Female Cat Behavior Change

by Jo

My husband and I have had our cat for a year and a half. We got her when she was a kitten. Last night out of nowhere, she aggressively attacked my husband. Afterwards, she wouldn't stop doing a deep meow almost like a growl (honestly, it sounded like she was possessed).

My husband was just talking to a friend when this happened. It came out of nowhere and lasted for a good hour. Our cat puffed up and growled everytime she would see my husband.

We went to bed and this morning, he woke up and she was as friendly as could be and then out of nowhere the same thing happened when he was petting her. We aren't sure why our kitty is doing this. We aren't going to be able to keep her if this continues to happen. We are hoping you can help.

Dear Jo,

The first thing I would suggest is that you take your kitty to the veterinarian for a check-up and tell them exactly what happened. It is always possible that there is a medical reason underlying a behavioral change and if the medical cause isn't detected and treated, you will never be able to resolve the behavioral change.

That said, it may help if you and your husband think hard to see if you can remember anything stressful that could have happened to your cat at the same time, or around the time, your husband was near her. Cats can displace aggression they have toward something else onto the nearest human.

For example, if your kitty was looking out the window and saw another cat or a dog or anything that upset her and your husband were standing near the window, she could turn around and attack him out of displaced aggression. And that's only one example.

Something as simple as accidentally stepping on your cat's tail or bumping into her, or even just pushing her away because he was busy talking to his friend, could have scared her. Also, have your husband try to think in great detail about anything that could have happened in the days prior to the first time she attacked him. It could be so simple that he isn't remembering it readily.

After the first time your cat reacted to your husband this way, his body language will have had a great effect on her future behavior. If he was frightened, as most people would be, then he may have had hesitation or a bit of fear in his body language the next time he approached her. Even though he was petting her, a cat can sense hesitation or fear and it can trigger a reaction.

Cats pick up on body language and any hesitation on our part may bring out the worst in them again. I have worked many times over the years with aggressive cats that lost their aggression when they finally realized I wasn't to be feared and wasn't going to react in any negative way or harm them.

I would suggest that your husband not even attempt approaching her or petting her for a while. He should just ignore her and act very nonchalant around her, including avoiding eye contact with her.

Over time he can start to have a relationship with her again, but on her terms (meaning when she comes to him) and only if he can keep his body very relaxed and give out only positive "vibes".

Be careful also where you touch her. Some cats are very comfortable with being petted on their heads, but get uncomfortable if you get near their tails or vice versa. Try to figure out what triggers her and stay away from that.

If this doesn't help, your veterinarian can also prescribe a mild sedative for your cat to take for awhile until things get back to normal.

Good luck. I certainly hope everything works out. I have rarely seen a case where it doesn't if you try the above suggestions, take her to the vet, have patience, and give it time.

Dr. Neely

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