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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I have a Bombay cat who is just over a year old. She is loving and friendly and is very patient with my son. But about a week ago I went to feed her at night (in the dark) and she began to growl and hiss. I tired to calm her down by telling her it was OK. but next thing I knew she lunged at me and bit my leg. She punctured my skin and left a huge bruise. She has been aggressive like this before, but never this bad. Is there any way to tell if a cat has trouble seeing? I think she can’t see well at night and this is why she gets so angry. Durring the day she is loving and affectionate. Any advice would be appreciated.

~ Laura

Sinéad on a beam

Cats can react to surprises with fear or anger, depending on the cat's personality.

Siouxsie: Well, Laura, the only way you’re really going to know if your cat is having difficulty seeing is by taking her to the vet for a checkup, so we’d definitely recommend that.

Thomas: And when you do go, be sure to mention the aggressiveness to the vet as well. That could be a symptom of a vision problem or it could be something else entirely.

Dahlia: It’s pretty unlikely that a cat will have bad vision at such a young age — but that’s not to say it couldn’t happen.

Siouxsie: We did some quick research and although Bombay cats can be prone to skull defects as a result of inbreeding, we haven’t found any evidence of genetic disorders that would produce long-term vision problems.

Thomas: However, the Bombay’s ancestors include the Burmese, and some of these cats can have inherited visual problems. Lipaemia of the aqueous humor usually appears between the ages of 5 months and a year, and lends a milky appearance to the eyes. The condition usually resolves on its own in a few days.

Dahlia: In some Burmese cats, an out-of-place piece of skin or hair grows on the eyeball and can impede vision. This is usually resolved with surgery.

Siouxsie: There is a nutritional deficiency can cause vision changes. Because cats are obligate carnivores — they must eat meat in order to survive — if fed a vegetarian diet, they develop a deficiency of the enzyme taurine, which can lead to blindness and heart disease.

Thomas: But these conditions are rare enough that, in the old American doctor adage, it’s like hearing hoofbeats outside and assuming a herd of zebras is running by. Of course, if you’re on the African savannah, you really wouldn’t be out of line at all if you assume you’re hearing zebras … or gazelles, or elands, or gemsboks, or antelopes, or giraffes, or …

Dahlia: Okay, Thomas, we get it. Anyway, because your cat has been having aggression issues for a while now, we think it’s more likely that her problems are based in fear, and that’s the problem you’re going to have to solve.

Siouxsie: One of our research sources did note that Bombay kittens can be quite timid when they’re young, and it may take a while for them to come out of their shells and grow into their sociable, loving nature.

Thomas: If you purchased your cat from a breeder, you might want to contact him or her and see if her parents have a history of being fearful or nervous, and if so, are there techniques the breeder would recommend to help ease your cat’s anxiety.

Dahlia: If your cat came from a pet store, she may have been a product of a “kitten mill,” and might not have been properly socialized when she was younger.

Siouxsie: In any case, once you’ve been to the vet and ruled out any organic problems like bad eyesight, it’s time to look at her body language to determine whether her aggressiveness comes from fear or anger.

Thomas: You can take a look at this column to find out the difference between angry and fearful body language.

Dahlia: If your cat is fearful, you could try installing pheromone diffusers to lower her stress and anxiety level. They’ve worked very well for us and lots of other cats, too!

Siouxsie: Make sure you recognize the early signs of an aroused state (see fearful and angry body language, above) so that you can defuse the situation before it gets to the point where your cat feels the need to lash out.

Thomas: You might want to check out some cat behavior books, too. Think Like A Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett is the best one we’ve seen and we recommend it highly.

Dahlia: If it turns out that your cat does have vision problems, we’d recommend you take a look at this column from the Paws and Effect archives to learn some ways you can help to accommodate her special needs and keep her safe.

Siouxsie: Good luck to you and your cat, Laura. We hope this helps.