Pet Shenanigans

On Misplaced Aggression

I don’t remember the first time it happened. I have a vague memory of it being when Aeris and Gwen got into a spat. Suddenly it went from a two cat standoff to a four cat pileup. Fur flying, cats growling, a rolling ball of chaos. The triggers have been consistent though – one of the other cats lets out a huge burst of stress. Cuppie got caught on a travel makeup case, Gwen’s tail got stepped on, and so on.
It’s stressful, because it takes an already stressful situation and amplifies it by a thousand.

Today, it was totally my fault, and I feel like an idiot for not seeing it coming.
Aeris had to go to the vet, for what turned out to be an ear infection. As she does about half the time when she’s stressed she peed in the bag. Because this isn’t abnormal, I threw her in a plastic tub in her bag to save the car seats. When I got home with her, I thought, “Well, she’s already contained, why not just wash her?” So I took her into the bathroom, she flailed around, and I turned on the water. That’s when it happened.

She let out a yowl like the grim reaper himself had appeared before her. Now, whenever we bag her to go to the vet, she protests very loudly, but this was WAY beyond that.

Have you ever played a zombie game, like left 4 dead? Whenever a real horde of zombies gets triggered, there’s this crowd zombie shrieking noise. You know exactly what’s coming. As soon as she yowled like that, my blood curdled. Maybe if I could just move fast enough – no. Too slow. Too late. Cuppie and Vizzi were triggered.

I tried to throw Aeris in Matt’s office to hide, but she apparently didn’t realize what chaos she’d summoned, because she fled the office and got jumped immediately.

So I thought I’d talk a little bit about what this is – it’s misplaced aggression. There’s a trigger, it creates very strong emotions in the cat, and they need to get those emotions out, and usually there’s a victim, because there isn’t a feline version of a punching bag that they understand.
As I mentioned earlier, the trigger for our cats is a burst of stress. Vizzi seems to be the one who struggles most with this misplaced aggression. Cuppie joins in, but based on reactions, I believe she’s going along with it because of Vizzi. I’m not sure she’d start the fights – she just finishes them.

Unfortunately, misplaced aggression can be very serious. Sometimes it fractures the relationship between cats irreparably. I’m trying to make sure that doesn’t happen here, by separating the cats and giving them time to cool off. I’m not sure how long I’m going to need to keep them separate for. Aeris is going to be in my office at least overnight, and we’ll see how everyone is feeling in the morning. When trying to repair damage done, I also try and give them positive associations with each other. Thankfully, Aeris and Vizzi are highly food and treat motivated, so it’s not too difficult to get them in the same space to share treats once everyone has cooled off a bit. I’ll turn on the automatic laser pointer so that they can play together. In the past, these tactics have worked, so long as I’m patient and can keep them from getting in further spats.

The real trick is to keep them from happening in the first place, and that’s easier said than done, when just accidentally stepping on a tail can cause it. We all know how cats have a tendency to get underfoot from time to time.

I don’t have any pretty way to tie this up…I just wanted to share a bit about my experience with it, and raise awareness that this is a thing, because it wasn’t until last time it happened that I was able to put a label on it and start to figure out how to deal with it. This is one of those weird things that doesn’t come in the cat handbook.