Need help, 1 year old cat has severe behavior disorder when “scared”

es1234567

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Hi there,

I have two cats. One is a ginger who is a sweet boy who absolutely loves attention. The other is a mature lady who is very social and calm. They are 1 and 1/2 years old and were raised/fostered together as kittens but aren’t from the same litter. Once my male cat was 8 months old there was an incident involving a paper bag that he got tangled up in. When we came home and found him like that, he was very very upset, screaming at our other cat who seemingly had nothing to do with the situation. He screamed (ears pointed back, howling, following/staring at our other cat) for about a week, whenever he was out of the basement where we keep him when he does that. He’s had “relapses” that last only a couple days about once every 2-3 months or really when something scares him. Sometimes we are able to figure out what gets him all upset but other times it seems random. Recently he’s started to get upset at us too when he freaks out. This last time he saw a fox outside the window and got scared. He actually swatted at our other cat while howling, he screamed at everyone who came near him and then later that night while asleep on my lap, he woke up and hissed at me and attacked me. He’s attacked me twice before this but never unprovoked (as in he was scared and I was trying to move him away from my other cat or put him in the basement) he’s also attacked another family member for similar reasons. Im sorry for how long this is but does anyone have a similar problem? I’ve read about PTSD in animals and thought maybe that could be it? We’ve tried Prozac multiple times but without success. I love this cat and have known him since he was a baby at 4 weeks old and would hate to have to take drastic measures.
 

CatladyJan

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It does sound like possible traumatized. You said you gave Prozac was this through the veterinarian? If so, I'm assuming this cat has had a thorough check up to rule out anything physical. If not, I would strongly suggest that. I believe their is an article on here about traumatized cats (I tried to find the link for you). In the meantime maybe kitty needs a little time out and it's own space to recoop.
 

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This is a common, if very strange, thing called "redirected aggression". Apparently, cats aren't the only animal that suffer from it, but they are very prone to it. "A" scares cat, and cat lashes out at "B" human or pet that is merely nearby, or touches stressed cat. We have an article on this that I link at the end of this lengthy post, and there is tons of info available on the internet as well. However, your cat seems to be very prone to this. That is much less common, and while we have good time honored advice for dealing with particular incidents, and repeated events from the same trigger (basicaly, avoid that trigger), I haven't seen any learning as to the best therapy when a cat is very prone to redirected aggression and has episodes from multiple different triggers. While I haven't seen any learning specific to this situation, its not a great mystery what is going on. Essentially, your cat has a very low threshhold for getting stressed. As such, medication could be tried. Medication is not normally needed for redirected aggression, and I am not aware of any learning or articles specifically on this, however there are multiple medications used to treat anxiety in cats, which logically could help, and Prozac is far from the only option.

We could also consider non-medication ways to reduce cat anxiety in general, which might help. I'll leave that one to others since I haven't personally tried some of the things that usually get recommended.

We should also think about whether there are other possible causes that are increasing the cats anxiety, and making it more prone to redirected aggression. It sounds like you aren't aware of anything specific and the vet has given an otherwise clean bill of health, so this may not be productive, but its something to keep in mind. For example, you might end up discovering that an outside cat can be seen from a window sometimes, and this could be the cause of most of your episodes of unknown cause.

Obviously, you can try to avoid the triggers as best you can. If you see fox or stray cat in the yard before your pet sees it, close the window shade or move the cats window box to a different window, for example. As far as what to do when an episode happens, I recommend isolating the other cat. Picking up the stressed cat may lead to an attack -- your better off giving the cat space. So getting the other cat out of the area for a bit (I can't say whether you would need minutes, several hours, even a day or two), will prevent fighting and longer lasting problems. If they fight before you can separate them, you will need a much longer separation -- likely at least a day or two, maybe longer. If you can't avoid your cat, or get attacked when trying to avoid, you can use a towel to grab your cat and put in an isolation room. Thats likely to lead to more stress for the cat and should be a last resort.

An outside animal is a very normal trigger. We have a lot of folks that have a big problem because a cat keeps coming bye that can be seen outside a window or glass door. So the fox would be a normal trigger. Also, any severe sudden stressor like stepping on the cat or dropping a dish when the cat is somewhat nearby is a relatively normal trigger. It is *much* rarer for everyday kind of things to trigger this, and if this is what is going on in your case, that is what leads me to believe that medication might be appropriate.

If you have a toddler in your home, this is a very dangerous situation. Otherwise, you should have time to pursue various strategies such as different kinds of medication while you minimize the damage of the episodes by avoiding your cat and getting the other cat out of the area.

Some links from our articles are below, but again, there is a ton of info on this now that you know the term "redirected aggression".

Good luck!

Re-directed Aggression In Cats – TheCatSite Articles
https://thecatsite.com/c/stress-in-cats/
 
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Originally the kitty was unsure of what was attacking so the aggression was an attempt to survive? Poor kitty. All is not lost though. First of all, please don’t do anything drastic. This is a lot like figuring out a puzzle. Is kitty in any pain? Any sight or hearing issues adding to the stress? As mentioned by CatladyJan CatladyJan a vet investigation is in order. Not just a wellness exam but a real going over. If nothing is apparent then it’s going to be working to make kitty feel safe and calm again. Prozac may not be effective but just like with humans, body chemistry is different in every cat. What works for some may not work for others. There are many other options. To start with some simple ones, Feliway diffusers help some cats. Calming collars may work. Other medications. Have pain medicines been tried? It could tell you if there is pain of pain meds stop the aggression. Then you can track down where the pain is occurring. If this is trauma related then there are probably triggers. Watch carefully to try and determine if sound, scent, touch, sight or even things like food may trigger an event. Keeping a daily journal may help to pinpoint a possible problem. (Example: kitty jumped when I touched the spine by his neck. Or kitty had an episode after eating food contains seafood.) A list of things you may not recognize as clues right now. All our senses can remind us of past events. The same is true of kitties. Even if kitty is asleep and a scent that is associated with a bad event becomes present, kitty might become fearful and go into instinctive survival mode. You can try playing some background music to calm kitty. I have found that radio playing softly acts to be a sort of white noise for a couple of cats here. You are sure that the bag incident was the original problem? Any chance of previous scare or pain? A paper bag is something most cats should be able to escape unless it was one with handles like shopping bags. Perhaps he wanted to hide there from something else and you just thought he was tangled or got tangled in the process of hiding from a pain. Maybe he was trying to stay in the bag instead? Can you give him a little cat cave in each room and start giving him treats and things he loves in those spots? A secure and safe sanctuary might be a place he would retreat to instead of attacking. It can be something as simple as a box or carrier that has a towel draped over it. I rescue ferals and seeing or snelling other animals outside can cause fear episodes. For those cats, I let them stay in a room with windows that are covered with blackout curtains.
There are also blankets and toys that purr or have a heartbeat that can act as a calming sensation. There are so many options still open to you to be explored. Please don’t give up. I have seen reactions like this myself and with exploration the cause and solution did turn up. Right now I lean more towards a pain or discomfort of some sort. Yes, it can be fear but in most of the cases I have personally seen were triggered by discomfort first. Even food allergies, dental pain or something as simple as gas pain can scare a kitty. They don’t understand where the pain originated and mistakenly react towards whatever creature is in the immediate vicinity. Redirected aggression does happen but first rule out health status. Please do keep us updated. With all the personal experiences of people here, this is something that can be improved and maybe eliminated completely. Keep a piece of stiff cardboard nearby to act as a barrier between kitty and whatever gets attacked. Don’t try to grab him. That will only make things worse. Hang in there! We’ll a try to help to figure this out.
 
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es1234567

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We have taken him to the vet, with COVID I was unable to go in with him and watch the exam but the vet called me and told me there was nothing physical going on that he could see and diagnosed him with anxiety. We’ve tried playing calming music for him and given him an aroma scent collar, all seem ineffective. I did find a cut on his chin yesterday, and thought maybe he was in pain, but I can run my fingers over it without it seeming to either bother him or for him to even notice. My guess is that he may have nicked himself when he attacked me the other day as he was really flipping out and clawing at everything near (the couch, the water bottle, etc)
Obviously we no longer try to move him, but he seems to be redirecting his anger more to me now than anyone else. Last night another adult in our home stepped on his tail (obviously it was an accident) and he got really upset and came out of the room he was stepped on in and began to scream at our other cat. I was able to calm him down (cause he wasn’t going crazy it was more of just him crying) by talking to him in a calm baby voice and he seemed fine after that. About an hour later he was playing with my arms underneath the blanket while I laid on the couch, which we don’t allow him to do because he’s a big cat. I told him no and brought my arms slowly out from under the blanket. He jumped down and began hissing and howling at me. I was forced up on the top of the couch with a pillow. He sat about a six feet away and just howled at me and was getting closer, hopping up on the couch with one paw and clawing in my direction with the other. Finally someone else woke up and my cat, who adores him, followed him into the basement where he is currently. He only seems to redirect at me and it’s almost like I’m a trigger. We are thinking of rehoming him but I’m not sure how to go about it because we wouldn’t wish this behavior on anyone as well as would feel horrible if anyone got hurt as a result.
 

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Well, stepping on the tail is a normal trigger, and sometimes the stress can last a bit - you might have needed to isolate longer.

I think you can beat this, but if you were able to rehome him to a home without any other pets or children, I don't think you need to feel bad about that. You have your other cat to think about after all. As long as you fully disclose the issue so that an appropriate home is found, thats ok. Not every cat is ok in a multi-pet home.
 

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If it is anxiety it’s going to take some time. How was he tangled up in a paper bag? Did it have handles as Jcatbird Jcatbird said? When he jumped up on the sofa to play and you remove him he may have felt rejected. Have you taken him off the Prozac? That drug has made some people very mean. You may want to have your vet run a blood panel. In the meantime he does need a sanctuary where he is safe. Calming collars take a while to start working and aren’t 100% effective. Get a kick toy large enough for him to wrestle with. Keep us posted.
 
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es1234567

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Yes he was tangled in the paper bag. He is also off the Prozac as it didn’t seem to have any effect on him. He’s tried the treat versions of Prozac and the skin-lotion. We will try to find him larger toys. :) thanks
 

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Yes he was tangled in the paper bag. He is also off the Prozac as it didn’t seem to have any effect on him. He’s tried the treat versions of Prozac and the skin-lotion. We will try to find him larger toys. :) thanks
A kick toy it allows them to take out their aggression/energy. If you have a bunch of old socks you can stuff several inside of one to make your own. Also, isolation in a sanctuary and give it lots of time.
 

ArtNJ

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Yes he was tangled in the paper bag. He is also off the Prozac as it didn’t seem to have any effect on him. He’s tried the treat versions of Prozac and the skin-lotion. We will try to find him larger toys. :) thanks
The "parachute run" is another thing that happens with cats and can stress the heck out of them. (I remember when we thought a paper grocery bag was a harmless thing they seemed to enjoy.)

So far I'm hearing mostly normal kinds of triggers. If we assume an outside cat has been seen some of the times you don't know the cause, then all of these events are fairly normal, and if you can solve the outside viewing issue, you might go 6 months (or longer) without another event. If you live somewhere where winter is coming, that might solve the outside cat issue (if there is such an issue) for a bit on its own.
 

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If you are playing with him using your arms but then telling him no, he probably gets confused. Try the kick toys or some other fairly large stuffed toy that he can do with as he pleases. Using any part of our body to play or even to shift a cat unexpectedly can lead to misunderstandings for the cat and to frustration for them. It could also lead to a reaction from him. Maybe a simple restructuring of a different form of play and maybe letting someone else be the one to tell him no or remove him from places he should not be can get this calmed down. I think rehousing him might just reinforce his fear and insecurities unless they are directly related to something there and no where else. To rehome him, If possible,you would need to try and establish a bond between him and the someone else who was willing to take him before the relocation to help avoid further trauma for him. I really think solving the issues there is your best option. I do think it can be solved.
 
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es1234567

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We've never allowed playing with our arms/hands, toys only. He's always had a harder time learning how to retract his claws and have nice touches. He's quite the handful, but we love him. I know he would be so scared without us which is why I came on here looking for some sort of a solution. His mother was a feral cat and was too nasty and actually had to be released back into the wild by the cat rescue organisation that found her and her kittens. Maybe that has something to do with this whole thing. Most of the time the cause of distress is clear, but then he keeps bouncing from being fine and happy, to violent at a drop of a hat. I know he's still traumatized from whatever stressful thing that happened but we just can't keep allowing our other cat to live in an environment like that.
I've been crying for days about this whole thing, he just keeps on getting worse and I don't know why. He comes to me to be held and snuggled and then snaps out of the blue and will attack me. I'm not talking about taking a swat at me and then running off. He continually swats and scratches all while following me/stalking me and screaming. I am forced onto coffee tables and couchbacks and can't move. He doesn't do this to anyone else, but he will then be upset because I don't want to hold him because I don't want it to happen again, it makes everything worse because he can't get the love and reassurance he usually gets from me.
I was told by his vet to put him back on prozac, this time for a longer period. But just getting him to take the prozac makes him relapse and howl again. It is a domino effect. I am also putting more boxes around the house with blankets in them to give him lots of spots to rest and hide.
Sorry for the rant, I'm just out of options and sick about this whole thing.
 

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We've never allowed playing with our arms/hands, toys only. He's always had a harder time learning how to retract his claws and have nice touches. He's quite the handful, but we love him. I know he would be so scared without us which is why I came on here looking for some sort of a solution. His mother was a feral cat and was too nasty and actually had to be released back into the wild by the cat rescue organisation that found her and her kittens. Maybe that has something to do with this whole thing. Most of the time the cause of distress is clear, but then he keeps bouncing from being fine and happy, to violent at a drop of a hat. I know he's still traumatized from whatever stressful thing that happened but we just can't keep allowing our other cat to live in an environment like that.
I've been crying for days about this whole thing, he just keeps on getting worse and I don't know why. He comes to me to be held and snuggled and then snaps out of the blue and will attack me. I'm not talking about taking a swat at me and then running off. He continually swats and scratches all while following me/stalking me and screaming. I am forced onto coffee tables and couchbacks and can't move. He doesn't do this to anyone else, but he will then be upset because I don't want to hold him because I don't want it to happen again, it makes everything worse because he can't get the love and reassurance he usually gets from me.
I was told by his vet to put him back on prozac, this time for a longer period. But just getting him to take the prozac makes him relapse and howl again. It is a domino effect. I am also putting more boxes around the house with blankets in them to give him lots of spots to rest and hide.
Sorry for the rant, I'm just out of options and sick about this whole thing.
Do you have just a room for him?
Do you have a crate to keep him in?
I'm sure this must be not only frustrating but scary as well.

My oldest cat is 'moody' sometimes and she has come after me for whatever reason was in her head so I can appreciate that.

So my understanding is he gets along with others in the household, perhaps they can work with him.

Have you been around other animals regularly where he might be smelling that? Did you change any soaps, perfumes ...?
 

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It is scary and exhausting. I am so sorry. Would your vet be willing to try a different medicine? Make sure he understands the Prozac is having an opposite effect. That does happen with some. I might even ask for a pain medication just to see if he is in some undiagnosed pain. It might work! If it did, you would know to look deeper into his physical system. Ferals of many generations do react strongly but this is being set off by something specific. Please hang in there. Try letting another family member do some of the work with him just so you can get a break. You need it and deserve it. It may be beneficial to the kitty too. One thing not mentioned yet is trying body language with him. Cat speak sort of. If he saw you ignore the bad behavior, walk away calmly as possible or turn away, that would tell him you are dismissing him and are not accepting the behavior as well as refusing to retaliate as another feral might. He may try to swat at the back of your legs or something but removing yourself from the situation might be a start. I do strongly suggest using something inanimate like the pillow or cardboard to be a wall between you and him when he is agitated. Keep a toy nearby to put into his paws if he grabs you. Let him attack that instead. If he cannot retract his claws, that could be a pain issue. I have a cat with that problem and if I don’t clip her claws the can split into the quick causing a lot of pain for her. :alright: We are all trying to get to the bottom of this with you. It takes us asking a lot of questions to understand but please bear with us. We really want to help you and all there. Our hearts are with you.
 
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es1234567

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Do you have just a room for him?
Do you have a crate to keep him in?
I'm sure this must be not only frustrating but scary as well.

My oldest cat is 'moody' sometimes and she has come after me for whatever reason was in her head so I can appreciate that.

So my understanding is he gets along with others in the household, perhaps they can work with him.

Have you been around other animals regularly where he might be smelling that? Did you change any soaps, perfumes ...?
He does have the basement where we put him when he reacts like this, but when he wants to come out, it can be very challenging to keep him down there and we especially dont want him to feel as though he is being punished. But he definitely has mutliple rooms he could retreat to if he wished.
 
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es1234567

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Thanks to everyone who has replied so far, I really appreciate it. On another note he also doesn't sleep when he gets like this. He just spirals I suppose.
 

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Maybe if your vet can’t give him some relief you could try another? Sleep deprivation really does make me think that there is something stimulating him. An outside animal or some discomfort of another sort. There is an answer. We just have to sort it out. It’s easy to label a cat as having behavior problems but it could be something as simple as a bad tooth. You could ask the vet office for a list of things that the vet checked. Get his records and just look to see if his teeth, urine etc. were checked. Another possible simple but temporary fix would be covering windows.
By any chance, did you change foods or any cleaning products at the time he started this. A new perfume or body product? That can be something a cat would react to as well.
 

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Thanks to everyone who has replied so far, I really appreciate it. On another note he also doesn't sleep when he gets like this. He just spirals I suppose.
I would seriously consider getting a blood chemistry done and like Jcatbird Jcatbird said have your vet let you know what all has been checked? He could be in pain that you are unaware of or there has been a change in scent... Could be an inner ear issue to.
Hang in there with us.
 
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es1234567

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Thanks, I am considering taking him back to the vet to do so, but will need to wait till he has calmed down. He goes weeks with being absolutely fine, so hopefully he will return to normal soon?
 

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Weeks at a time without issue? Then hopefully he is due for another settled time. That does make me feel there is a set trigger to this though. Maybe we will be able to put a paw on the problem.;)
 
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