-time residents.

These are some great place names, aren't they?  Right out of the Old West.  Even though I-17 is just to the left of this sign, you can see how remote this area is.

The road winds across this valley before going up the side of the Bradshaw Mountains in the distance.

The Crown King Saloon, which was moved to the village in 1906 (there aren't any 1-dollar bills stapled to these walls!)...also, you can see what the major form of transportation is in this mountain hamlet.

First class outhouses...nothing but the best!

The Crown King General Store also holds the post office.  We sampled some really good-tasting homemade fudge here as well.

The Crown King Fire and Rescue you can see, it's all outside.

Philosophical sign in the General Store...pretty much sums up the location.

That concludes this most recent foray into a new part of Arizona.  Many more parts of Arizona await us as we observe the command of William Wordsworth (British poet):

“Come forth into the light of things, Let Nature be your teacher."

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

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