redirected aggression in cats

Last week, my cat Magpie bolted out of bed (stepping on my face) at 5:30am. Her abrupt exit was followed by terrified yowling from my cat Bunny. I went downstairs to find Bunny cowering below our china cabinet, with Magpie hissing and glowering and her tail puffed larger than I’ve ever seen it. I removed Magpie from the room and closed the doors to it. Magpie immediately bolted for the other door into the room and commenced pacing between them.

I had to let Bunny out of the room eventually and Magpie wanted nothing more than to stalk and attack her again. I started reading online about “redirected aggression” in cats, which completely fit Magpie’s behavior. I suspect that Magpie saw a cat or other threat outdoors and happened to be beside Bunny and associate the threat with her.

I was able to confine Bunny with a litterbox and food in my office. She eventually escaped because the door does not close properly (#victorianhouseproblems). We have been keeping the door closed by using a miniature air jack but must have done it incorrectly once so she got out. She seemed pretty confident wandering the house, but Magpie was still more aggressive than we liked, so we put Magpie in the office, hoping that the litterbox scents would help her re-associate Bunny as a fellow household member. For the first 24-48 hours after release, all seemed well – Magpie and Carlos were getting along (third cat Carlos was at first very wary of both Bunny and Magpie) and Bunny even joined them a few times for snuggles.

Unfortunately, Bunny still has memories of the event and seems to get startled and hiss at Magpie. I think the problem is compounded because my jerk neighbors continue to set off fireworks at all hours of the day and night (to the extent that I’m sympathetic with defunding police, it’s because the ones in my town seem to completely fail to enforce anything – I cannot even count the number of times I’ve seen someone run a stop sign in front of a police car!). Anyway, Magpie does not appreciate being hissed at, and she especially does not apreciate that Bunny hisses and then runs away. The running seems to triger Magpie’s predator instinct and Magpie will corner her and swat at her face. She has also become aggressive and territorial, chasing Bunny off our bed a few times when both used to lie happily with us every morning after breakfast. (She lets Carlos on the bed, but Carlos isn’t as rewarding a companion because he doesn’t particularly like to be petted.)

I had really hoped the problem was behind us after a seemingly succesful reintroduction, but Bunny seems to have regressed and has taken up residence in a closet for the past 48 hours. I am trying to reset the dynamic again by placing Bunny in a suite of rooms that is well-suited to acclimate cats to one another. There is a sunroom with a window looking into the interior hallway so they can see each other and interact through glass, and the room connects via a larger room and a closet to D’s office, so the cat getting acclimated can spend time with us in a room we are in frequently on weekdays. I think it’s better to have her in the office with me so that she can rediscover her interest in human interaction (I am holed up despite the beautiful weather catching up on work and finishing my law school applications, just taking a break to write this because it is so on my mind as Carlos and Bunny cuddle next to me in a cat bed that all three of them used to crowd into) and plan to fix the door next week.

I really had no idea that cats could do this. I have no idea how long this will continue and it’s very sad because these two were fast friends for so long.


  1. Senor Don Gato

    Surely you can do better than this. The reason the cat has gone bonkers is the cat’s surroundings. There is something in the environment – a ultrasonic tone maybe from a bug zapper, a low frequency hum, an aggravating noise, screaming, cats outside or on your roof clawing or howling – something. There could be eagles or other Raptors perched in the cats line of sight. If there appears to be no nuisances like these, then the cat has either gone mad or injested some sort of heavy metals or other intestinal obstruction. No matter which, there is no fix but one fix and you may well find that two cats are quieter than three.

    • LOL, the cat has not gone mad and nothing is wrong with the cat beyond whatever set off her initial aggression. The cat also hates the fact that neighborhood strays come onto the property (hopefully ultrasonic movement detectors to deter the other cats will not bother her inside).

      The cat also has a history of moodiness towards the others, the problem here seems to be that her principal victim is overly dramatic and refuses to submit appropriately.

      • Senor Don Gato

        Dont underestimate the ultrasonic tones. They are high pitched.

        It is understandable that the other cat doesnt want to submit to a cat that is behaving crazy. That might just make the crazy cat crazier, but the other cats can’t be responsible for the psychosis in the one cat.

        • Magpie is not crazy. She has always been a control freak. Bunny has just forgotten her place in the hierarchy. I’m very sure that order will be restored eventually, but thanks for the heads up that the movement detectors can bother them inside.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *