Redirected aggression happens when your cat can't properly respond to a physical or verbal correction, or is thwarted in a desire. In other words, kitty can't reach the teasing squirrel outside the window, and instead clobbers his brother-cat who happens to wander by at the wrong time. It's no different than being picked on by your boss at work (and you can't talk back!) so you take it out on your spouse when you come home.
Common Cat Culprits
Redirected aggression affects adult male cats most often and arises from territorial, fear-induced, inter-male or defensive aggression. Owners who don't see the squirrel or stray cat that's upset the kitty often think he's gone nuts when Tom attacks "for no reason" out of the blue. When cats who previously got along suddenly become hostile to each other, it may stem from redirected aggression.
The sight, sound, or odor of another cat, presence of other animals, unusual noise, unfamiliar people or environment, and pain are common triggers. But triggers are as varied as are our cats. Owners occasionally become the accidental victim in the presence of the trigger, and these episodes can be explosive and frightening-but usually happen only once.
Common Cat Targets
However, a housemate cat can become a permanent scapegoat after just one "accidental" response. After a first episode, the aggressing cat continues to associate upset feelings with the mere presence of the scapegoat cat and may launch an attack whenever they come in contact. After being attacked, the target kitty begins to act like a fearful victim which encourages the aggressor to continue the behavior. The following suggestions also help prevent future cases of redirected aggression.
- Leave the cat alone when you know he's aroused! You'll notice chittering teeth and an active tail. Try to keep the other cats from bothering him as well, especially when he lounges in the windowsill, which is a prime location to "see" but be unable to reach triggers.
- Keep stray cats and strange animals away from window sight of your property. Eliminate hiding and perching places that draw animals, and don't leave food outside.
- Invest in The Scarecrow or similar products, available at home and garden stores. These water sprinklers activate via a motion detector that scats stray critters with a spray of water.
- Prevent access to windows or partly cover them to keep your cats from seeing the triggers. Pull the blinds, and move furniture away from windows and give your cats something else to engage their attention. Double-sided tape products such as Sticky Paws applied to windowsills makes the surface uncomfortable so cats avoid lounging.
- Don't allow cats to "work it out" or they'll practice and get better at fighting. Stop fights before they happen.
- Separate cats that show aggression toward each other. It may take several days or weeks for the aroused cat to "forget" the association and stop picking on the victim cat. Time away helps the scapegoat stop acting like a victim, too-which helps reduce the chance of being picked on.
- Reintroduce the two cats, as though they are strangers, with the picked-on cat getting run of the house.
- Bell the aggressor cat so the victim kitty can avoid encounters.