Cat redirected aggression or pain-induced aggression

Dr Fogle calls redirected aggression pain-induced aggression (it is also referred to as ‘transferred aggression’). I have not seen that alternative term before. It seems to me that the pain that is induced can be either physical or emotional. Although Fogle means that it is physical pain. He thinks that it might happen as part of providing veterinary services.

Cat redirected aggression
Cat redirected aggression. Image by MikeB

For example, a cat owner brings their cat to his clinic and he provides his usual high-standard service. The cat is taken home where she either bites her owner or beats up her feline buddy. Or, he says, you might accidentally step on your cat’s tail and rather than attacking your foot the cat attacks another cat nearby.

He does not explain why cats redirect aggression like this but says that it is rewarding for the cat as it releases ‘excitement chemicals in the brain’. He says that it is ‘more common than you may think’.

For me, the reason why domestic cats redirect their aggression in this way is because they feel that they can’t direct their aggression against the source of the pain. Why should that be?

A cat may have had a nasty scare outside which forced them to flee. It winds them up and they attack the first animal (including the human-animal) they can inside the home to retaliate against the source of the scare. Or perhaps in the examples provided by Fogle, the cat feels unable to retaliate against the vet or their owner for emotional reasons but finds it acceptable to express their anger against another cat in a multi-cat home.

This does not always apply as cats might attack their owner inside the home if they’ve suffered a scare or been attacked outside. As usual it depends on the cat’s character.

Fogle also says that cats who are in pain for medical reasons might perceive it as being delivered by another animal and attack their owner. Now I think about it, this form of redirected or pain-induced aggression is common.

If an owner picks up their cat, who is suffering from chronic low-level pain, they may well bite their owner believing that the increased level of pain was caused by their owner. For the cat it will be an instinctive response as if she is being attacked herself which is the reason for the increased pain.

If this particular scenario occurs the owner should take heed that their cat is probably in pain and deal with it. The problem arises because of domestic cat is driven by hard-wired instincts inherited from their wildcat ancestor.

Because instinctive behavior is predictable and repeatable it should be possible for the owner to get to the bottom of redirected aggression and avoid recurrences. And for me it works both ways as humans can redirect their aggression against their cat!

Human redirected aggression (towards cats)

Domestic cat attacks their own tail because of redirected aggression

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