What is redirected aggression in cats?

Published on March 12, 2013 by in Blog

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When you have cats that get along really well together and then all of a sudden for absolutely NO apparent reason one of your felines goes after her best buddy claws drawn and fur flying, it’s scary!! This happened with some of my cats a couple of times, and let me tell you, it terrified both me and the cat who was attacked. It made no sense so I tried to find out what it was.

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This fairly common phenomenon is known as redirected aggression. When a cat is stressed and can not get at the cause of it’s stress it will redirect and channel this stress or upset onto the nearest object. It can be another cat, a dog, and occasionally it’s owner. And to owners and victim alike it is completely upsetting, typically traumatizing the cat who is attacked. Imagine your spouse who loves you dearly and with whom you get along great most of the time, randomly jumping on you, smacking you in the face, and scratching at you, and you’ll get an idea of what redirected aggression is like for the attackee.

Well why would a cat do this? Cats are natural predators. It’s in their DNA to stalk, hunt and be vigilant. So if they’re watching out a window and another cat walks by, or they’re pawing through a hole to get to a mouse, but the mouse is just out of reach, the cat will want to channel that predatory instinct somewhere. And they will lash out at whatever is nearest, even if that is her best friend who she was rolling around with on the floor that morning.

In the case of my cats, they were both sitting in an open window very early one morning when the neighbor’s cat walked underneath the open window, meowed at my one cat and stretched up. My cat Mischief hissed at her, but couldn’t reach the outside cat, so she did the next best thing in her mind; she redirected her attack at the nearest other cat, my cat Onyx. In her upset, Mischief didn’t realize what she was doing; she just went into natural instinct mode which said protect myself, my resources, and my space.

Onyx ran under the bed and they proceeded to fight, hiss, and tear fur from each other. Onyx got the worst of it and had several bloody scratches to show for it. And because they were in a small enclosed space, I couldn’t do anything, but try to scare them out. I caught several gashes from Mischief myself when she finally decided to chase Onyx out and I tried to pick her up to protect Onyx.

As cat sitters in Mesa, we may occasionally see this sort of thing while we are cat sitting. Watching this happen is very distressing, but understand it is not all that uncommon. If it does happen, you will want to give the cats plenty of time apart and slowly reintroduce them. Depending on how bad the fight was, you may want to keep your cats separated for at least 24 hours. If this is not done properly and you bring the cats back together too soon, it can take weeks and even months before the victim cat will be ready to be near the aggressor cat again!

Leave a comment below for us. Have you ever had any issues with redirected aggression in your home?

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