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The Specials: Adopting a Cat with Fear Aggression

Leslie has always loved and lived peacefully with multiple cats. When the staff at Berkley Animal Care Services warned her that Destiny didn’t like other cats and was often aggressive, Leslie brushed it off and assumed she would be fine once home. Destiny, a 12-year-old brown tabby, the oldest cat at the municipal shelter, was clearly living on borrowed time. Leslie adopted her on the spot, renaming her Vivian, which means alive, to celebrate her survival.

How To Calm An Aggressive Cat With Fear Aggression

Adopting a cat with fear aggression

She followed her usual cat introduction routine and kept Vivian secluded in the bathroom for the first few weeks. As she had done with other newcomers, she brought Vivian beds, blankets and toys to smell and help her adjust to life with other cats. But things didn’t go as smoothly as they had in the past, Vivian growled, swatting aggressively, and then backed up and hid behind the toilet. Treats and food did not help ease her fear aggression and she grew more anxious by the day.

Adopting a cat with fear aggression and how to introduce the cat to your other cats

How To A Calm A Cat With Fear Aggression

Leslie knew returning Vivian to the shelter was not an option as she would be euthanized. And so she made an appointment with a veterinary behaviorist at UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Vivian was diagnosed with severe fear-aggression and was prescribed Prozac and put on a desensitization and counter-conditioning program, designed to gradually introduce scent, sound, and sight of other cats in a non-threatening, positive way. There were no guarantees it would work so as a back up, Leslie tried to find a home without other cats, even offering to pay Vivian’s vet bills for life, but no one was interested.

Leslie moved Vivian out of the bathroom and into her office for more space. Gradually, she started introducing her cats’ blankets and toys with a trail of treats to encourage Vivian to explore and interact with them. Any time Vivian reacted aggressively with hissing, swatting, or hiding, Leslie removed the object and the treats and left the room quietly. Vivian eventually started approaching the object and eating the treats. Once they conquered this first hurtle, Leslie then installed a screen door (with a curtain to start) and each day moved the treats closer to the door.

How To Calm An Aggressive Cat When You have Other Cats

Many months later, Vivian eventually reached the point where she would eat treats near the door with the curtain open. Leslie also started feeding her other cats directly outside the door so they were only a few inches apart with only the screen door separating them. After 10 months, Vivian surprised everyone and ventured into the living room, quickly claiming a cat bed as her own. Over time, she has adjusted to the point where she is fine with other cats being nearby as long as they do not get in her space. Getting too close still sometimes results in a stern hiss and swat.

Vivian is now 18-years old and has been with Leslie for six years. She continues to make remarkable progress and has even befriended Riley, a cuddly boy who spent years trying to win her over. She tolerates him as long as he plays by her rules. Most recently, Vivian even joined Leslie and the other cats on the bed .

Painting of tabby cat by Leslie Cobb proceeds to help shelters
Painting of Vivian entitled NO by Leslie Cobb

“Vivian is the most challenging cat I have ever adopted,” Leslie says, “but she was so worth the effort and it’s been amazing to watch her transformation.”

Pets, like children, are for life. With love and patience, most cats and dogs can find their way back no matter what they have experienced – though sometimes this means adjusting our own expectations and letting the animal take the lead. Leslie is a shining example of compassion in life choices and all that is possible through hope and commitment. You can find more information on fear aggression in cats and introducing new cats here.

Soul Sister painting by Leslie Cobb proceeds of sales help cats
Soul Sister by Leslie Cobb

Giving back and helping other rescue cats

In addition to being an amazing adopter and feline advocate for cats with fear aggression, Leslie is also a talented artist and children’s book illustrator. She donates a portion of her sales to cat rescues and shelters. She even has a sanctuary series inspired by her visits to Best Friends. You can see more of her feline fabulous paintings on her website and Facebook page.

Tips on how to calm an aggressive cat with fear aggression and help the fearful cat live peacefully with other cats

Vivian is part of The Specials, an award-winning blog series focusing on special needs pet adoption. Senior pets, those with chronic medical issues, behavioral or temperament concerns as well as overlooked or misunderstood breeds like Pit Bulls and black cats. If not, for the courage and compassion of their adopters, many of these animals might have been euthanized in shelters or died alone and hungry on the streets. You can read more special needs adoption posts here.


  1. Yamini MacLean
    October 3, 2016 / 8:30 am

    Hari OM…and again Love conquers!!! YAM xx

  2. Molly and Mackie
    October 3, 2016 / 9:24 am

    Bless Miss Leslie for loving Vivian♥

  3. Layla Morgan Wilde ( Cat Wisdom 101)
    October 3, 2016 / 9:55 am

    Great story! I love older, special needs cats and had good results with a mix of flower essences.

  4. Emma
    October 3, 2016 / 10:50 am

    That is such a wonderful story. My mom never gives up either, but sometimes kitties just can't be helped. We lived with our fearful adopted kitty Biene for many years. She befriended our kitty Boo at the time who was her "therapist", but after Boo suddenly passed away, Biene never recovered was always fearful and aggressive. It was so very sad.

  5. Mark Muller
    October 3, 2016 / 10:52 am

    love can change everything…and patience…thanks to Leslie and to all people who try to help instead to give up…

  6. Marg
    October 3, 2016 / 10:56 am

    That is such a good story. What a great person to have the patience to let Vivian gain some confidence and get used to other cats, etc. It just takes lots of patience. Good job Miss Leslie.

  7. The Menagerie Mom
    October 3, 2016 / 11:55 am

    What a truly beautiful story. Vivian is so lucky that Leslie found her. Leslie has the very patience and compassion that Vivian needed, and now the lucky ladycat is thriving because of it. Beautiful. (And such beautiful artwork Leslie creates, too!).Thank you for sharing this with us! What a perfect way to start the week.

  8. Sketching with Dogs
    October 3, 2016 / 2:30 pm

    You never think of cats with fear aggression, only dogs. So glad Leslie gave Vivian such a good home.Those paintings are fantastic!Lynne x

  9. Murphy
    October 3, 2016 / 3:00 pm

    Sometimes it isn't easy but it is always rewarding!Your Pals,Murphy & Stanley

  10. Denise Gruzensky
    October 3, 2016 / 3:07 pm

    Love it! I never thought of cats with fear and aggression but it makes sense and I'm so glad she found a good home!

  11. The Swiss Cats
    October 3, 2016 / 5:17 pm

    What a wonderful story ! Vivian is lucky that Leslie knows cats so well and loves her so much. We're glad she's enjoying happy days in a great home. Purrs

  12. Idaho PugRanch
    October 3, 2016 / 5:56 pm

    These stories just fill our hearts. We are so thankful for people like LesliehugsMr bailey, Hazel & Mabel

  13. Brian
    October 3, 2016 / 6:20 pm

    That was totally terrific? We have Sister Precious who has her own suite upstairs due to fear aggression, but she is safe and totally happy.

  14. Madi and Mom
    October 3, 2016 / 6:49 pm

    Bless Vivian's heart it had been broken so much she kept a wall around it…then she met kind Leslie.What a lovely story!!Hugs madi and mom

  15. Bella Roxy & Macdui
    October 3, 2016 / 7:46 pm

    There are so many wonderful people who work hard to help animals, instead of taking an easy option.

  16. da tabbies o trout towne
    October 3, 2016 / 8:03 pm

    vivian…high paws two ewe and yur mom…we R veree glad thiz haz werked out for all concerned….we understand how ewe feel….gram paw dude did knot… ever…tolerate other cats…..him lived with boomer fora time bee fore de food servizz gurl taked him… N let him live out hiz dayz az a solla tarree kitteh ~~~~~ best best fishes two ewe …all wayz ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

  17. Lola The Rescued Cat
    October 3, 2016 / 9:20 pm

    Oh my stars! We know Leslie! Her cat, Tallulah Jane, is in our book! Mommy has a few of her prints, too. We just love her art. Thank you, Leslie, for loving Vivian so much.

  18. Foley Monster, Pocket and River Song
    October 4, 2016 / 12:31 am

    I loved this story. It goes to show what patience, understanding, and determination can do. Leslie saved Vivian and gave her a life. There is no more beautiful gift. A great story perfectly told

  19. Jans Funny Farm
    October 4, 2016 / 12:37 am

    She was certainly worth the extra effort! Glad she adapted and became comfortable in the home.

  20. The Island Cats
    October 4, 2016 / 1:05 am

    Vivian sounds so much like our Zoey. She too suffers from fear aggression. The mom has tried everything to integrate Zoey into our home, but it hasn't been totally successful. We're happy that Leslie took a chance with Vivian.

  21. Louis the Blogging Dog
    October 4, 2016 / 1:43 am

    This is a true love story.Your Furrend,Louis Dog Armstrong

  22. M. K. Clinton
    October 4, 2016 / 1:50 am

    So many others would have returned her when things became difficult. Bless her for loving Vivian.

  23. Three Chatty Cats
    October 4, 2016 / 3:03 am

    Wow, what a powerful story of patience and love. Kudos to Leslie for taking the time to work with Vivian! And what good fortune that Vivian ended up with Leslie.

  24. Tweedles -- that's me
    October 4, 2016 / 3:13 am

    Special kittys need special peoplelovetweedles

  25. Sometimes, Cats Herd You
    October 4, 2016 / 10:07 am

    What an amazing story of someone "standing by their cat" when so many others wouldn't have understood the cat's special needs. Paws way, way up!

  26. Bouncing Bertie
    October 4, 2016 / 12:32 pm

    What a wonderful story of patience, persistence and love.

  27. FiveSibesMom
    October 4, 2016 / 11:26 pm

    Wonderful story, and I love your message about pets are family and for life. Leslie is an amazing artist…beautiful cats.

  28. M Dawson
    October 5, 2016 / 5:46 am

    Bloody Brilliant. It can take so much time, and SO MUCH LOVE and care but it CAN. BE. DONE.What a fabulous cat tale and one to give courage to those struggling now.

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