#20-Cat Owner-Directed Aggression

NMVMA listserve Behavior Tip #20
Cat with Owner-Directed Aggression

Jeff Nichol, DVM
Veterinary Behavior Medicine
Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Centers

Albuquerque and Santa Fe Cat with Owner-Directed Aggression

This is a question I received from one of our colleagues. Aggression is a pretty common, and a potentially dangerous, behavior complaint from cat owners. This one is a little unusual. I hope it contains information that is helpful.


Hi Jeff,

I have a client that has a cat that is biting her a lot.  It is a DSH, SF, 1 year 3month old with an odd history.  It was a rescue kitten, had a right sided head tilt that still persists and it has no hearing.  It has always seemed to be very nervous and anxious.  It likes to be in the owners lap and then will just bite the heck out of her and hang on.  She is on blood thinners and has said she needs to get something done to control the behavior or she will have the cat euthanized.  I have just started her on the Hills c/d stress food and curious on your thoughts of what we can try.  Funds are limited in this case too.


Hi Doc-

The c/d Stess diet is a good start. It contains l-tryptophan and alpha casozepine (found in Zylkene). Both can be helpful in cases of mild to moderate fears and anxieties. This cat, however, needs more.

The best way of helping this elderly lady would be to gather more information about possible environmental stressors. Are there other pets in the home that may be competing with this one, bullying her, or threatening her? Are there outdoor creatures, like other cats, who visit the yard? Wild animals?

Indoor cats who perceive a threat from inside the house or from outside can feel trapped indoors. Adding Environmental Enrichments, including at least one floor-to-ceiling cat tree plus lots of hide boxes at various heights in different rooms, can make a difference. A good list of enrichments can be found on my website, drjeffnichol.com.

Discouraging visits from other critters can be important. Managing conflicts with other household pets may be necessary.

Some cats who bite while being petted have uncomfortable skin. I advise a thorough evaluation to include a skin scraping and maybe a therapeutic trial of ivermectin to rule out occult mange. Ask if the owner has noticed skin rippling, scratching, or sudden biting of the skin that would indicate feline hyperesthesia syndrome. This disorder results from physical problems in 85% of cases. Miserable skin could cause reacting biting.

If this cat turns out to be fine physically and her environment is loaded with excellent opportunities for feline-specific behaviors – and she still bites the owner- it may be valuable to start her on paroxetine as a treatment for anxiety. (0. 5-1.0 mg/kg q24h).

Finally, you can refer this case to me at any point. Cats like this almost always do well if the owner is committed. I would advise your client not to give up.

I hope that helps.

All the best,
Jeff Nichol, DVM