Animal Welfare Professionals

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  • 1.  Cage/Territorial Aggression in Cats

    Posted 03-02-2022 10:26 AM

    Hi everyone,
    I'm looking for some ideas on how to work with a cat who becomes agitated and aggressive when staff attempts to touch anything in his cage. 

    The cat, Sammie, is an approximately 3 year old neutered male. He is on gabapentin twice daily to help manage his stress. When he first came into the shelter, he was completely unhandleable. He would hiss and growl as soon as he saw you walk into the room, and any attempts to enter his cage space would be met with swatting and lunging. After a week or so, we were able to do limited petting, but he would still become aggressive if we attempted to move anything in his cage (litter box, dishes, bedding, anything). We decided to leave the cage open and give him the opportunity to roam the whole room, where he's the single occupant. It's been a few weeks now and he's definitely improved. He will meow to greet us when we walk in the room, will solicit pets, and has even begun coming out of the cage and into our laps when we sit on the floor with him. However, he still gets upset if we attempt to move anything around in his cage. Even if he's not currently in his cage, he will run back to it to defend his things if he sees us messing with them. He does not display this behavior when we move things outside of his cage.

    I'm hoping someone has experienced this before and knows how we can help him overcome this hurdle. In the past when I've worked with territorial cats, getting them out of the cage pretty much solved the problem. Do you think it would help to close the cage so he can no longer access it? It is currently his safe space where he chooses to sleep and spend much of his time, even though he is able to access the entire room 24/7.

    I appreciate any insight you might have!


    sam maurice

  • 2.  RE: Cage/Territorial Aggression in Cats

    Posted 03-03-2022 02:08 PM
    I worked with a pet owner whose cat did this and we resolved it in two ways. First, we gave the cat resources that no one else could touch. As the cat gained more confidence it was more willing to allow the owner into its space.

    We also had a situation with a cat at the shelter that did this. I don't think we ever found a solution other than to not touch the stuff. Once the cat went into a home, it became more confident and the issue has lessened.

    In both cases, the cats came from backgrounds where it's likely that they had little that was their own, and so they probably being overly protective. Respecting their space and body language were incredibly important.

    It's interesting that you can move stuff out of his space but not in his space. Although I know the situation is frustrating, it does sound like you're making great progress.

    Allison Hunter-Frederick
    Cat Behavior Consultant & Trainer

  • 3.  RE: Cage/Territorial Aggression in Cats

    Posted 03-04-2022 07:37 PM
    Thank you! He is making really great progress, especially in the last week or so. Hopefully it continues so he can find his home!

    sam maurice

  • 4.  RE: Cage/Territorial Aggression in Cats

    Posted 03-04-2022 11:19 AM
    Hi Sam,

    Quirky cats definitely keep us on our toes. Some cats do VERY poorly in confined spaces- whether its territorial behavior or anxiety about the loss of control, i don't know.  I agree with you about not preventing access to his cage- it's his safe space and these feelings almost certainly come from a need to feel safe. 

    If he's the only occupant of the room and the cage door stays open, can't you put food/water and litter box on the floor of the room? I'd give that a try to reduce invasion of his personal space.   And I'd REALLY try to find a foster home for him.   In my experience, 99% of these cats do really well once they're in a more secure environment, and i expect it will go away. 

    The other thing i'd do if  he's not going to into foster in the next few days is a longer acting medication, since he clearly is experiencing stress and anxiety.  I've had really good success with fluoxetine with this type of cat, but please talk to your veterinarian about it :).

    You could also classically condition him and associate approach of his space with something really good.  E.g., 2 - 3 times per day, take a step toward his cage and then give him somethign he LOVES (canned food on a spoon, special treats, a tiny bit of tuna), and doesn't get other times. Over time get closer to his cage.   The goal being for him to learn that when you approach his cage, good things happen. 

    Dr. Sheila

    Sheila Segurson, DVM
    Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
    Maddie's Fund

  • 5.  RE: Cage/Territorial Aggression in Cats

    Posted 03-04-2022 07:49 PM

    Thank you! I was actually going to foster him, but then a pipe burst and soaked a third of my house, so I'm out a foster room for a little while. Unfortunately, those in charge of the fostering program don't feel comfortable placing him in any of the foster homes we have.

    His food/litter/water are on the floor now that we have the cage open, so we are able to get to the essentials. Now it's really just bedding in his cage. We don't change it out on a daily or even regular basis, but, for instance, if he's pushed his blanket and it's almost falling out of the cage, we can't push it back in without him getting upset. Or today he tipped over his covered bed, which is where he always sleeps, and we had to use a wand to get it upright because he got agitated when we tried to touch it. We can sit right next to his cage though and he's fine with that, its when we actually try and move anything that he gets upset.

    I will definitely mention fluoxetine and see if our vet staff will give it a shot. I'm also going to start trying classic conditioning as you suggested. He does love treats, so I'm sure we can find something extra good that he'll enjoy.

    Thanks again!

    sam maurice