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How Can I Stop My Cat From Attacking Me?

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White Cat

Perisha is deaf and often bites to get her way.

Photo Credit: © Angy

Question: "How can I stop cat attacks?"

Angy writes, "I need some serious help with my 2½ year old deaf cat, Perisha. When she does not get her way, or when it's time for my partner or I to leave the house for work, one of us will be attacked by her. Or if I am combing her-which she loves-she will suddenly start attacking our calf, or jump up toward neck or upper arms, giving deep bites, bruises and scratches. She has always had this problem and will be ok for a few weeks, and then it starts again. She is an indoor cat due to the deafness. She is allowed outdoors but only under supervision so she doesn't climb or jump fences.

Spraying her with water stopped her only temporarily. Now we pick her up and lock her away in a room and wait for her to calm down. Usually that does the trick. She comes out almost embarrassed, like she has a sudden burst of rage that she cannot control. It's almost like she is possessed. Every other time she is a gem, loves being patted and held. It's just when things don't go her way or we are getting ready to leave her. I am beside myself. Look forward to any advice."

Amy's Answer

Biting almost never is out of meanness. It can be related to the cat's physical and emotional health, as well as traits of instinct. I always refer to the H.I.S.S. Test, which stands for health, instinct, stress, and symptom solvers, to figure out what's going on.

H=Health

Angy indicated in her note that Perisha was last seen by vet when she was five months old for her spay surgery. So it's been nearly two years since the cat has had a vet check, and that's my first recommendation. There are rare conditions such as hyperesthesia syndrome that might be involved in Perisha's situation.

I=Instinct

Biting and aggression can be prompted by fear or defense when the cat feels threatened. Both are instinctive behaviors to self protect. Cats also can redirect aggression and bite a nearby target (you!) when they can't reach the real instigator-like that stray cat outside on the lawn. When cases of redirected aggression target people they can be extremely volatile.

S=Stress

Nearly any sort of change can increase a cat's stress. Some cats react with aggression when they're severely stressed.

S=Symptom, Signs & Solutions

Angy's description of Perisha biting when she "doesn't get her way" is typical of pushy cats who use the leave-me-alone bite often with petting aggression to get their way. I suspect the deafness aggravates the problem since this kitty probably doesn't use vocalizations like a hiss or growl as a warning.

With the combing, I'd recommend using the same techniques to manage as outlined in this article for dealing with petting aggression. Watch for body language, such as ear indications, eye dilation, or tail movement and stop before Perisha becomes too upset.

With the departure biting, Perisha has actually "practiced" this behavior. Essentially, she's learned to recognize the signals of you getting ready for work. She may not even know why or have a plan behind the biting-she just knows that when THOSE signals happen she gets upset and should bite. Therefore, we need to change the association to the signals. Use the same techniques outlined in this article on dealing with kitty separation anxiety.

Make a list of all the things you do that lead up to departure. That might be taking a shower, picking up car keys, or putting on a coat. Then use those same signals over and over again-but don't leave. This removes the association of departure. If Perisha learns the shower runs half a dozen times a day without you or your partner leaving, the shower loses it's power to prompt a bite.

Also, since Perisha particularly loves being combed, use this as a reward and associate it with departures. Instead of combing her at the regular time (I suspect evenings, when you're relaxing with the cat?), try associating the comb with one of these other departure signals. For instance, pick up your purse or keys a dozen times, over and over, and each time also comb Perisha once or twice. Over time, not only does the purse lose its power to signal an upsetting departure, it also heralds a wonderful fur-combing session. Good luck!

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