FROM THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF FELINE PRACTITIONERS
AAFP gratefully acknowledges the generous support of
Hill’s Pet Nutrition. Without the finances and other resources
which Hill’s supplied, this project could not have been completed.
© 2004 American Association of Feline Practitioners. All rights reserved.
The AAFP Feline Behavior Guidelines report was also reviewed and approved by the Feline
Practice Guidelines Committee of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the
American Association of Feline Practitioners Board of Directors.
Behavior Guidelines Committee
Helen Tuzio, DVM, DABVP, Feline Practice
Forest Hills Cat Hospital, Glendale, NY
Thomas Elston, DVM, DABVP, Feline Practice
The Cat Hospital, Tustin, CA
James Richards, DVM, Director,
Cornell Feline Health Center College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Lorraine Jarboe, DVM, DABVP, Feline Practice
Olney-Sandy Springs Veterinary Hospital, Sandy Springs, MD
Sandra Kudrak, DVM, DABVP, Feline Practice
Community Animal Hospital, Poughkeepsie, NY
These guidelines were approved by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) Board in December 2004 and are
offered by the AAFP for use only as a template; each veterinarian needs to adapt the recommendations to fit each situation.
The AAFP expressly disclaims any warranties or guarantees expressed or implied and will not be liable for any damages of
any kind in connection with the material, information, techniques or procedures set forth in these guidelines.
Karen L. Overall, MA, VMD, PhD, DACVB, ABS
Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, Panel Co-Chair
Research Associate, Psychiatry Department, University
of Pennsylvania, School of Medicine; Philadelphia,PA External Reviewers
Merry Crimi, DVM
Ilona Rodan, DVM, DABVP, Feline Practice, Gladstone Veterinary Clinic, Milwaukie, OR
Cat Care Clinic, Madison, WI Terry Curtis, DVM, MS, DACVB
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
Bonnie V. Beaver, DVM, MS, DACVB
College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Steve Dale
Science; Texas A&M University; College Station, TX AABC (Association of Animal Behavior Consultants),
Tribune Media Services/WGN Radio, Host of
Hazel Carney, DVM, MS, DABVP, Syndicated Animal Planet Radio, Chicago, IL
Canine and Feline Practice
Idaho Veterinary Specialists; Four Rivers Feline Special Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB
Treatment Center, Garden City, ID and Ontario, OR Doncaster Animal Clinic, Thornhill, ON, Canada
Sharon Crowell-Davis, DVM, PhD, DACVB Susan Little, DVM, DABVP
Department of Anatomy and Radiology, University of Feline Practice, Bytown Cat Hospital, Ottawa, Canada
Georgia, Athens, GA Mandy Miller, DVM, DABVP
Nicole Hird, VMD, DABVP, Feline Practice Feline Practice; Cat Care Clinic, Madison, WI
Northwest Animal Hospital, Columbus, OH Michael Paul, DVM
Sandra Kudrak, DVM, DABVP, Feline Practice MAGPI Consulting, Anguilla, BWI
Community Animal Hospital, Poughkeepsie, NY Sheldon Rubin, DVM
Elaine Wexler-Mitchell, DVM, DABVP, Feline Practice Blum Animal Hospital, Chicago, IL
The Cat Care Clinic, Orange, CA Ronald Schultz, PhD, DACVIM
Professor, School of Veterinary Medicine University of Wisconsin,
Kersti Seksel, DVM, BVSc (Hons) MRCVS MA (Hons) FACVSc
Literature Search (Animal Behavior), DACVB
Nicole Hird, VMD, DABVP, Feline Practice Seaforth Veterinary Hospital, Sydney, Australia
Northwest Animal Hospital, Columbus, OH
Kendal Sheperd, BVSc, MRCVS,
Fineden, Northants, UK
Link Welborn, DVM, DABVP
Alice Wolf, DVM, DACVIM, DABVP, Feline Practice
College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University, College
Steven Zicker, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN
Hills Pet Nutrition, Inc., Topeka, KS
I. Introduction ................................................6
II. The importance of feline behavior ..............7
medicine in veterinary practice
III. Preventive behavioral medicine .................8
IV. Understanding normal behavior.................9
Understanding normal behavior helps ..................9
Understanding normal social behavior and ...........9
communication can help prevent aggression
V. Aggression ...............................................13
Preventing aggression towards humans...............13
Predatory behavior ............................................13
VI. Understanding normal elimination ..........15
VII. Scratching ..............................................16
VIII. Feeding and ingestive behavior .............17
Preventing feeding problems ..............................17
IX. Learning in cats.......................................19
X. Preventive behavioral medicine at the ......19
Pre-adoption counseling ....................................19
Pleasant veterinary visits for cats.........................20
XI. Kitten classes...........................................23
XII. Preventing harmful stress in cats.............25
prevents behavior problems
Examples of harmful stress.................................25
Common indicators of feline stress, ...................25
anxiety, or fear
Preparation for life ............................................25
Protection from fear and stress ...........................26
Promotion of well-being.....................................26
XIII. Environmental enrichment .....................27
XIV. Aging and behavioral changes...............28
XV. Principles of treatment and .....................29
Principles of behavior treatment .........................29
How to administer medication............................31
When to refer ...................................................31
For more information ........................................35
XVI. Summary ..............................................35
XVII. Client Handouts ...................................37
Introducing a new cat into a household ..............37
with already existing cats
Litter box care to prevent or treat........................38
How to prevent cats from scratching in ...............39
Feeding tips to prevent obesity in your cat...........40
How to help your cat have pleasant ...................41
Environmental enrichment enhances ..................42
the quality of life for your cat
The veterinary profession has the privilege and responsibility of caring for both animals and people. The ben-
efits of living with a pet are now well recognized. By preventing and treating behavioral problems, we have
the opportunity to protect and strengthen the human-pet-veterinary bond and increase the quality of life for
both pets and pet lovers. The goal of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) Feline Behavior
Guidelines is to support veterinarians by providing practical information and client educational materials to
successfully incorporate feline behavioral medicine into every practice that offers feline healthcare.
Veterinarians have a great opportunity to save pets’ • A developmental table specifying home and veterinary
lives by recognizing that behavioral medicine is as care needed at different stages of life is included. This
important as any other field of veterinary medicine, can serve as an excellent poster or client information
and can routinely be incorporated into each veterinary handout to help clients understand their responsibili-
visit. Because most veterinarians never received educa- ties for home and veterinary care.
tion in veterinary school about feline behavior, and do • Detailed information on behavior and environmental
not have the time and resources to study all the latest enrichment is included to help prevent many of the
research and develop behavior protocols, the panelists most common behavior problems.
have worked to develop a concise, updated and “user • Suggestions regarding prevention and treatment of
friendly” document that can be easily implemented. obesity, the most common consequence of domestica-
tion of cats, are provided.
The guidelines include the following information: • To help veterinarians better handle routine behavior
• Emphasis is on prevention, from pre-adoption or the concerns (eg, inappropriate elimination) a rational first
first veterinary visit, through senior life. Preventing approach to the problems seen day-to-day is included.
behavior problems should be an important part of total • Behavior counseling and treatment, including behavior
wellness care. A list of behavior questions intended for modification and environmental enrichment, are dis-
inclusion in the medical history questions used at each cussed in detail. For cats needing medical treatment,
appointment is provided to aid in early detection and important drug information including dosing and
intervention of behavior problems. tapering of medication is provided. Information on
• An outline is provided for guidance regarding how to where to refer if needed is also provided.
create realistic expectations about living with a cat. This • Information is provided that will promote comprehen-
will encourage cat owners to provide positive outlets to sive, state-of-the-art, holistic care that incorporates
allow normal behavior, but in ways that clients will con- both the physical and psychological well-being of our
sider acceptable. feline patients.
• Several of the appendices can be used for both preven- • These guidelines will help veterinarians raise client
tion and treatment and can be made into client awareness that they should turn to the veterinary pro-
handouts; these will delegate client education to the fession for advice regarding behavior, just as they do
veterinary support team and be used to facilitate the with any medical concerns.
veterinarian’s role in client education.
II. THE IMPORTANCE OF FELINE BEHAVIOR MEDICINE
IN VETERINARY PRACTICE
Despite continued advances in feline health seek a high level of care for the pets they cher-
care, behavior problems are still the most com- ish. Veterinary professionals benefit by main-
mon cause of euthanasia in pet cats.1 Behavior taining a positive relationship with pets and
problems, including normal cat behavior that clients and improved job satisfaction. A posi-
clients consider unacceptable, cause decreased tive veterinary-client bond results in clients
quality of life for cats and their owners. who are more likely to turn to the veterinary
Behavior problems often lead to family stress, hospital with pet concerns and recommend
inappropriate punishment of pets, destruction the veterinary team to friends and acquain-
of the bond between people and their pets, and tances.
relinquishment and euthanasia. Most pets sur- The belief that behavior is too time-con-
rendered to shelters had been evaluated by a suming to generate profit within the practice is
veterinarian in the year prior to relinquish- a myth. Client education can be facilitated at
ment.2-4 Unresolved behavior problems cause all wellness appointments by giving client edu-
veterinarians to annually lose approximately cation handouts and reviewing them with
15% of their client base.5 clients. Teaching staff and clients how to
Patients, clients, and veterinary teams all improve experiences for the cat at the veteri-
benefit from incorporating behavior services nary clinic also improves patient behavior.
into veterinary practices. Cats benefit by Fewer staff, less time, and fewer resources are
increased quality and length of life, an needed to work with well-behaved patients.
enriched environment, and respectful, under- Positive experiences during veterinary visits
standing relationships. The psychological ben- also decrease stress and potential injury for
efits to clients of living with a beloved pet cats, clients, and veterinary team members.
include companionship, a feeling of being Finally, educating veterinary team members
needed, and less depression.6,a The physical and allowing them to educate clients about
benefits include decreased blood pressure, prevention of behavior problems has the
reduced chance of a second heart attack, and potential to increase their job satisfaction,
decreased triglyceride concentrations.7-11 reduce staff stress and turnover, and allow vet-
Children who live and work with pets gain erinarians to use their time more effectively.
increased self-esteem.12 Saving an animal’s life through prevention
There is evidence for an association between or treatment of a behavior problem can be as
pet behavior and the level of owner attach- rewarding as saving a life through medical or
ment.13 A positive human-animal bond means surgical procedures. Preventive behavior med-
that clients will seek more regular and exten- icine belongs in every veterinary hospital and it
sive healthcare throughout their cats’ lives, is easy to integrate into practice. Incorporating
which benefits pets, clients, and veterinary pro- behavior medicine into practice is a win-win
fessionals alike. Veterinary practices that incor- situation for all concerned.
porate behavior wellness attract clients who
III. PREVENTIVE BEHAVIORAL MEDICINE
Veterinary medicine comprises both the physical and entiate between behavior-related and systemic condi-
psychological well being of our patients. In cats, physical tions. For example, a cat that is urinating inappropriate-
illness and pain are most often recognized on the basis of a ly may have any number of conditions that are associat-
non-specific change in behavior. Knowing this helps clients ed with that behavior, including feline lower urinary
and veterinarians detect disease and discomfort and mon- tract disease (interstitial cystitis) and arthritis, that make
itor efficacy of pain management. The veterinarian’s it difficult to get into the litter box. Conversely, a cat with
responsibility is to relieve suffering, whether it is related anorexia and lethargy may have an underlying medical
to physical or emotional pain. We can support cat own- problem or may simply be stressed by changes in its
ers by making them aware of the need to contact the environment. In other situations, the psychological well-
veterinary hospital not only for physical health but also being of the cat may have been harmed to the point that
as soon as they see indications of anxiety, fear, or behav- psychological effects are causing systemic disease.
ior that they consider to be unacceptable or different
from their cat’s normal behavior.
Appendix 1: Behavioral Assessment
At routine examinations, clients may not tell us that
the kitten bites, or that the cat “misses the box occasion-
ally” unless we specifically ask those questions. Clients Questions to Ask at Every Veterinary Visit
When obtaining a history, encourage early detection or pre-
often think that the cat is acting “out of spite” or “getting
vention of behavior problems by asking the following ques-
back at them” and are unaware that the veterinary pro- tions:
fession can help with these problems. They may even be
embarrassed to discuss such incidents and how they are • Does your cat urinate or defecate outside of the box?
dealing with them. It is important that we change these • Does your cat spray? (Spraying occurs when a cat backs up to
misconceptions. If behavior questions are not asked, a vertical surface, kneads his or her feet, and flicks the tail tip
clients will not know that the information is important, while projecting urine.)
especially if they are unfamiliar with normal cat behav- • Does your cat show signs of aggression to people, including
hissing, biting, or scratching? To any specific family mem-
ior. Conducting a behavior assessment at every veterinary bers? To strangers?
visit is important for prevention and early detection of
• Does your cat exhibit any fearful behaviors that concern you?
behavior-related as well as medical problems (Appendix
1). Behavior assessments also encourage clients to con- • Does your cat show any destructive behaviors, such as
scratching or chewing objects in the home?
sult with their veterinarian about their behavior con-
• Does your cat have any problematic interactions with other
cerns. cats or pets in the household?
The behavior history and medical examination are
• Has there been any change in your cat’s behavior or disposi-
critical to an accurate diagnosis. A comprehensive histo- tion?
ry, which includes a behavior assessment, physical
• Do you need any further information regarding your cat’s
examination, and diagnostic testing is needed to differ- behavior?
The behavioral history and medical examination are critical to an
accurate diagnosis. Comprehensive histories, which include a behav-
ioral assessment; physical examinations; and diagnostic testing are
needed to differentiate between behavioral and systemic conditions.
For example, a cat that is inappropriately urinating may have any
number of conditions that are associated with this behavior, including
feline lower urinary tract disease/interstitial cystitis, or arthritis that
makes it difficult to get into the litter box. Or, a cat that presents with
anorexia and lethargy may have an underlying medical problem, or
may simply be stressed by changes in its environment. The psychologi-
cal well-being of the patient may be harmed to the point that it is also
causing systemic disease.
IV. UNDERSTANDING NORMAL BEHAVIOR
Understanding normal behavior helps prevent prob- tually be integrated into the group in a process that
lems—Many behavior concerns expressed by clients requires several weeks.21,c This is important to remember
involve normal cat behavior that the client finds unac- when adopting new cats, especially adults. Integrating
ceptable. Educating clients about normal feline social and them into an established group of cats should always be
elimination behaviors, communication, and developmental done gradually.
stages provides clients with realistic expectations. If we help Within a group of cats, a social hierarchy can exist.
clients understand normal cat communication they can When cats first establish their relationships, overt aggres-
interact with and react more appropriately to their cat, sion (eg, hissing, chasing, swatting) may occur. Once the
reducing the chance of aggression and injury. relationship is established, overt aggression is the excep-
Understanding feline social and physical needs helps tion as long as there are no environmental or physical
clients provide a better, more stimulating environment, changes. Social relationships can change throughout life.
and reduces the chances of inappropriate elimination and As with all social species, although the capacity to be
scratching on surfaces other than scratching posts. social is inborn, specific social skills that result in an indi-
Without understanding what is normal, veterinarians vidual cat being a successful member of a group are
cannot diagnose what is abnormal. It is important to learned.
determine whether the behavior is a normal behavior for Socialization is the process that allows potential advan-
the cat that the owner finds unacceptable, a truly abnor- tageous behavior changes as a result of exposure to novel
mal behavior for the cat, or an inappropriate behavior situations involving people, other animals, and new envi-
that the client has inadvertently taught or reinforced in ronments. The sensitive period is the term used for the
the cat. developmental stage when an animal has increased risk of
developing fears and anxieties if the animal does not have
Understanding normal social behavior and communi- the opportunity to experience and learn from social and
cation can help prevent aggression—Research over the environmental stimuli.32 The primary socialization peri-
last 2 decades has disproved the popular misconception od of cats to people is from 3 to 9 weeks of age. Fear of
that cats live as solitary creatures. The domestic cat is a people is inhibited by exposure to people during this
social animal. However, the social organization of feline period.33 Socialization that occurs early, especially before
groups is quite different from that of canine groups.
Domestic cats are organized socially much like their early
ancestors. The feline social system is flexible, allowing cats
to live alone or in groups of varying size (Figure 1).14 Free-
living domestic cats choose to live in social groups, called
colonies, whenever sufficient food resources support
Cats form social groups and have forms of communi-
cation that reflect their social behavior. Cats recognize
individuals in their social group and have different inter-
actions with different individuals (ie, preferred associate
relationships).28-30 Queens often engage in cooperative
care and rearing of their kittens. There is individual vari-
ation in the social behavior directed to other cats.31
Colonies are fairly insular and strangers are generally
not welcome. Unfamiliar cats can be aggressively driven
Figure 1 Two cats with typical feline social behavior.
away. If a new cat repeatedly visits a group, it may even- Courtesy of I. Rodan.
Appendix 2. Developmental Periods in Cats
The following table has been developed by the panelists of the AAFP Feline Behavior Guidelines. It can serve as an
excellent poster, brochure, and/or client information handout to help clients have realistic expectations of their cats and
understand their responsibilities for both home and veterinary care.
Key: ingestion social elimination other
NEONATAL: LATE SOCIALIZATION:
Normal at this stage
Normal at this stage
Eating solid food.
Diet entirely milk. Continues to learn social skills. Social play peaks. Social conflict
Minimal social interaction. over status may emerge.
Stimulated by mother. Continues using litter box.
Eyes open, walking by 14 days, can’t regulate body temperature, Vigorous exploration of the environment and climbing, begins
can’t groom self. to lose baby teeth.
To do’s for caregivers To do’s for caregivers
Provide high quality nutrition for queen or kitten formula. No change.
Minimal but gentle handling. Continue social education. If had no previous social education,
None unless ill or failure to thrive. initiate slowly.
Provide warm, safe environment. May need larger litter box, (minimum box length 1.5 X cat’s
If queen not present, rub perianal area with warm, wet towels to Provide vertical space (e.g.,climbing structures). Continue basic
stimulate eliminations. training.
Serial physical examinations, vaccines and needed testing. Discuss
EARLY SOCIALIZATION: nutrition, behavior, spay or neuter. Offer kitten classes.
3–8 weeks Spay/neuter if not done. Repeat FeLV/FIV testing.
Normal at this stage
Begins to eat solid food, gradually ceases milk consumption Kittens that have not had adequate social experience during early
Sensitive period for social learning. Social play begins and socialization may have poor social skills and require extra effort to
increases steadily. Learns many social skills. acquire good social skills.
Develops control of bladder and bowel function. Begins to use
Object play begins and increases. Climbing and running begin. ADOLESCENCE
Capable of complex learning. Scratching and predatory behav- 17 weeks–1 year
ior begin. Eye color changes. All baby teeth erupt. Can regulate Normal at this stage
body temperature. Begins to groom self. No change.
To do’s for caregivers Sexual maturity if not sterilized. Social play lessens. Likely to be
Provide high quality kitten food and fresh water daily. subordinate to larger adults but may challenge these cats for
Frequent gentle handling and play with varied people including status.
men, women, and supervised children. Expose to other cats and Spraying may occur, less likely if spayed or neutered.
species while ensuring safety. Take kitten socialization classes if If allowed outdoor access, may wander farther and for longer
available. Reward appropriate friendly behavior to humans and periods than before.
all other animals. To do’s for caregivers
Provide litter boxes with low sides for easy entry. Scoop litter Start transition to high quality adult food at 6-8 months of age.
boxes twice daily. Use unscented litter.
Enrich environment including toys. Kitten-proof home. Expose Provide food puzzles and food toys.
to novel objects and locations, Make the carrier a safe haven. Continue to play with and reward friendly behavior. Contact
Begin tooth brushing. Gently examine ears, teeth, nails. Groom. veterinarian if serious conflicts arise.
Provide scratching post. Begin training to harness and leash. Reevaluate litter box size. Contact vet if spraying or inappropri-
Begin training to sit, come, etc. ate elimination occurs.
Provide identification (e.g.,microchip or break-away collar and
tag), especially if cat goes outdoors.
Ideally, first physical examination, deworm, FeLV/FIV test, and
vaccines. Offer kitten socialization classes, Discuss behavior and
Never use hands and feet to play with kittens. This teaches your
kitten bad habits. Always use toys.
9 weeks of age, results in an increase in the kitten’s
willingness to approach and be held by people, which
Spay or neuter if not previously done, discuss behavior and persists into adulthood.34 Animals derive the benefits
nutrition, repeat FeLV/FIV testing. of socialization when quite young (2 to 5 weeks of age
If not spayed or neutered, your cat is more likely to urine mark in kittens) and exposure to humans may help teach
in the house, get into fights, and roam long distances. Female
cats that are not spayed can have unwanted kittens. the animal how to learn from new stimuli throughout
life. Unless animals have been prevented from experi-
encing typical stimuli, they usually retain some plas-
ADULT ticity (ability to recover) throughout life, from having
experienced some socialization.35
Normal at this stage
If cats are excluded from interactions with and
Metabolic rate slows, may gain weight if diet and exercise not
handling by humans from 2 to 9 weeks of age, their
Matures socially at approximately 2-3 years, personality risk of interacting poorly with humans in later life is
strongly affected by genetics and early experience, social play increased.36,37 Social learning occurs for many weeks
decreases but may continue given an available playmate. after that period, with social play peaking at approxi-
If intact male, urine odor becomes strong.
Nothing. mately 3 months of age. An appendix (Appendix 2)
To do’s for caregivers
describing developmental periods in cats has been
Reassess body condition and food intake every 3 months, developed by the panelists of the AAFP Feline
encourage exercise. Behavior Guidelines. It can serve as an excellent
Continue to play with and reward friendly behavior. poster, brochure, or client information handout to
Reevaluate litter box size, contact vet if spraying or inappro- help clients have realistic expectations of their cats
priate elimination occurs.
Rotate toys for self play, replace equipment and supplies such and understand their responsibilities for both home
as beds and litter boxes as needed. and veterinary care.
Genetic variables affect some aspects of tempera-
Annual examination. Vaccines and testing as recommended by ment. For example, the offspring of bold fathers tend
veterinarian. Behavior problems are best treated early. Contact
your veterinarian if any behavior problems arise. Obesity carries to be bolder than those of timid fathers; the offspring
the same health risks as it does in humans. Depending on coat of friendly fathers tend to be quicker to approach,
and body condition, extra grooming may be needed. touch, and rub people.38,39 Veterinarians should
inform cat breeders about the importance of selecting
ADULT for positive behavior traits and exposing kittens to
7 years and older people during the sensitive period. A breed can bene-
Normal at this stage fit or be damaged by the degree to which cat breeders
Changes in appetite can occur follow this practice.
Decreased activity may lead to decreased social interaction
To do’s for caregivers Cat communication—Cats communicate through
Monitor appetite and water intake. Contact vet if increases or visual, tactile, olfactory, and auditory means. Visual
decreases. signaling includes body posture (Figure 2); tail, ear,
Continue social interaction—even if lower activity level is
warranted and head position; and willingness to make eye con-
Contact veterinarian if elimination concerns occur or persist tact (Figure 3). Tactile communication includes rub-
bing against others, including people; grooming; and
Physical examination every 6 months. CBC, chemistry panel, nose-touching, which is used as a greeting. Auditory
UA, T4 every 6-12 months. Discuss behavior and nutrition.
Interaction with younger cats may encourage activity, but communication includes purring, which occurs pri-
extremely active young cats may be incompatible. Extra groom- marily during contact with another individual. The
ing may be needed, depending on body condition and coat. trill (or chirrup) and meow are used as greeting calls.
Medical problems increase with age and may present as behavior
changes. Contact your veterinarian if changes occur.
Because cats have such a keen sense of smell, olfacto-
ry communication is very important. Olfactory com-
munication in the form of fecal or urine marking or
spraying is often—but not always—normal behavior
that clients find unacceptable.
A0B0 A1B0 A2B0 A3B0 Figure 2 Illustrations of body postures
of cats. Notice that in the series from
A0B0 to A3B0, the cat becomes more
offensive, whereas the cat becomes
more defensive in the series from A0B0
to A0B3. A3B3 represents a cat with
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