How can I best help clients handle an aggressive cat?
Aggression is a broad term that, in cats, covers mild threat (eg, hissing, growling, swatting) to more severe behaviors that can lead to physical harm. To provide helpful advice, proper diagnosis determined by thorough history taking is vital (see Important History Questions). Feline aggression has several distinct categories that may not be mutually exclusive (see Categories of Feline Aggression).
Related Article: Feline Aggression Directed Toward People
Client Safety Education
Regardless of the patient’s motivation for aggression, client safety must be addressed and encouraged. By understanding and watching for signals of aggression, clients can better avoid situations that lead to this arousal state, avoid injury, and more effectively help treat their cat. Cat scratches and bites can lead to more serious injury and illness. A cat in a high arousal state (see Warning Signs of Aggression) can quickly escalate into significant aggression and direct severe bites and scratches at an unsuspecting family member. Clients should not attempt to soothe or handle a cat that is showing signs of aggression; clients should instead slowly move away from the cat. Pursuing a cat that is cornered or trying to escape can be risky.
Categories of Feline Aggression
Many disease states can lead to increased irritability and aggression in cats, including endocrinopathy (eg, hyperthyroidism), a painful condition (eg, osteoarthritis, dental disease), neurologic disease (eg, epilepsy), infection (eg, FIV), drugs or toxins, degenerative disease (eg, cognitive decline), and neoplasia (eg, CNS tumors). Cats with aggression should be medically evaluated and treated accordingly. Even if a medical cause is addressed, aggression may persist from other factors or the retention of recently learned aggressive behavior.