Cats are popular pets and the increase in cat ownership easily explains the increase in cat owners seeking assistance with “behavior problems.” A behavior problem is any unacceptable behavior even if it is associated with normal activities (eg, sexual marking). Medical records of 336 cats presented for behavior problems were included in this study; 178 cats were females (64.6% spayed) and 158 cats were male (77.2% castrated). The mean age at presentation was 4.5 years. Cats were obtained from a range of sources. For those cats for which a source was known (253), 116 were rescued from the street (45.8%), 74 were obtained from home breeders (29.2%), 44 from pet stores (17.4%), 14 from a shelter (5.5%), and 5 from professional breeders (1.9%). The mean age at the time of adoption was 4.6 months. The major complaints included aggression (47%), inappropriate elimination (39%), compulsive behaviors (3.5%), excessive vocalizations (2.5%), and fear and phobias (2.5%). Other problems included anorexia, furniture scratching, and overactive behavior. Most aggression problems were directed toward other cats (64%); however, the owner was the target in 78% of cases when directed toward people. Most of the people-directed aggression met criteria for play aggression (43.1%) or petting-related aggression (39.6%). Most elimination problems involved inappropriate urination (59%), followed by urination and defecation (32%) and defecation (9%). Elimination problems were significantly more common in Persian cats than in other breeds. Intact females were more aggressive. Cats without access to the outdoors and cats in single-cat households were significantly more likely to have behavior problems than cats with access to the outdoors or in multicat households. Cats from pet shops demonstrated more behavior problems than control cats.
Commentary: Aggression was a major finding in this study. The authors hypothesized that one reason indoor cats may have had more aggression problems was the lack of range, particularly if there were multiple cats in the home. Environmental enrichment (vertical perches, hiding, and space) was important, as was physical space. Single-cat aggression tended to be associated with play-related behaviors. Cats without other outlets for this behavior directed their “play aggression” toward the owner. Petting aggression was assumed to be due to the owner’s lack of ability to read subtle clues that “I’ve had enough, thank you.” Investigations into elimination problems were associated with the owner’s lack of attention to the litter box. The lack of socialization during a key period of life (2 to 7 weeks of life), early weaning, and a poorly enriched environment were possible causes of increased behavior problems in pet store cats.—Karen A. Moriello, DVM, Diplomate ACVD
Potential risk factors associated with feline behavior problems. Amat M, Torre JL, Fatjo J, et al. APPL ANIM BEHAV SCI 121:134-139, 2009.