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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Cat
Satisfied Customers: 32861
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 45 years of experience.
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Hi-3 weeks ago i was passing my 16 year old pet cat when he

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Hi-3 weeks ago i was passing my 16 year old pet cat when he wrapped his paws round my bare leg & viciously sunk his teeth into a vein-i later had to attend hospital.
Any thoughts why he would do this?-Am a foster mum & if he does it again he will have to be put down
Aloha! You're speaking with Dr. Michael Salkin
I believe that the clue that explains his aggression toward you is that you're a foster mum. I have advanced training in feline behavior and although I can't be there to examine the dynamics of your situation first hand, I would consider redirected aggression to be most likely.

Finn's redirected aggression, then, occurs when the target of his aggression (you) is not the stimulus that triggered the state of aggressive arousal. Territorial, fear-induced and defensive aggression are the types of behaviors that are likely to be redirected by him. Stimuli that can cause an aggressive state of arousal include the sight or sound of another cat (at times quite far away from the home), unusual noises, odors of other animals, unfamiliar people (you're a foster mum), and unfamiliar environments. A common situation is one in which the pet becomes aroused upon seeing or hearing another cat while sitting in a window. When the owner attempts to pet it, pick it up, or nudge it away from the window, it attacks. It may show aggression toward another pet when approached in similar situations. Redirected aggression is a common cause of the sudden appearance of aggression between cats in the same household that have been living together amicably for quite some time. This type of aggression is probably the most dangerous type of aggression cats exhibit due to the uninhibited nature of the bites. Treatment involves identifying triggers for arousal and then removing the pet's access to the stimuli. You may have to be quite the detective as stimuli can be imperceptible to owners. Medication can be beneficial for reducing Finn's response to environmental stimuli - psychoactive drugs such as Prozac have been used. The most important thing that I can impart to you is to be careful around Finn when he is aroused. Too many of my owners have ended up in the hospital due to infected bite wounds. One encouraging fact is that many of our cats will habituate to the arousing stimuli and "self-cure" within weeks to months.

Altering this behavior in a 16 year old may be next to impossible and I don't advocate psychotherapeutic drugs at this age particularly because there may be significant cognitive dysfunction (senility) in such an elderly cat and such drugs may be contraindicated. This doesn't give you many options. Not being a foster mum because your cat is unhappy doesn't make sense to me. Unless you can avoid Finn when he's aroused - and that's very difficult to predict - rehoming him or euthanizing him are reasonable options. There's simply too much risk to you and other people's health.

Please respond with further questions or concerns if you wish.
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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.