This past winter, our cat trio kept my husband and I busy. Cinder and Bootsie struggled a few times with their appetite, along with a short-lived herpesvirus infection which resulted in their having runny eyes. In addition, Bootsie started peeing outside of the litter box due to inflammation of her bladder. Rainy escaped the bouts with sickness but kept us busy with non-recognition aggression. It’s been a stressful few months!
Ever since we adopted Cinder in 2014, she’s struggled with appetite. The first time she stopped eating, we discovered that she was constipated. Our vet told us that her bowels don’t work as well as they should, and suggested we add a sprinkle of MiraLAX once a day to her food. We’ll also at times add a teaspoon of pumpkin to her food. Although these measures have helped, she’ll still develop constipation severe enough once a year that a vet visit is a warranted.
When Cinder started refusing her regular food this past December, we thought constipation was the culprit, but her x-rays showed only clear bowels. Our vet followed up with bloodwork, which didn’t give any obvious answers either, and so we shrugged off Cinder’s lack of appetite as nausea. When the same scenario repeated itself in January, the vet reran tests. Everything once again looked normal, and so the vet surmised that Cinder might have experienced mild pancreatitis or a sudden inflammation of the pancreas.
Pancreatitis in cats can cause lethargy, nausea, and lack of appetite. We’re to give Cerenia to Cinder whenever she stops eating for more than a day. Unfortunately, the vet also suspects that the initial pancreatic attack might have caused Cinder to develop a negative association with her food, and so we’ve had to find all new brands for Cinder to eat.
Shortly after Cinder’s pancreatic attack earlier this January, our cat Bootsie stopped eating too. The vet couldn’t find anything wrong with her and so she too was given the vague diagnosis of ‘nausea.’ I decided that perhaps the cats were reacting negatively to the change in my routine, due to my being on bedrest while I recovered from surgery. Bootsie and Cinder are best friends, and so my husband thought Bootsie might be stressed over Cinder’s vet visits.
Whatever the case, I hoped for a quick return to normal for all of us, but that was not to be. We soon began to notice that Bootsie was struggling to use the litter box. She would visit one, then two, then three of our litter boxes on the main floor. Each time, she’d squat but fail to pee. The emergency vet diagnosed her with a urinary infection. He said that her bladder was small and had a lot of sludge in it. Besides providing us with medication, the vet recommended that we add water to her food and that we follow-up in a week with our regular vet.
Unfortunately, two follow-up vet visits showed no improvements, and we were referred to a specialist. She diagnosed Bootsie with cystitis or inflammation of the bladder. Usually, cystitis in cats is treated by way of dietary and environmental changes. We had already switched Bootsie to a prescription wet food, placed her on anti-anxiety medication, and added an open litter box. All three vets that we saw also prescribed medication.
The strongest prescription came from the specialist, and this is when we ran into difficulties due to the bitterness of the medication At first, we tried slathering the pill with whipped cream. It’s the first time we’ve ever seen a cat drool because of the taste of a pill! Next, we put the pill into a capsule. This worked for a week, until Bootsie realized that she could simply lick off the cream. At this point, we had to switch medications so that we could have it compounded into a flavored liquid. Thankfully, Bootsie drank the liquid when mixed with lactose -free milk. As a result of this ordeal, I’ve also started teaching her to accept syringes and pill poppers, something I never imagined that a former feral would let me do.
Although pancreatitis, cystitis, and herpesvirus infections were plenty to keep us busy, Rainy had her own issue. She has non-recognition aggression, which occurs when one cat acts aggressively toward a fellow housecat after a period of separation. There is no consensus on the cause, but the most well-known way to treat the phenomena is to redistribute the home cat’s scent onto the returning cat by rubbing the home cat with a cloth and then rubbing the returning cat with that same cloth.
While this solution has worked in the past when Cinder or Bootsie have been out of the house for an hour or so, such as for a wellness check at the vet, it didn’t work when Bootsie had to stay at the vet for a day. The instant we brought Bootsie in the door, Rainy hissed at her, despite my having rubbed each cat with a shared cloth. I had to put Bootsie in a spare room and re-introduce the cats by use of scent swaps, feed behind door, and supervised time together. This process took a week.
In one of my online cat behavior consulting groups, my peers reached the consensus that the best way to treat non-recognition aggression was to separate the returning cat until she’s had the opportunity to groom herself. My own experiences don’t bear this out. After one of Bootsie’s trips to the vet, I isolated her for half a week, which should have been time for her to completely regroom herself. After I let her out, she and Rainy seemed to be getting along, until that night when they encountered each other in our hallway and fur literally fur. I then had to separate for another half week and redo the introduction steps Clearly, there must be more to non-recognition aggression than smell.
The stress with our cats began over six months ago, but now is mostly over. Cinder and Bootsie have recovered from their week-long herpesvirus infection. Cinder’s finicky eating is still a struggle, as it’s been tough finding food that appeals enough to Cinder for her to clean her plate, but for now we have two kinds. Bootsie has finally recovered from cystitis after three out-of-town trips to a specialist; however, while this is a huge victory, unfortunately she now shoots high when she urinates, and so we’re looking for creative litter box solutions. All three cats will take foods from a syringe, which I hope will help us in the future when we have to administer meds. And, finally, the cats are back to living together in relative harmony.
Sometimes we all need a little (or a lot of) help with our cats, and we need it on our budget and our schedule. Should you need behavior help with your cats I have an online chat, webinar, class, or consulting package that will meet your need, budget, and schedule from the comfort of your home. Help is just a click away with Allison Helps Cats.
Because of my own experience with non-recognition aggression, as well as hearing about my clients’ struggles with it, I’ve decided to do some citizen science research. Would you please help with it by filling out the following survey on Non-Recognition Aggression?