Something really upsetting just happened! Me and my roommate—a longhaired tabby who looks quite a bit like me—were looking out the window into the backyard. It’s one of our favorite things to do because there’s a bird feeder out there, and lots of birds come and hang out. But earlier this afternoon, all the birds suddenly flew off and this huge gray and white tom cat came stalking through our yard! That was disturbing enough—both me and my roommate fluffed up—but then my roommate turned around and attacked ME! It was like he thought I was the intruder. He chased me into the laundry room and cornered me behind the washing machine. I was stuck there for hours, waiting for him to leave. Now I’m scared to be around him. We were really great friends, but now he’s acting like I’m a stranger he’s never seen before. What can I do?
Freaked Out & Fluffed Out
Dear Freaked & Fluffed,
I doubt this will make you feel any better, but your roommate is suffering from a classic case of something humans call “redirected aggression.” In other words, the incident with the tom upset him so much that he just had to attack someone, anyone and you just happened to be the nearest target. But it’s really pointless for me to go into definitions and explanations. I imagine that at the moment you couldn’t care less about why your roommate attacked you, or what his behavior is called. Humans, on the other hand, are fascinated by such things. I heard a saying once which surprisingly came from another human, not a cat. It had something to do with having more “brains than sense.” That’s what it should say after the word “human” in those dictionary books they love to read so much, and that we love to sit on so much.
In any case, you’re more concerned about action than analyzing. You want to know what you can do about this terrible situation. I do want to say that you did the right thing by running away and hiding. A cat who is in the throes of redirected aggression has pretty much lost his head. Trying to fight back is only going to make the problem worse. And there is nothing you or your human can do to calm down a cat in this state. The best thing you can do is put distance between yourself and your aggressive roommate until he calms down. How long is this going to take? It’s unpredictable, really. You could wake up the next morning to find that he’s back to his normal self. Or he could treat you like the worst type of intruder indefinitely. I do want you to know that however long he behaves like a wildcat, it’s not your fault. As long as you do nothing to provoke him and keep a low profile, you are not adding to the problem. In fact, that’s really all you can do for now—nothing.
What I’d really like to know is where is your human while all this has been going on? Along with providing hand-delivered gourmet meals, humans are supposed to deal with problems like this one. Your human should be keeping you two separate so you don’t wind up stuck behind a washing machine for hours. And if your roommate continues acting nasty, your human should be making sure you are safe and slowly reintroducing the two of you bit by bit. It’s no fun having a battlefield as a home, and it’s really the human’s responsibility to take care of situations like this one. If your human is ignoring the problem or being neglectful, I personally think that a bit of redirected aggression in his or her direction is in order.