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Cats + Behavior

  • As cats age, we generally see changes in their behavior. The wild and crazy playful activities we associate with kittens gives way to adult cats sleeping in the sun and prowling around the house. We commonly presume senior cats will take even longer naps in the sun or on our beds. It is important, however, to differentiate normal feline behaviors from abnormal ones, as some behavior changes in aging cats arise from pain and are definitely not normal.

  • With mild or minor behavioral problems, clients are often able to correct the problem by means of reward-based training, as is outlined in the other handouts in this series. However, when problems are more serious, it is easy to make the problem worse rather than improving it.

  • Displacement behaviors are usually normal behaviors that are performed at an inappropriate time, appearing out of context for the occasion. Displacement behaviors arise from situations of either conflict or frustration. Conflict refers to the situation in which an animal is motivated to perform two or more competing behaviors (e.g., approach or withdraw, greeting but fear of being punished).

  • Behavior problems can be due to medical or behavioral causes, or both. A clinical history, physical examination, and diagnostic testing will help determine if there are underlying medical conditions contributing to the problem.

  • Behavior problems may be a result of normal behaviors that are unacceptable to the owners or may be an abnormal behavior for that species.

  • This is a broad topic that includes a variety of therapeutic options including herbal remedies, homeopathic remedies, nutraceuticals and supplements. There are few controlled studies to show that any of these treatments are effective in pets.

  • It is not unusual for behavior problems to develop in older pets, and often there may be multiple concurrent problems. Some of the changes associated with aging may not seem significant, but even a minor change in behavior might be indicative of underlying medical problems or a decline in cognitive function.

  • It is generally believed that a dog or cat’s cognitive function tends to decline with age, much as it does in people. If your dog or cat has one or more of the signs below and all potential physical or medical causes have been ruled out, it may be due to cognitive dysfunction.

  • Aggression is defined as threats or harmful actions directed toward another individual and can include threat displays, lunging, growling, snarling, snapping and biting. In animals, aggressive behaviors are a means of communication.

  • A number of drugs are now being utilized to treat pet behavior problems. To determine if drug therapy might be a consideration, it is first essential to determine the diagnosis and cause of the problem.

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