Q: Last night our two cats attacked my wife, leaving deep scratches and bites on both legs. The cats are 7 and 8 years old.
My wife was walking up the stairs and when she got to the top of the stairs, the older cat attacked her legs all the way up to her thigh by biting and scratching her. As soon as she could stop the older cat’s attack, the younger cat attacked her. She stopped it but a few seconds later, the younger cat attacked again. Both cats were agitated and wouldn’t stop growling. My daughter and her fiancée managed to separate the cats, putting each in a separate room.
My wife and I are concerned because we have a 1-year-old granddaughter and now we feel the cats cannot be trusted when we have our granddaughter over.
Can you provide some advice as to why this happened and if it might happen again. What should we do?
A: This must have been extremely frightening for your wife. I hope the wounds were not severe and that she sought medical attention. Cat bites can be very serious — developing into painful infections if not immediately attended to by a physician.
Without knowing all of the circumstances before the aggression occurred, it is hard to determine the original trigger for your cats’ behavior. The aggression may be due to a medical problem or it could be behavioral in nature.
Before approaching this as a behavior problem, have your cats thoroughly examined by their veterinarian. The older cat may have a physical/biological problem that caused the original aggression. The 7-year-old cat’s aggressive reaction may have been triggered by older cat’s extreme aggression and your wife’s understandable response.
If this is a behavior issue, the attack could be an example of redirected aggression. Something could have occurred immediately prior to the attack that upset or startled one or both of the cats. A visiting neighbor cat or other animal or sudden noises are examples of events that can trigger redirected aggression in cats. Since the cats cannot reach the source of their problems, they vent their frustrations and aggression on whoever is near them. Sometimes the recipient is another resident animal—other times, the victim is an unlucky human who happens to be in the vicinity.
Your daughter and her fiancé took the correct action in separating the cats and placing them in their own rooms. If this is redirected aggression, it may take a few hours to a few days for the cats to calm down. Both of the confinement rooms need food, water, litter boxes and comfortable places for the cats to sleep.
Assuming that this is redirected aggression, identify all possible triggers for the behavior. You may have neighborhood cats or other wild animals hanging around that initially caused the aggressive response. Additionally, construction noises and sudden, loud vocalizations can startle cats, triggering aggressive reactions. After identifying the triggers, manage them. If there are neighborhood animals hanging around your house, put safe deterrents around the exterior of your home that will keep the neighborhood animals away.
I hope that this was a onetime event. Play it safe and take precautions when your granddaughter visits. Either monitor the situation when the cats are in the same room with your granddaughter or keep them confined away from her when she comes to visit.