DEAR JOAN: I have a 3-year-old part Siamese cat — very vocal, very social and extraordinarily gentle with my young granddaughters.
Harriet was adopted along with her brother, Ozzie, when they were 8 weeks old. We lost Ozzie last year to complications with a blockage. We also have two dogs and, believe it or not, the dogs have managed to stay alpha over her.
Now for the problem. We had a change in behavior with Harriet when we brought Ozzie home from the vet after two nights away. Harriet acted like she didn’t know who he was and wanted to attack him. We separated them with a screen door so Harriet could readjust to her brother. He was fine, she was horrible.
Now Harriet is an only cat and hangs with the Aussies while they are in the house. My son’s dogs (Labs) have been in this house since Harriet was a kitten. Now, if these dogs come in, she attacks them.
My brother-in-law came to stay for a few days with his dog, and we had to put Harriet away in a bedroom for the duration for fear of an attack and someone getting in the way of her tunnel vision.
What would cause this change and what can we do to gradually alleviate this aggressive behavior? She is still the sweet gentle girl with everyone on two legs.
Patty Hector, Martinez
DEAR PATTY: It’s behaviors like this that have earned cats the reputation of being a little insane. However, if we remember that cats are among the most sensitive of creatures, we can better understand the slashing and biting.
Cats don’t like change. They might tolerate it, but they seldom willingly accept it. As they can’t write to their congressional representative or file a law suit, they are left with loudly complaining about the change and sometimes, scratching the living daylights out of something or someone.
I think Harriet was very upset about the sudden disappearance of her brother and longtime feline ally. It doesn’t matter that he was only gone two nights, she didn’t like it. When he came back, instead of warmly embracing him and saying welcome home, she lashed out at the object of her pent up anger — Ozzie.
Now that Ozzie is, sadly, not a part of the family, Harriet has not accepted that change. In short, she misses her brother and the only way she knows of expressing that is to battle mightily against any outside animal that isn’t Ozzie. The Aussies are fine. They were there before Ozzie died and still are there, so they are part of her normal. Other dogs coming into the house, even if she knows them, are part of her not-normal.
Siamese cats can be a bit mercurial and it will take time for Harriet to adjust. How long will depend on her, and that’s unpredictable. She might not ever fully accept the world without Ozzie, but you can help her.
Continue to show her love and affection. Perhaps give her a little extra. When dogs visit, make sure they don’t encroach on her space. Instead of putting her in her room, maybe you can put the dogs in a different room or outside, until Harriet has some time to process it.
She might see her dogs as alpha, but she’s still the queen.
Why does the cat suddenly turn into a monster when dogs visit?