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C2003-23

Dear Christopher Cat

Lucy, our 4-year-old cat, loves to sit in our bay window and look at the birds at the feeders. Sometimes when I pet her there, she bats at me and tries to bite! She doesn’t do that any other time I pet her. How can I prevent this behavior?

Christopher Responds

Lucy is doing a good job demonstrating a behavior called redirected aggression.

We cats are easily stirred up by birds playing in a bird bath or dining at the feeder. Our instincts tell us to pounce on them, but we’re frustrated by the glass that separates us from our prey.

If someone else -– another cat, a person, or even the family dog -– comes by just as our brains tell us it’s time to attack the bird, we’ll lash out at whomever is closest.

That’s called redirected aggression. It’s a bit like you humans when you are angry with your boss but go home and yell at your spouse.

To avoid redirected aggression, don’t pet Lucy when she’s already aroused by the birds.

Another situation when redirected aggression may occur is when cats return home after an upsetting experience, such as occasionally occurs during grooming or a visit to the veterinarian. A cat remains reactive for many hours after a traumatic event and may redirect the feelings of aggression from the groomer or veterinarian to the family member. 

If Lucy ever has this kind of upsetting experience, just open her carrier door when you return home, but don’t try to remove her. Let her exit on her own when she’s ready.

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