An email  from Feb 2013:

Hi  Dr. Nan,

I hope you remember me.  You helped me with Josie my old 18 year old semi long haired Calico and came to my house last June.   

The reason I am e-mailing you is because I need your help again.  Without keeping you tied up on the phone for an hour, I thought I could fill you in a little before we talked.

I had rescued a litter of 5 kittens from a drainage ditch on 9-18-2011.  I was successful at finding all of them homes. Just this Wednesday I got one of them back after the woman had her for about 1 year and 2 months.  I always keep my word to the new owners that “If it doesn’t work out, I will take it back.” This female kitten is obviously having behavioral problems or there is something medically wrong with it.  The attachment is a picture of her at 3 months old. She was only 1 week old when I rescued them and their mother.  The other kittens are completely different from this one as far as personalities.  The 3 boys are all really nice loveable cats I am told. The other female cat is o.k. as far as I know.  Since the other female kitten is a client of Palmetto Pet Hospital, they have had no complaints as far as temperament problems, health etc.  The last I spoke to the new owner, they were thrilled with having her.

This particular kitten that I have gotten back is Jesabelle.  She is and has been acting extremely strange. I am just now finding out for myself what the woman who had her has been dealing with all the time she had her.  She is extremely affectionate and then just growls and hisses and is aggressive. She was the most spunkiest out of the litter, and we laughed when she was spitting before her eyes were even open.  That did stop. She seemed to be a bit more alpha than the rest of the kittens, but apparently she got a whole lot worse. She will rub up against your legs then start growling and hissing and trying to bite.  The woman had her declawed, (which I don’t agree with), but she said it was because it was clawing at her furniture. She did not want to tell me what was really going on. She was hoping that all was going to work out.  She truly wanted to keep her, but she would be aggressive with her grandchildren. She told me that Jesabelle didn’t run and hide when they were there, she would stay there and be aggressive towards them. She would also be affectionate and then even when she wasn’t petting her she would growl spit and hiss at her.  It’s weird. I took a nap with her and she was laying upside down, content stretching touching my face oh so gently and then bam……………She would start to growl and hiss at me. She apparently has been like this the whole time. She seems like she is craving affection. You can rub her and she will love it, then when you stop or if she’s had enough, she will try to bite and growl.  When you go to leave the room, she will follow you like….”please don’t leave me and stay with me”. She will play with me with the feather wand for a while and when you stop, she will start to growl or hiss at you…..Strange. My husband seems to think it could be brain damage. Could it be territorial aggression, redirected aggression. petting aggression? A brain tumor?????? A medical condition????????  Help! She is a beautiful, healthy looking cat. 

Could you come to my house to access the situation, maybe give her a physical and give me your opinion as to what I should do?  I need to help her if I can. I need to find out just what I am dealing with here. I am hoping with all my heart I can help her with medication or something so I can find her a home again. I cannot keep her and I don’t want to disrupt my peaceful, harmonious loving cats and Doberman “Natasha”,

I want to get her settled in for at least another week or so and I really need someone to come here to see the problem at her normal unusual behavior.  She seems like she is adjusting to her suite downstairs. She has her own bedroom and bath. It’s the same place (although she doesn’t remember) that she was when she was just a baby.  I don’t know how booked up you are so that is why I am contacting you now.  


Hi Jean!  Of course I remember you!

Is this poor sweet little kitty really named Jesabelle or is that a statement about her temperament? says that’s a “shameless, wicked woman”. Is this self-fulfilling prophesy? LOL

This is a complex and interesting syndrome.  It’s often seen in tortoise-shelled female cats.  I don’t have a scientific name for it. Lots of kitties have been booted out because of it.  

Several thoughts:

  • growing up in a calm environment, then being put in a stressful one (like coexisting with damn grandkids) can make a kitty feel threatened
  • there are certain hypersensitive spots on the kitty’s body that are “no touch” zones (see funny picture below)
  • sometimes aggression is misplaced./displaced/redirected … she is upset about odors or the appearance of other cats, often outside and only visible through a window.
  • aggression can be a primary thing, just as in people.  Stress hormones, neurotransmitters, sex hormones…. who knows how many possible factors.  She is spayed, right? This would be a big one.
  • there are calming pheromones that can help… they come in an air-freshener type wall dispenser. Here’s a link to buy Feliway pheromone spray:
  • behavioral conditioning  can help….. there are lots of little tricks we can discuss
  • prozac can sometimes fix it, even if we can’t figure out exactly why it’s happening.  It comes in a transdermal cream that you wipe on her ear flap daily. Easy to do.

Purdy, one of the cats I have here at my house belonged to my mom.  He routinely bit and scratched just like this, unexpectedly and sharply.  She had stitches once, a pretty bad hand infection once, and then the LAST time she developed MRSA and almost lost her arm.  Serious stuff. So now Purdy lives here with me. He has not hurt me yet, but I am a formidable cat lady with a Masters in psychology.   SO…. every time he has bitten me, I have crammed my hand into his mouth and down his throat. It embarrasses him completely. I have effectively taught him to avoid that.   My mom had the normal reaction of snatching her hand back as soon as he bit down. That just served to tear her skin. As per the funny picture below, I touch him only in permitted areas.  His head and neck. I never touch him anywhere else. Daily I turn him upside down on my lap. He’s vulnerable that way and I imagine I am teaching him trust. And I never yell at him for anything.  If he misbehaves, I squirt Windex in his general direction.  It doesn’t even have to be close. Kitties HATE that ammonia odor.  Usually he just has to see me pick up the bottle. His eyes get wide and he’s outta here!  I keep one bottle by the bed and one on the kitchen counter. (For the rare instance that I want him off the table and not sharing my plate.  Usually, my cats know no rules. After all, and I say this over and over:  you can’t micromanage a cat.)    

This is my Purdy. He really is a sweet boy.

I found this on the internet last week and it explains a LOT: 

WHERE TO PET A CAT  (and where NOT to)

Hilarious enough, but the serious thing is that behavioral issues really are the #1 cause of euthanasia in cats.  Having dealt with it myself, I can understand why. My big boy has really turned around in a year, but who would I have given this kitty to  if I couldn’t keep him myself?  The local pound kills 100% of the adult kitties that are turned in to them by the owners.  100%.

So, you and I need to sit in the hot tub, drink wine and hash this out.  A good physical for Jesabelle and an hour on my analysis couch might give us some clues. 

We can do this any evening.    Call my appointment people at 888-553-7626 and pick a time late in the day.  We will need a while.  

But I do like a challenge.  🙂


Petfinders has an excellent and detailed four-part article:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Channelling Predatory Aggression

Some more reading:

Cornell Feline Health Center has a short summary article.

Talk about redirecting aggression? Let’s just get totally worn out.   Watch this youtube video.