Aggression and unpredictability

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Aggression and unpredictability

Post by jch1990 » Tue Oct 22, 2019 9:49 am

Hi everyone

New to cat ownership and new to this forum. We rehomed an 18-month-old male called Bruce on Saturday (3 days ago), and we're having a bit of trouble with him lashing out at us spontaneously.

The rescue centre described Bruce as calm and relaxed, and when we brought him home and put him in his safe room he was just as they said — to begin with he was purring, exploring the room and coming to us without any aggression. Later that day, I went in to see him, and did the same again — sat down, let him come to me, careful not to over-stimulate or scare him. He was purring away, sat next to me and resting on my leg, and then I went to stroke him and he tried to bite my hand (fast, not slowly/playfully). Ever since then, we've been having the same problem. He'll come to you and sit on your lap, but then will all of a sudden try and scratch or bite your arm.

It's making us really frustrated, and we don't think we can live with a cat who has these tendencies. We often have friends and family over, many of whom have children, and I don't want to be responsible for people, especially children, getting hurt.

If he'd been a nervous cat, or if the rescue centre hadn't been so adamant about his relaxed nature, I'd understand. I play with him and his toys several times a day to try and get the scratching and biting out of his system, but it hasn't been helping.

I'm hoping it's something that will get better in time, but if it remains like this in a couple of weeks I think we'll have to think about taking him back to the rescue centre :cry: not something we feel good about at all, but it feels like the only option if he doesn't improve. I'm at the point where I'm scared to stroke him in case he lashes out.

If anyone has any suggestions I'd really appreciate it.

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Re: Aggression and unpredictability

Post by Mollycat » Tue Oct 22, 2019 10:35 am

Welcome to the forum and being owned by a cat, and good on you for taking on a second-hand kitty.

It is early days and with care I'm sure he will be your gentle loving boy. It could be his past, the trauma of being in rescue and now in a new home, even the way your hand is approaching him, other things, or most likely a combination of things, making him snap at you. His past and being new to you will get better with time and patience and understanding.

First of all understanding. Maybe he just needs to take things a little slower with you. Purring doesn't always mean contentment, some cats also purr to comfort themselves. Even badly injured or very sick or terrified cats can sometimes purr to self-soothe. If he is coming to you on his toes, head high towards you, back arched and tail straight up with just a little friendly wave to the end of his tail, that's confidently asking for attention. If the tail is waving quite loudly, he could be more uncertain and want to be close but not sure he can trust you yet, and you touching him might be overload. Try just letting him sit on your lap or next to you without touching, and see how the conversation develops.

Second, the way your hand is approaching him could be a problem for him. I had a lovng cat who I had from 6 weeks old who loved affection but would tear your hand o shreds if you tried to approach from the front. The hand had to be behind her ears at all times, that was just her little quirk. A hand coming straight down towards the head can be intimidating even for the most sociable and settled of cats. Try approaching different ways, the favourite usually is from the front or slightly to one side, low near the jaw line, and give the cat the chance to sniff your fingers first. If he rubs his face on your hand that's positive but not necessarily permission to touch, so let that happen several times before trying to move. The face / cheek rub is a scent mark so it's a very positive friendly sign, but it doesn't mean complete acceptance. I have a rescue girl who took more than a year to accept stroking from me even though she was an affectionate puss in her old home and still rarely accepts more than two to three strokes from anyone else.

Third, it's rarely out of the blue, if he is just a bitey cat, there is still a lot you can do. I had a nippy girl and she would still be purring as she sank her teeth into you! But you get to know the slightest tensing, ears going back (both ears - one ear is relaxed and listening) and the eyes widening, or the tail starts to be more agitated. I knew she was going to bite before she did so I would stop stroking which confused her at first but a combination of that and dealing with it calmly if she did bite improved things a lot. If he does bite and hold on with his claws (as opposed to swipe) just stay still and calm and gently but firmly say no. When he lets go praise him without touching then slowly and quietly move away to give him time to cool down. He will learn that cuddles end very quickly when he gets nippy.

It sounds like you're not doing this anyway but please don't shout at him or tell him off, cats have a different psyche to any other animal we associate with in that they are solitary animals and don't have a pack mentality and therefore do not recognise authority. Best results with cats involve understanding and working with them. For example, you might want the scratch post over there but he keeps scratching the chair, sometimes the only slution is to put the scratch post next to the chair because that is a strategic place for him to leave scratch marks. Welcome to a whole new world!

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Re: Aggression and unpredictability

Post by Ruth B » Tue Oct 22, 2019 10:55 am

Welcome to the forum and hopefully we can help work out what Bruce's issue is and you can have many long happy years with him. However if it comes down to something that can't be changed, or not in the time frame you have available, don't feel guilty if you have to return him. I have done it once, I had adopted a young cat and she just would not settle in a multi cat household, I was heartbroken when, after several months of trying I decided to return her, I felt I had failed her. Years, and a lot of reading later, I know what I did was for the best sometimes things don't work out the way we want them to and it is due to no fault of ours.

Now onto Bruce.
It is very rare for a cat to turn and bite for no reason, we need to work out what causes him to do it and then see what can be done, unfortunately that is going to mean a lot of questions.

You say he bites when you go to stroke him, does he bite when he is just sat on your knee and you aren't fussing him. If it is only when you stroke him is it only when you go to stroke one place.
Is there any other sign of agitation before he attacks, does he strike out with his claws or hiss at you.
Do you feed him treats by hand.
When you play with him is it with wand style toys or ones that you are holding with your hand near him.

The thoughts behind the questions are:
If he is in pain he will strike out when you go to touch the painful area. Cats are very good at hiding pain so you might not see any sign of it normally. Alternatively if he has been hurt in the past, even if it has healed he might associate being touched in that one place as causing pain. Of cause, being an adult rescue, his background is likely to be less well know than if he were a kitten, there is the possibility that someone has harmed him in the past and again he associates the human hand with causing pain. If this is sounding familiar then a vet's visit will help discover if there is any current problem and if there isn't then it is a case of teaching him that human hands are nice and aren't going to hurt him, work on stroking him in areas that he doesn't mind and slowly work to the more problematic areas.
If there are others signs of agitation it could be a sign that he is expecting to be hurt or is still just scared in his new surroundings and can accept so much then just reaches the end of his tether and lashes out, time will hopefully sort this out. Time spent with him but not actively approaching him will help, let him come to you and make the overtures.

If you feed him treats by hand, or if he has been fed them that way in the past he might have decided that every human hand should hold a treat. The answer to this is simple, but can take a long time, you never give him a treat by hand and tell him firmly 'No' if he goes to bite the hand, don't yell just say it firmly and then walk away from him. Some cats feel that any attention is better than nothing, and even getting yelled at is seen as attention. You don't need to ignore him for long, 10 - 30 minutes is plenty to give him the message.

Finally if you or a previous owner has played with him using toys held in the hand it could be he just sees the hand as an extension of the toy and, particularly if the play has been a bit rough, he could see a hand as something to play with and 'kill'. Toys on wands and long strings can help a lot with this and again telling him 'No' when he goes to bite the hand and getting up and walking away for a time again.

Hopefully that will give you some things to think about and watch out for and with a bit of work and time Bruce can be the loving pet you were hoping for.

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