There’s a type of aggression that occurs between cats in the same household after a veterinary visit that can be easily prevented with a little planning. This is the kind of non-recognition aggression you may see when one cat comes home from the veterinary clinic and is either hissed at or actually attacked. For the unsuspecting cat parent (and for the victim cat) it’s terrifying because it comes out of nowhere and seems as if the cat who stayed home no longer recognizes his best friend. The fact is, the returning cat may look the same (in our eyes) but from a feline point of view, she isn’t recognized because she doesn’t smell the same. That may seem odd to a human but when you understand more about how important scent communication is in the feline world, you’ll see that this behavior, however frightening, is actually normal. Luckily though, you can take steps to prevent it.
The Importance of Scent
To better understand the scenario that takes place when the returning cat is attacked, you have to appreciate how cats communicate. They are masters at it and use vocalization, body language, visuals and yes, scent! In fact, scent is arguably at the top of the list.
The pheromones (scent chemicals) cats give off from their scent glands provide other cats with a huge amount of information. Every time your cat rubs her cheek along an object she’s depositing a scent; when cats flank rub each other they are exchanging scents; when one kitty lovingly grooms another she is putting her scent there. In a cat colony, this mixing of scents through allogrooming, flank rubbing, etc., is important to the security and peace of the group because it creates a communal scent.
Have you noticed how your cat may sniff your shoes or your clothes when you return home? That’s because you are carrying unfamiliar scents into the territory. If you were at a home with another cat, your cat will probably do some seriously intense sniffing to gather as much information as possible. So imagine how threatening it must be for the cat who stayed home to see a cat being let out of the carrier, into her territory, who is carrying unfamiliar scents. In fact, when it comes to not smelling like her normal self, the situation is made worse because the scents are those of a very threatening (from the cat’s perspective) place.