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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Cat
Satisfied Customers: 28467
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 45 years of experience.
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Hi please can ypu help us but we have a two year old black

Customer Question

Hi please can ypu help us but we have a two year old black that keeps attacking my 9 year old daughter for no reason she goes for eyes face if my little girl sits on the sofa she jumps up her and attack it's really upsetting me and I am not sure what to do I don't what to get rid of her but every time it happens my daughter gets really upset hope you can help us thank you
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Cat
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 3 years ago.
Aloha! You're speaking with Dr. Michael Salkin
I have advanced training in feline behavior and I'm afraid that I'm going to be quite discouraging. Please read my review of Mia's behavior carefully and respond with further questions or concerns.

Some cats may display aggression toward their owners when displaying assertiveness. Cats that have this type of problem usually display a confident temperament. They exhibit assertive or status aggression by biting or threatening when the owner attempts to approach or handle them or to simply show their displeasure or anxiety with their place in the hierarchy in your home. The bite behavior may be an attempt to control these situations. Assertive displays, pushy attention-seeking behavior and attempts to control the environment by blocking access to doorways and refusing to be moved from perches or sleeping areas may also be displays of social status. One sign that might signify this type of aggression is aggression toward members of the household that a cat can control (your daughter), avoiding aggression with family members that control the cat and do not routinely give in to its demands. The prognosis is guarded as these cats may be dangerous and the problem may have both innate (he may have been feral as a kitten) and learned components (she may not have been socialized prior to the important age of 7 weeks). Too many of my owners have ended up hospitalized due to cat bites and scratches. You must decide whether Mia's risk to your daughter is warranted vis a vis attempting to manage her inappropriate behavior. If you're willing, management involves the following:

Make the situation safe - identify stimuli leading to aggression - avoid confrontation and any stimuli or interactions that elicit aggression - teach simple commands such as "come" or "sit" by using food lures whenever Mia is receptive to food or play.

Withhold rewards unless earned - Mia should be taught to defer to you for any treats, affection or play. For instance, play, affection and treats should never be given on demand but can be given if she responds to a command. After a few weeks of teaching deference, she can be taught to accept stimuli that have triggered aggression. You would need to begin by performing a behavior that has triggered aggression in the past but in such a muted way that no aggression is elicited. If no undesirable behavior is exhibited, she is given a very tasty food reward or play. Once she's conditioned to accept a mild level of the stimulus, the sessions can progress with stimuli that very gradually become stronger.

Punishment must be avoided but undesirable behavior can be interrupted with alarms or a can of compressed air. Care must be taken with this approach since some strong stimuli can make a cat more aroused and aggressive.

Uninhibited aggressive displays that appear impulsive, explosive or excessive may be reduced with psychotherapeutic drugs - SSRIs - such as paroxetine (Paxil) or fluoxetine (Prozac). I'm not a fan of drugging cats for what, in essence, is normal behavior for many cats. Drugs, however, are an important resource for the determined owner.

As mentioned above, Mia is a significant danger to you and others to whom you might rehome her. A nine year old can't be expected to know how to avoid such dangerous behavior and so attempting to recondition Mia as I've described may be too dangerous and so you should seriously consider removing her from your home. One scratch to the eye can blind. If you're highly motivated to keep her in your home, I would suggest your seeking council with a board certified veterinary behaviorist who will come to your home and examine the dynamics therein. Mia's vet should be able to refer you to such a specialist or you can find one here: www.dacvb.com I like the idea of keeping her sequestered in a darkened and quiet room until her level of arousal abates or perhaps making her a purely outdoor cat - where she needn't socialize to an extent past that which she's amenable.
Dr. Michael Salkin and 2 other Cat Specialists are ready to help you
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 3 years ago.
Thank you for your kind accept. I appreciate it.

I'm going to check back with you in a week for an update. Feel free to return to our conversation - even after rating - prior to my contacting you if you wish.

Please disregard the info request.