Repetitive treatment syndrome is a term I coined to describe a cat’s extreme reaction to being restrained or handled. I have seen this in cats who have undergone long-term daily treatment for a condition. For students of cat behavior, veterinarians, vet techs, animal handlers and animal shelter staff, RTS is a useful term to know.
This condition they were treated for can be something common, like ringworm, diarrhea, or a cold — or it can be a life-threatening virus such as FIP. The feline treatment might be applying ointment to the ears, eyedrops to the eyes, cleansing the rear area, intramuscular injections and so on.
What does RTS look like in real life?
A cat I visited for years changed his behavior. Each visit is now a struggle. He hisses, hides, and fights to get out of my arms. In the beginning, he used to sit in my lap, seeming to enjoy the claw trim. He acts like a different cat.
What changed? Due to an eye condition, he must now be given eyedrops two times a day. I don’t know if his eyesight has been affected, but I assume that there is some difference in the way that he sees things.
This is what I mean by repetitive treatment. The treatment is given day after day, relentlessly. A cat who associated handling and gentle restraint with affection or play, now understandably associates it with strange, unpleasant or even painful experiences.
While their owner will be forgiven for such a violation of a cat’s personal space and dignity, or to put it more plainly, forgiven for causing discomfort, the infrequent visitor such as a groomer, is viewed with intense suspicion.
Unfortunately, I have no solution. Once a cat loses trust, the groomer will have more difficult task. Gabapentin can be given as a way to soothe the cat’s nerves.
The reason I bring this up is that reactions are something to consider when a cat is given repetitive treatments. There may be an aftereffect. Where possible, every effort should be made to make the treatment pleasant, even the treatment is merely wiping a cat’s rear. Treats, praise and playtime may help prevent RTS. Going to a Fear Free vet clinic might help too, since they focus on making treatments into pleasurable experiences.
#cat behavior, #cat anxiety, #cat grooming #cat medication #feline #cat aggression