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Non-Recognition Feline Aggression

Have you ever taken one of your cats to the vet and then return home and your other cat acts like it's never seen the cat before - greeting it with hisses, growls and swats?

This is called "non-recognition feline aggression" - yes, it's a real thing! "Non-recognition aggression can be dangerous for the cats and even be redirected to humans." says Dr. Borns-Weil, DVM, head of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University.

Here is what's happening:

  • Cats communicate most strongly with their noses - scent.

  • Each cat has a signature scent that is deposited on each other an the home environment, creating a communal scent of their home territory.

  • When the cat returns from the vet, his scent is overlaid with smells from the clinic.

  • The returning cat may have also released fear pheromones, or smell sick.

  • Upon return, the home cat recognizes these scents as a threat, or a reminder of something fearful they experienced.

  • The home cat cannot respond to the direct threat so he redirects the aggression to the returning cat.

How to mitigate it:

  • Desensitize cats to their carriers and car rides

  • Use pheromone, feline calming pheromones (plug ins and sprays)

  • Delay the reunion - do a mini version of cat introduction (found on our home page)

  • Make a gradual reintroduction

  • Scent swap: before going to the vet, rub each cat's cheek with a sock; seal the sock (separately) in a plastic bag and when the returning cat comes home rub him with both pairs of socks. Do not rub socks on the home cat.

It's interesting to note non-recognition aggression does not typically happen between cats and dog companions.


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