Inter-Cat Aggression (HDYTT)

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two cats fighting

Dr. Lisa Radosta, veterinary behavior specialist, joins the podcast to scatter a PILE of knowledge pearls upon us! This is a wonderful discussion of inter-cat aggression and what vet professionals and clients can do to maximize their chances of success.

You can also listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Google PodcastsAmazon Music, Soundcloud, YouTube or wherever you get your podcasts!

LINKS

Dr. Radosta Links: https://linktr.ee/drradostadogresources

Florida Veterinary Behavior Service: https://flvetbehavior.com/

Dr. Lisa Radosta Homepage: https://drlisaradosta.com/

Solensia (Zoetis)

Dr. Andy Roark Exam Room Communication Tool Box Team Training Course: https://drandyroark.com/on-demand-staff-training/

Dr. Andy Roark Charming the Angry Client Team Training Course: https://drandyroark.com/charming-the-angry-client/

Dr. Andy Roark Swag: drandyroark.com/shop

All Links: linktr.ee/DrAndyRoark

ABOUT OUR GUEST

Dr. Lisa Radosta graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2000. She completed a residency in Behavioral Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. During her residency, she was awarded the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists Resident research award two years in a row. 

Dr. Radosta is the owner of Florida Veterinary Behavior Service, a specialty behavior practice in southeast Florida and co-owns Dog Nerds, an online educational resource for owners whose pets have behavior disorders.

She is a sought after speaker nationally and internationally. She is a coauthor of several books including: Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, 4th edition and From Fearful to Fear Free. She is a contributing author for Blackwell’s Five Minute Veterinary Consult, Blackwell’s Five-Minute Veterinary Consult Clinical Companion: Canine and Feline Behavior, Decoding your Cat, Canine and Feline Behavior for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses and Feline and Small Animal Pediatrics. Her new textbook, Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, 4th Edition is due out May, 2023.

She has published research articles in the Journal of Applied Animal Behavior Science, Journal of Veterinary Behavior and The Veterinary Journal and written review articles for Advances in Small Animal Medicine and Surgery, Compendium, NAVC, Veterinary Team Brief, Clinician’s Brief and AAHA Newstat. She has served on the Fear Free Executive Council and the AAHA Behavior Management Task Force.

She has been interviewed for many publications including Cat Fancy, Dog Fancy, Palm Beach Post, NAVC Clinician’s Brief, Sun Sentinel, WebMD, AAHA trends, Real Simple, Good News for Pets, Catster, DVM 360 and AAHA News Stat. She has appeared on Lifetime television, Laurie Live, local news in southeast Florida, Mitch Wilder’s Amazing Pet Discoveries, Nat Geo Wild, Animal Planet, Steve Dale’s Pet Talk and Dogs, CNBC and Cats and Scapegoats.  


EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Dr. Andy Roark:
Welcome everybody to The Cone of Shame Veterinary Podcast. I am your host, Dr. Andy Roark. Guys, I am here today with a one and only Dr. Lisa Radosta. We are having a conversation about multi-cat aggression, or inner-cat aggression, I should say, but yeah, we start breaking it down. I asked her to set up a little case with three cats, and then just kind of open it to her, and, again, I love having Dr. Radosta on the program. She is so fun, and she tells great stories, and she’s just a wealth of information, and, man, she’s linking to all kinds of resources in this podcast. I’ll put them all in the show notes. Definitely hit the notes, take a look at all the stuff that’s there, but, man, this is a great episode. Let’s get into it.

Kelsey Beth Carpenter:
(Singing) This is your show. We’re glad you’re here. We want to help you in your veterinary career. Welcome to The Cone of Shame with Dr. Andy Roark.

Dr. Andy Roark:
Welcome to the podcast, Dr. Lisa Radosta. Thanks for being here.

Dr. Lisa Radosta:
Thank you for having me.

Dr. Andy Roark:
I always enjoy having you here. You have been a regular in the podcast. You are, for people who don’t know you, you are a boarded veterinary behaviorist. You are the owner of Florida Veterinary Behavior Service. You are an author of so many things From Fearful to Fear Free was just one of your books. You’ve written for the clinical handbooks. You have so much that you put out, and you’re such a source of wisdom. I so enjoy our conversations. So I wanted to come to you with a case, and I’ll sort of lay it out, but I want to get a general refresher on this topic, because I’ve seen it recently, and I want to make sure that my game is on point here.
So I’ve got a client, and she has three cats, and they are getting in fights, and so one of the cats is newish, but she has these three cats, and I just wanted to go ahead and start to get your take on apartment living, three cats, newish cat is not getting along; it’s not all-out war, and it’s just kind of one of those things where they’re having fights, but why I say the cat’s newish is because it wasn’t like, “Here’s the new cat, and it’s World War III.” It has been, at first, it was okay, and then it was not, and then it kind of was okay for a while, and just every now and then, they’re getting into it, and so can we talk a little bit about inner-cat aggression? Is that okay?

Dr. Lisa Radosta:
Yeah, let’s do it.

Dr. Andy Roark:
All right, three cats. Is that normal? Does that change how we approach this, as opposed to two cats? Let’s just start there.

Dr. Lisa Radosta:
Look, it makes it more complicated, but it doesn’t change our approach. So, number one, well, here’s generally going to happen, at least in my experience, is they’re going to bring you one cat, and they’re going to say Fluffy-

Dr. Andy Roark:
The culprit, the villain.

Dr. Lisa Radosta:
The villain. It’s always, “Fluffy X, Y, Z.” So you have to try, and I remember sitting with this elderly man. Sometimes you sit with these older people, and they are just a hoot. He was just a hoot, and every time he roadblocked me, he would do it with a big smile on his face. So then, with a big smile on my face, I would explain to him why he’s wrong. It was just a fun appointment. It was an inter-cat aggression appointment, but anyway, so they have these ideas. So the first thing I say is, “Okay, well, here’s the thing. It takes two to tango, and, most likely, at least in my experience, if you have arguments, both cats are involved. If there’s three cats arguing, three cats are involved.”
So here’s what they’ll say, “Well, when I put Cat 1 up, nobody argues, and everybody gets along. It must be Cat one,” and I say, “Well, Cat 1 changes the dynamic enough, but Cat 1 may not be the person, the cat, who’s causing the problem,” all right? So that’s the first thing, is we say, “Okay, just so you know, Ms. Jones, I’m going to need to see all the cats,” and the first step in every behavior appointment, I do not care what the presenting complaint is, I do care, but not for this talk, is to work the cat out. Cats don’t tell us when they’re sick, so you’re going to have to get a needle out, you’re going to have to draw some blood, you may have to take some x-rays, send them to… What is it? The Zoetis Solensia website, where they show the cats jumping. Love this website. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say products, but I do love that site, because the clients then can see, and one client videoed her cat doing every single activity, sent them to me so I could see it.
It was kind of fun, but anyway, the point is, I look for pain, I look for systemic disease, because maybe these cats were getting along in the beginning; somebody’s sick, someone’s irritable, someone’s acting differently. So everybody’s going to need a workup, okay? A lot of clients will push back and say, “I’m sure, I’m sure, I’m sure,” and I just tell them about my experience. “I’ve been sure, and then I treated a case through about eight months, and I couldn’t resolve the case, and you know why? Because as a doctor, I didn’t push hard enough for that lady to bring in her other cat, because the other cat needed a workup, too. So I’m going to you the best I can give you, and that’s everybody coming in, everybody getting a workup.”
So that’s the first step. Clients will bring you, because they bring their phone, videos and pictures. This is what I love. Do you ever watch the home improvement shows? And you know when they pull back the big barrier, and they see the house, and the person goes, “Oh, God!” Right? This is it. So then, they pull out their phone, she pulls out her phone, and I say, “Okay, show me the pictures.” This just happened to me, because she was sure she brought me the aggressor. I’m like, “Okay,” and so then the first picture is both cats sitting in a meatloaf position, so everybody’s defensive, both of them in a bright room, widely dilated pupils, and I went, “Oh, my God,” and she goes, “What?” And I go, “They’re both scared!” And she goes, “No!” I’m like, “Yes!” And she goes, “I can’t believe it!” I’m like, “Yes!” So then she [inaudible 00:06:11]

Dr. Andy Roark:
You were practicing a soap opera. I would just come and watch you work.

Dr. Lisa Radosta:
It is. So then she flips to the next one. I’m like, “Oh, that tail,” and this is a video, “That tail’s thumping. That cat’s agitated.” She goes, “It is?” I’m like, “Yes, it is.” So once you see the pictures, if you know anything about body language, and you might have a technician, a nurse, a doctor’s assistant, who knows a lot about body language, right? Once you start showing the client, “There’s the proof. That’s the radiograph, okay? That’s the MRI,” you’re showing the proof on her phone that everybody’s involved. Now, she’s coming in, right? So that’s step one.

Dr. Andy Roark:
Yep. Do you have resources you really love for body language for pet owners who want to learn more about it?

Dr. Lisa Radosta:
So if you go to my profile on Instagram or Facebook, you go to the profile, there’s Linktrees. There’s a Linktree for cat resources, a Linktree for dog resources, a Linktree for vets. So then you will see I update that all the time. I grab stuff from all over the place and stick it onto that Linktree. So there’s everything, from body language, to carrier training, everything. Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Andy Roark:
Love it.

Dr. Lisa Radosta:
So yeah, the thing is, we want to educate people. We want to be preventative. I know we’re talking about treating, but what people need to know is about 50% of cats show some sort of conflict when they fight. So that’s the number one statistic we want to put into our veterinary brains. Cat is coming into you, first appointment, you’ve never seen this cat, just adopted into a family of a current client who has cats. You want her to know 50% of cats have an argument, and I want to tell you what an argument looks like: ears back, tail thumping, hissing. Because what they’ll say is they weren’t swatting, they weren’t biting, they weren’t chasing. That’s good, but that’s end of that spectrum. At the beginning of the conflict is ears back, tail thumping, hissing.
So when you see that, think of that as conflict. That means you don’t want to go farther with the introduction. What they need to know is 35% of those cats are still fighting at least once a week a year later. So we have to, as vets, go, “Here’s the thing: if you saw any of those signs, we got to go super, super slow. Maybe you need a cat trainer, right? Maybe you need to follow this handout that I’ve written for you, or that I have. Our new textbook has a handout in it for introduction. Actually, I think it’s on my website. So follow that exactly, because if you start the cats off right, the likelihood they’re going to be here in a year for fighting is a lot lower.

Dr. Andy Roark:
Yeah. No, that makes sense.
Hey guys, I just want to jump in real quick and let you know I have a secret. I have something that is coming for you that is really wonderful. As you know, I love to have fun, I love to facilitate teams learning together, and laughing together, and getting to know each other, I like to make things that are kind of zany and off the wall that will bring joy into practice, and, guys, my team has been working so hard on something very special for you. It’s not a webinar, it’s not a conference, it’s not an event, it’s not a summit, it’s not a training program; it is something entirely different, and so I just want to give you a quick heads up that there’s something exciting coming down the pipes. If you want to get the inside scoop, you can hunt around the DrAndyRoark.com website, or some of my emails, and see if you can find the question marks.
Look for some question marks, and that will link you up to some information, and some clues, and you can start to make your way towards figuring out and finding out what I got for you, but anyway, it’s going to be something really fun, and really exciting, and I can’t wait to share more with you soon. Now, let’s get back into this episode.
Okay. I love the idea of getting in the phones, I love the videos, I love working with the cats, things like that. How do you start to… You and I talked in the past about it, and you had made a distinction between the two different drivers of cat aggression. Do you want to start there as far as how you weighed into these?

Dr. Lisa Radosta:
Yeah, so you’ve got the cat who a new cat’s introduced into the home, and there’s conflict, and that conflict could be over anything. It could be one cat is fearful, it could be one cat is not well, one or more, it could be that the resources in the house aren’t plentiful enough, et cetera, et cetera, and the way we educate those clients looks really different than the way we educate the second group of clients. Those are clients whose cats, these are often littermates, not always, but often, that get along really well. I mean, they sleep in a pile of cats, which is one of the ways we figure out if cats are actually BFFs, and then they’re in a situation where one cat gets really scared, and redirects aggressively toward the other, and the relationship is forever changed. When I see that second group of cats, at least, in my practice, way better prognosis, because a couple of reasons. They had a good relationship prior. They had something to go back to, right? And also because usually clients get them to us pretty quickly because they’re shocked at what’s happening. It feels urgent because of the change in the behavior.

Dr. Andy Roark:
Yeah. No, that makes sense. Okay, so we talked about, I love the idea of setting the expectation, “This is going to take time, this is going to be a process.” Is there anything else you do to sort of set up expectations like that at the beginning?

Dr. Lisa Radosta:
Yeah. So one of the first things we do is educate. Here’s how cats live. If you ever had a barn, or barn cat, which I did, you pour out the food, and the cats come together, right? But then the cats scatter, and you notice the ones that are hanging out together look the same, bunch of ginger cats, bunch of tuxedo cats. Why is that? Because cats live in matrilineal colonies. So I tell the client, “Look, the moms, and the sisters, and the aunts, and the grandmas, they all live together, and they take care of each other’s babies, but God help you if you’re another cat, and you’re not related, and you try to come into that group, because they’re going to be aggressive toward you. So let’s normalize that what your cats are doing normal, right? Let’s also normalize that they’re not sisters, they’re not family, they’re roommates, but you did not ask them if they wanted a roommate. You just got another cat, right?” So let’s first empathize for the kitties. That’s the first thing.
The second thing, it depends on the situation. If the situation’s really bad, so if I say seek and destroy, cat sees other cat, goes after it, then I’m going to explain to them that this is going to be a challenge. “These are ways we can treat this. We can separate. We could separate forever. You could live with your cats separated. That is the cheapest thing to do. That is what your cats want, and you will divide your time, and your cats’ time will be divided. Number two, we can medicate and manage them. They can be together when you’re there to interrupt them. All across the board, of course, we’re going to do environmental enrichment, that’s a given, and then the third option is to do behavior modification with a cat trainer.
That’s going to be done virtually almost 100% of the time. That is going to be six months of your time. We’re going to meet every two weeks, and I just want you to know that, a lot of times, after six to eight months, the cats relapse and have a fight. So I want you to think about this as marriage counseling. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to any sort of relationship counseling. It’s just how I talk to people, and you don’t have to tell me that you have, but what I can tell you is that that’s not a fix. Sometimes those people are triggered again, and they fight again, right? So your cats are going to be in that situation, too. So whatever you do is up to you. I’m here to be a part of the solution. Here’s the options.”

Dr. Andy Roark:
Yeah, that makes sense. I always ask about environmental enrichment, because I think it’s so useful, and it’s so often overlooked by pet owners, and it does so much for the quality of life of cats. What are your go-tos for feline environmental enrichment? What do you love?

Dr. Lisa Radosta:
There’s a book called The Indoor Cat, which is a great, great book that is all about enrichment. That’s all that the authors write about in that book. So I tell clients to get that. Of course, I send them to our resources, but here’s the troubleshooting point, because I think the veterinarians and the veterinary nurses and technicians listening to this podcast have a lot of knowledge. Where’s the troubleshooting? When you say, “I want you to enrich the environment,” first of all, I was shocked when I got a follower on Instagram who DM’d me to say, “What is enrichment?” I had done like five posts on enrichment. “What is it?” So watch your lingo. People don’t know what that means. Okay, does your cat have stuff to do?
And then here’s the next thing they say, “Yes, my cat’s got a toy box full of toys. My cat doesn’t need anything,” and I say, “Okay. You’ve got to break through that challenge. That challenge is coming. So either you break through it by getting ahead of it,” which is what I try to do to say, “One thing we need to do is enrich your cat’s environment. Enrichment is giving your cat stuff to do and engaging all five senses, and I know, because you’re here, that you’re an amazing pet parent, and I know, because your butt is in that seat, that you got a full toy box full of cat toys, and I also know that my husband is going to walk into my closet tomorrow and say I have enough black high heel shoes, and he will be wrong, right? Because he will think I’m plenty and rich, but shoe-wise, I’m not, and your cat isn’t either.” So that is the way I talk to them, and they’ve got a smile on their faces. Now, they’re like, “Oh, that’s funny.”
So then we talk about the five senses, and we talk about rotation. Your cat is so smart, and he’s got the same toys in front of him every day. That is no fun, right? So we’re going to rotate; three toys in the drawer, bring out three new toys every day. Plus, there’s the toys that he has in his box. I tell them my three-step process for finding what your cat loves. Number one, you go on to whatever your search engine is, you Google, let’s say, “Cat toys,” and you just spend an hour shopping. You spend your budget for that month, and then you get those in the mail, and then you log, with your pen and paper, on your phone, what your cat played with, and you write down the exact characteristics in detail. Month two, spend your budget on only toys that have those exact characteristics. Repeat. By month three, you will have what your cat likes, and go forward from there, rotating and keeping it new and fresh for him.

Dr. Andy Roark:
Yeah. Oh, I love it. That’s amazing. Are there any common pitfalls that you see? Are there any mistakes that I should look out for, anywhere that I mess this up, or make my life harder?

Dr. Lisa Radosta:
Yeah, I mean, the clients, every part of our job, they push the limits too soon. I didn’t give all the cephalexin. I don’t even think we used cephalexin. You could tell me, because I don’t do skin anymore, but I didn’t give all the antibiotic. “My dog looked pretty good,” right?

Dr. Andy Roark:
It’s good enough we stop, yeah.

Dr. Lisa Radosta:
It’s good enough we stopped. So what we’re going to see is the cats are going to fine behind the closed. So the client’s going to call you, or email, or text you, and say, “I opened the door. I just wanted to see,” but the problem is, and this is what I have to explain to them, “The problem is that one negative, it takes me 1,000 positives to outweigh that one negative. So you can’t break the rules, and we did it this time, we’re going to let it go, but you can’t break them in the future. “

Dr. Andy Roark:
Yeah, that makes total sense. Oh, man. Dr. Lisa Radosta, you are amazing. Thank you so much for being here and talking through this with me. I always enjoy our time together. I have got a ton of links I’m going to be putting down in the show notes so that people can go and find. Let’s go ahead. I’m going to put you a link to your website. Are there any other resources? Talk a little bit about your social medias. Clearly, you’re active on Instagram. Where can people find you?

Dr. Lisa Radosta:
Yeah, @DrLisaRadosta is where you’ll find me, and we post on everything behavior in little digestible bites; dogs, cats. We’re living and breathing it, and I love it.

Dr. Andy Roark:
Sounds great. I will add those links as well. Guys, thanks for being here. Take care of yourselves, everybody.
And that is it, guys. That’s what we got for you. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope you got something out of the episode. Thanks so much to Dr. Lisa Radosta for being here. Thanks to you for being here and listening. Yeah, if you like the podcast, do me a favor, leave me an honest review wherever you get your podcasts. It means the world to me. Anyway, that’s all I got. Gang, take care of yourselves. Be well. I’ll talk to you soon.

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