Ferret out the cause of cat's aggressive behavior ASAP

These selected questions were answered by experts attending the 2013 BlogPaws Conference May 16-18 in Tysons Corner, VA. Over 500 pet bloggers and pet writers gathered to learn more about how to educate people about companion animals using social media. I was keynote speaker, and David Frei, of the Westminster and National Dog Show broadcasts, emceed an awards event for bloggers.

Q: It saddens me that the best, most beautiful cat I've ever had is a stalker. That was the opinion of the pet therapist. She said I should consider having the cat euthanized. This cat attacked my mom when she visited. Soki lunges at anyone she sees, and bites and scratches. My 8-year-old son is afraid of her, and I don't want him to be traumatized. What should I do? -- B.C., Cyberspace

A: Who was it who advised you to euthanize your cat? The pet therapist? What you need to do is contact a certified cat behavior consultant (http://www.iaabc.org), veterinary behaviorist (http://www.dacvb.org), or veterinarian with a special interest in behavior (http://www.avsabonline.org). A veterinarian might be the best good place to start to rule out any contributing physical explanation.

A more detailed description is necessary to pinpoint the cause of Soki's aggressive behavior. One possibility may be what's referred to as re-directed aggression, or perhaps this cat just isn't otherwise engaged in chasing or pouncing.

"Absolutely, use an interactive or laser light toy to play with your cat," says Becky Robinson, president/founder of Alley Cat Allies, a non-profit national advocacy organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats. "Perhaps, weaned too young, this cat doesn't understand bite inhibition (not to bite down too hard) and perhaps your responses are perceived as a game from the cat's perspective, unknowingly encouraging the behavior."

For now, don't give Soki an opportunity to practice the aggressive behavior, even if this means confining her in a room with the door closed when guests arrive. Members of the household could carry little toys in their pockets. Then, when Soki is in a doorway ready to pounce, they could toss a toy one way, and walk in another direction. Ultimately, though, you may need hands-on help from a professional.

Q: My friends have a 2-year-old Coton de Tulear and a terrier-mix the same age. When these dogs visit my house, within seconds each goes its special "spot" and pees. Both dogs are housebroken, so that's not the issue. Is this territorial behavior? Should I ban the dogs from my home? -- H.D., Woodbury, MN

A: "That's right, lock the door and throw away the keys!" jokes pet writer Sandy Robbins, of Irvine, CA.

Certified animal behavior consultant Darlene Arden, of Framingham, MA, has another idea: "Let the dogs in the house on leash, so your friends can control them. Immediately give them something to chew on, something else to do."

Arden, author of "Small Dogs, Big Hearts: A Guide to Caring for Your Little Dog" (Howell Book House, New York, NY, 2006; $25.99), says the behavior may be territorial.

"Cover up the places where they typically have accidents with an upside down (nubby side up) plastic rug runner or plastic shower curtain liner (to make it uncomfortable "to go" there again)," Arden suggests.

Also make sure any previous accidents are thoroughly cleaned up with an enzymatic odor remover, Robbins advises.

Q: I adopted a cat from a co-worker. Cleo was the runt of the litter and looks to be part Siamese, with a pushed-in face. Since birth, Cleo has always had a runny nose, which we wipe several times a day. She's been to the veterinarian many times for this issue, and often antibiotics are prescribed. This clears up the problem for a while, but it always returns.

A co-worker advised me to give Cleo a children's allergy medication. The veterinarian suggested surgery, but that would cost $2,000.

Lately, Cleo has also taken to peeing on our hardwood floor in front of my son's closed bedroom door. Do you think these two issues are related? Any advice? -- C.M., Cyberspace

A: Siamese-type cats have long, narrow faces, while Persian-type cats are known for pushed-in noses.

Dr. Kate Knutson, Bloomington, MN-based President of the American Animal Hospital Association, says that what you describe in many ways sounds like feline herpes virus, but generally veterinarians can easily diagnose this chronic problem. Since the illness is virus-based, antibiotics don't offer a cure, but are important to treat any secondary infections. There are various means to treat symptoms of feline herpes virus.

Knutson says it's important that your veterinarian first rule out feline leukemia and the feline immunodeficiency virus.

One clue might be whether the discharge is running from one or both nostrils. Other possible explanations include a sinus infection or dental problem. A less likely possibility is Brachycephalic syndrome, which refers to upper airway abnormalities in cats (also occurring in dogs) with pushed-in faces, also sometimes called congenital upper airway disease, or elongated soft palate.

Many cats with this problem are overweight. A diet can help, as can surgery, although Knutson is uncertain what type of surgery your veterinarian suggested. Usually a cat with allergies doesn't have the symptoms you describe, so allergy medication won't help.

The litter box indiscretions could be related to pain or discomfort. They could have something to do with the relationships between cats in the home (assuming you have more than one), the location and number of litter boxes you have, the litter itself and/or how often the boxes are cleaned.

Knutson also wonders why Cleo piddles outside your son's bedroom room, and why the door is closed in the first place. Perhaps the cat simply wants to be with your son.

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)

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