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Sudden Behavior Change, as symptom for what?

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
I have two 6 year old cats. They were hand raised by me after their mother was killed, they have lived together their entire lives. They are best friends, so what is going on now, is heartbreaking.

I went away for the weekend (3 days, which is the max I leave them without supervision), and when I came back something had changed. I can see evidence that they had a spat, which is usual, and usually they get over it in a day or two and are pals again. But my female has been very, well, mean to the male. She is hissing, growling and hiding from him. She is the one with both sets of claws, and is generally fearless. Sometimes she is fine with him around, othertimes she just freaks out and hisses and growls and hides from him. This was infrequent when I came home, and only seemed to be a night thing. Today it started as soon as I got home from work.

I know that agression and sudden behavior change is a common sign of illness for either cat. Both have been checked over by me. Both have clear glossy eyes, cool wet noses, cool paws and ears, none of her claws are damaged or infected, his back claws are fine, both have nice pink gums, both are eating and drinking and eliminating in the litter box, both have nice soft bellies and no joint pain, neither are showing any outward signs of illness. Neither will not let me handle them or feel them over. Neither has lost considerable weight, both occasionally have hairballs, which is managed. He occasionally has bulimic episodes where he throwsup a lot, but it is mostly attributed to the fact that he gorges himself when he eats sometimes and thus pukes. The frequency of these spells has not increased.

I do ride at a barn with many feral cats, who are friendly. I don't handle them without washing my hands thoroughly afterwards, and all of my barn clothes are kept out of reach of my cats, so as to avoid ear mite transmission as well as possible other diseases (I can't tell what level of vet care these other cats recieve).

Does anyone have any ideas of what this sudden change could be the result of? I am worried cos of the increasing frequency. I have had cats my whole life, and my mom has as well. I've consulted her and neither of us have ever seen or heard of such a rapid change in behavior. We don't know if she feels ill or if she is reacting cos he is sick and thus is shunning him as cats will do.

I am just trying to decide if this is important enough to take to the emergency vet, or if it can wait until I can call my regular vet in the morning. I've done everything I can think of, your help is greatly appreciated!

-Adrianna, Mister and Mooque
post #2 of 7
Two possibilities, both non-medical: there was a stray cat around your house while you were gone which caused an incident of redirected aggression; or maybe they're still smelling the other cats on you, which puts them on the territorial defensive, and also resulting in redirected aggression. You can google that term and find numerous articles about it online. The first step in dealing with that is to keep them separated.

Of course, there's also the chance it might be health-related. It never hurts to contact your vet.
post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 
The smell of the other cats would be a normal thing here. They are used to that, as nothing has changed about that, and when I came home there were no new smells on me.

We had considered the "wild cat outside" theory, but I just can't see how they'd still be this agressive so many days afterwards!

I'm going to call the vet tomorrow and see what he thinks. I am just worried that even with my precautions that I may have brought something home to them and one of them is sick.

If all else fails I will try to work out a seperation plan (which is so counterintuitive with these two as they can't even travel in seperate carriers or have seperate kennels when they go to the vet for tooth cleaning or other stuff!). I live in a small apartment with little way to seperate them, but I will see if I can figure something out.

Thanks for the advise!

BTW: I used to have a Twinkie cat who looked very much like yours, soooo cute!
post #4 of 7
Originally Posted by ladydrae View Post
We had considered the "wild cat outside" theory, but I just can't see how they'd still be this agressive so many days afterwards!
When you research it, you'll discover it's self-reinforcing, and indeed, it can continue on indefinitely without the original stimulus.
post #5 of 7
Oh, what the heck, I might as well post it. This is as good a spot as any, I suppose. When I was learning about redirected aggression, because of an incident with my own cats, I wrote an article about it. It's been posted elsewhere, but I can't remember posting it here. So here it is, FWIW:

When Cats Flip Out -- Avoiding Redirected Aggression

How many of us have experienced the following scenario: we’re spending a quiet evening relaxing at home and suddenly, for no apparent reason, a furry explosion takes place. Cats are flying everywhere with piercing and alarming shrieks, leaving a vapor trail of fur and shed nail sheaths on the way to their respective hidey-holes. We wonder, “What the heck?!?!†and then shrug our shoulders, roll our eyes, and think, “It’s a cat thing.†So far, so good. Hopefully after a couple hours the cats calm down and come out from their hiding places as if nothing happened. But once in a while one of the cats comes out a completely different cat. A perfectly peaceful and friendly cat has, for no apparent reason, turned into a nasty, mean and aggressive cat, snarling and hissing, and even swatting at his favorite person or cat pal. This poor cat has been the victim of redirected aggression, which I’ll refer to here as RA. And often months go by with the cat’s humans wondering what has happened to their cuddly cat and doing nothing about it. And it just gets worse and worse….

What is RA? The simple explanation is that it happens when a cat gets spooked by something, can’t handle it, and instead takes it out on the nearest living creature. Or as Pam Johnson-Bennett says in Cat vs. Cat, pg. 157,
Redirected aggression results from a cat being cut off from the primary source of his agitation, so he turns his aggression on the nearest cat, person, or dog. The agitated cat is in such a highly reactive state that he doesn’t realize at whom he’s lashing out.
Often the trigger is a strange cat that appears outside the window and the indoor cat can’t react by defending his territory, like he would do if he was outdoors. But it could be anything that puts a cat into an aroused and agitated state and is subsequently unable to calm himself down.

And what's a triggering event? Basically anything that puts a cat into an extremely aroused and agitated state, whether we know the cause at the time or not. This is not to be confused with the regular "psycho kitty" periods most of our cats have. This is an unusual and abnormal event. Learn to be aware of what's going on with your cats. And maybe the triggering event happens when we're gone. Then we'll see signs of unusual agitation, arousal and/or behavior in one or more of the cats when we come home. Perhaps even the first manifestations of RA.

We don’t know how often RA results from such a triggering event. Probably not all that often. But RA causes such anxiety and frustration for the cat’s caretakers that they certainly wish it could have been avoided. And here’s the point of this monograph: RA can be avoided by recognizing a potential triggering event and immediately responding appropriately. I’ve had perhaps a half-dozen of these potential triggering events in the last year. The most recent was when one cat fell in a trash can and frightened himself. He got over it in about thirty minutes, but the other two cats were wound up for hours.

Here’s what to do to avoid possible RA when one of these triggering events happens:

1) Immediately separate all the cats into their own rooms and close the doors so they cannot see each other. Leave the cats alone to calm down on their own. Trying to sooth them doesn’t help. Often it just makes them more agitated because they see your concern and it reinforces theirs. And you might end up being the object of the RA. For how long? My protocol is to leave them separated for two hours and then evaluate them. If they’re calm and relaxed, then they can come out. If not, they remain separated.

2) Establish normal routine in the household. Go about your normal activities, but perhaps as quietly and with as little fuss and bother as possible. If you have guests, it would be best if they left for the day.

3) Review the events to see if you can determine the trigger for what happened. If it was a strange cat outside a window, perhaps consider covering up the window until the stray can be dealt with. Try to remove the trigger from the environment, so it won’t happen again right away.

4) When the cats have calmed down enough to come out, careful monitor their interactions to make sure they’re acting normally. If a cat displays unusual behavior, separate that cat again, and keep him separated overnight.

Hopefully, taking these steps when a potential triggering even takes place will prevent RA from developing. Remember that RA is a self-reinforcing behavior, so that if it does occur, it’s best dealt with immediately. Each time a cat engages in the behavior, it makes it more likely that behavior will be repeated, and more difficult to deal with it. Sorry, but getting into dealing with well-developed cases of RA is beyond the scope of this article. Many cases require an individualized approach under the guidance of a professional feline behaviorist. My goal here is to help everyone prevent it from ever happening…after all, that’s supposed to be the best cure.

For more information, Pam Johnson-Bennett’s books are a wonderful source of information, and there are many good articles on the internet which can be found by googling “redirected aggression.â€

post #6 of 7
Thread Starter 
Thanks Coaster!

I just spoke with my vet and he believe that this is a redirected agression issue as well.

Last night "the stray" came by again, and Mister got very riled up, so I locked him in the bathroom for a half an hour until he could calm down. The funny thing is, Mooque's the one with the anger issue, and she didn't even look at the stray! I think he saw it, and smacked her, adn they got in a fight, and now she is just sort of trapped in a defense mode. She can't understand why he did it to her, so she's acting out to stop him.

This weekend I'll be setting up the second litter box in the bedroom and locking one of them in there during the day with some water and snacks. She mostly just sleeps in there during the day anyways, so it should be fine.

Thanks again for your advise! I am printing it out so I can have it on hand for future refrence!
post #7 of 7
Sounds like you've got a handle on it, now.
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