I have discussed this before but I have not used the phrase ‘non-recognition aggression’. The interesting aspect of this form of feline behaviour is that the non-recognition is usually, and perhaps nearly always, due to the inability of one cat who is friendly towards another to suddenly be unable to recognise the scent or body odour of the other cat. In my opinion it is rarely about visual non-recognition for the following reasons.
A cat’s appearance cannot change significantly. It is simply impossible unless there has been severe injury. However, a cat’s scent can be temporarily obliterated if the cat is bathed or it can be altered substantially or masked by the scent of a place that a cat has recently visited such as a veterinarian’s clinic.
A domestic cat’s sense of smell is so finely tuned and she depends so thoroughly on her nose to recognise and understand what is before her, that it does not take an awful lot of change in the other cat’s scent to confound her.
It is important to understand that cats rely on their sense of smell much more than humans do. We have all seen it: cats coming up to us and sniffing. They might do this while we sleep just to check if we are still there and okay. Even when they have lived with a cat guardian for many years they will sniff that person’s leg to check and be reassured. When a cat checks out possible food they do so with their nose and so on.
It is a world of smells for the domestic cat compared to our world of visuals. I feel that the cats sense of smell is at least as important to them as their sight.
As there are many two-cat households, I am sure that many cat owners have experienced feline non-recognition aggression after one cat has returned from the vet’s. The other cat decides that the scent is wrong and that is belongs to an alien cat, an invader and a stranger. It is bewildering and the only thing to do is to attack. It is that invasion of a cat’s home range which provokes the aggression. It may just be a hiss at a distance. It need not be a full-blown attack but the aggression, even if defensive, is there.
Wiping down the cat with a damp cloth might hasten the removal of the deposit of alien scent on the “victim’s” fur. Or the cat will groom herself and remove it. As soon as the scent is hers everything is back to normal.
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