Reviewing aggression in dogs, cats and parrots - Veterinary Practice
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Reviewing aggression in dogs, cats and parrots

Caroline Bower reports on the BVBA meeting held on pre-congress day at the BSAVA

THE theme for this year’s British
Veterinary Behaviour Association
(BVBA) study day was “Aggression
– medical or mental” and we
were fortunate in having five
exceptional speakers presenting
their approach to medical and
behavioural causes of
aggression in dogs, cats and parrots.

So we tackled furious felines,
pugnacious parrots and cantankerous
canines! All this is too much for one

First up was Danielle Gunn-Moore
who gave us a comprehensive and
extremely entertaining hour highlighting
medical causes of aggression in cats,
accompanied by some incredibly
realistic cat impressions.

The main messages were that any
conditions causing pain or stress will
contribute to cat aggression, and that
they are masters of deception when it
comes to hiding their feelings, unless the
observer knows exactly what subtle
body language they are looking for.
Hence, severe aggressive behaviour can
appear to come without warning.

We should assume that any sick cat
may be in pain, and handle with great
sympathy to avoid exacerbating the
problem and potentially precipitating
aggression. Some painful conditions
should be obvious – e.g. arthritis, otitis,
oral disease – but we need to remember
that pancreatitis, GI and urinary disease,
hypertension headache, and
inflammatory brain disease, as well as
numerous other conditions, are also

Danielle made an interesting point
about whisker hyperaesthesia or pain in
diabetic cats with peripheral neuropathy,
or following chemotherapy. These cats
may refuse to eat from a small feeding
bowl or scoop the food out onto the
floor with a paw. Hospitalised cats need
somewhere to “hide” to reduce stress
levels, plus effective analgesia. Hiding
can be achieved without compromising
observation by judicious use of boxes
or feline forts in kennels, so that we can
still see at least part of the cat, but the
cat can turn away and not see us.

She also made the point that we
need to be careful in interpretation of
blood pressure monitoring in older cats
with arthritis; pulling the limb forward
quickly to apply the cuff can be enough
to cause transient hypertension due to
discomfort, and thus an erroneous

Sarah Heath followed, with a
presentation which beautifully
complemented Danielle’s, explaining
how important it is for cat behaviourists
and medics to work together closely as
so many cases of aggression have a
medical component.

She explained how important it is
for veterinary staff and owners to observe the subtle signs of passive
aggression before the cat is sufficiently
aroused to resort to active aggression and attack.
Passive behaviours may include changes of ear position, avoiding eye
contact, staring, muscle tension.

change of approach or environment can diffuse the wind-up to active aggression,
but once a cat is fully aroused veterinary
staff need to understand that it will take
at least 30 minutes before the cat will be
calm enough to handle, and only if
placed in a calm and quiet environment.

It is much safer and will waste less
time if they give the cat a break when it
first becomes agitated. Sarah reminded us that many cats in
multi-cat households live together in a
state of chronic stress and that there can
be many signs of passive aggression between individuals which the owner is
unaware of, leading to behavioural and
medical disease problems.

She also told us that cats introduced
to each other after the age of 2-3 have
no social mobility and therefore
compatibility is often hard to achieve,
whereas younger cats and kittens may
adapt to each other more successfully.

Resident cats can only be deemed
truly compatible if they are observed to
groom each other and sleep in physical

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