Fear aggressive cat? Humane handling and restraint
You may have heard of the term ‘stress stacking’. Perhaps you even suffer from it yourself. But as a human, you can generally rationalise what’s going on and choose how to deal with it. If you are a cat entering a cattery; familiarity, routine and options are taken away from you one by one. The first level of anxiety may begin with the sudden arrival of suitcases and the appearance of the dreaded pet carrier. From there on, it can go steadily downhill.
Fear aggression happens when a cat perceives a threat and is unable to change or remove itself from the situation. The degree of the threat is often related to prior experiences, with the more pain or discomfort felt in the past, the more heightened the fear aggression will be. Having an in-depth understanding of feline body postures should guide you as to how best to approach (or in some instances – leave) the cat. Signs of fear induced aggression include dilated pupils, ears flattened against the head, limbs tucked under the body, low body position, swiping with paws, hissing, spitting and growling.
Your aim as a carer is to prevent any of these signs from developing or escalating. There is plenty you can do in regard to environmental enrichment, synthetic pheromones (plugin or spray), provision of games, height and nest options (Feline Fort) so that the cat develops a positive experience during its stay with you. But what about handling? In the first instance, top opening carriers are the preferred option. Allow the cat to come out of its own accord and keep its bedding. This allows the cat to build up its own scent profile and helps it to feel more secure in the otherwise strange environment. Avoid looking directly at the cat. When eye contact is necessary, blink slowly. Being consistently calm and gentle and talking to the cat in a quiet tone, using its name frequently can help to build trust.
If you do have to move the cat, gently hold or cradle it against your body and stroke the facial pheromone sites – cheeks, chin, forehead and mouth. If you are giving treatments to the cat, work around the cat allowing it to position itself. Prioritise any procedures to leave the worst to last. On occasion, there may be unfortunate instances when greater intervention is required in order to prevent the cat from endangering itself or others. This may be in an emergency such as fire, flood or escape. Gentle handling using the protection of animal handling gauntlets may be used with scruffing being a last resort.