Predatory Aggression can be Redirected
Like the cat you wrote about last week my 7 year old neutered-male craves affection but will viciously and without warning bite me. I was sitting on the couch, typing on my iPad and he was snuggled on my arm. I wasn’t petting him and everything seemed peaceful. Suddenly he sank his teeth into my hand. Now I’m afraid to let him sit by me for more than a few minutes. I feel bad because he’s not getting all the love and attention he craves.
I get it. We have two cats in our family who we love like little people in furry suits. They have human names and get lots of affection but – they are members of a different species. They are obligate predators, wild creatures we keep as pets. They come genetically programmed for stalking and killing. Your hands, while busily typing, have become surrogate mice.
Whether living indoors or fending for themselves in the wild cats must hunt, pounce, and mangle. Their internal clock is set to ignite these violent proclivities around dusk, when rodents are actively scurrying about. If you sit with this domestic predator, your hands flitting across the keyboard, he just loses control of himself.
Trying to put an end to this natural behavior would be like telling your kitty to stop breathing. Avoid mistakes like yelling, swatting, nose flicking, or water spraying – unless, of course, he’s caught fire. He’d still have to do what a cat has to do but with a damaged human relationship.
Going forward you can redirect this brute’s normal behavior with predatory play right around dusk. Cat toys with a wand and dangling items are perfect. You can also tie 3 feet of string to your ankle and glue a couple of feathers to the end. When you get up to walk around the feathers will flip and flop, mimicking wounded prey. It’ll be like Wild Kingdom except nobody will die miserably.
I also advise passive management. Feed your cat exclusively from food-dispensing toys and puzzles so he can scavenge viciously as-needed. For the full list of Feline Environmental Enrichments go to my website, drjeffnichol.com.
Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video or podcast to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.