Winn Feline Foundation recently published the results of a small study of highly aggressive cats and the possible connection with the vomeronasal organ which receives chemical signals from other cats in the form of pheromones.
Feline aggression is not unusual, especially in multi-cat households. We’ve all heard of cats who “need to be the only cat” and cats who may be intermittently aggressive, or may develop aggression, for no apparent reason. It’s puzzling and frequently heartbreaking because these felines habitually become or remain homeless, are difficult to adopt to a new home, and are sometimes euthanized if the aggression is extreme.
This study investigated a possible link between inflammation of the vomeronasal organ and aggression toward other cats because sensation of the pheromones may be impaired if the organ is inflamed, blocking an essential path of feline communication.
Asproni P, Cozzi A, Verin R, Lafont-Lecuelle C, Bienboire-Frosini C, et al. Pathology and behaviour in feline medicine: investigating the link between vomeronasalitis and aggression. J Feline Med Surg. 2016 Dec;18(12):997-1002.
Studies in other species have shown that removal or obstruction of the vomeronasal organ causes a decrease in social and reproductive behavior, but a study of cats has never been done. Impaired function of the organ can obstruct or block a cat’s sensation and processing of pheromones from other cats and the essential social information they gather about those cats, resulting in aggression toward other cats since they rely on pheromone signaling with each other to communicate.
This study was small, including 20 cats from multi-cat households, 10 male and 10 female. The vomeronasal organs were examined post-mortem on cats who had been euthanized, six for extreme aggression and 14 for other causes.
The study processed the organs and surrounding tissue, since inflammation of the tissue surrounding the organ might also obstruct the organ’s function, and owners answered a questionnaire. Fourteen of the cats showed inflammation of the vomeronasal organ and the study found a strong correlation between vomeronasalitis and aggression toward other cats.
Because cats do not use pheromone signaling with humans, the results did not have any correlation with extreme feline aggression toward humans.
The vomeronasal organ can become inflamed for many reasons including a secondary infection from a systemic disease such as FIP. The study was small and did not find a source for the organ’s inflammation or disease, but the results prove that further study of the relationship between vomeronasal disease and intra-cat aggression will likely help understand the source of the aggression and lead to treating the cause of it rather than only the symptoms.
Read the abstract of the study on the Winn Feline Foundation website.
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