I once got called in to help a lady with her Birman cat. This was a magnificent neutered male cat of almost 8 years old, called Blu. She had had the cat since it was 10 weeks old, and had had it neutered when he was about 5 months. When Blu joined the family, they already had another cat of unknown ancestry. This queen was getting on for 10 years, and had been spayed as a kitten. The family had also rescued a kitten that had been badly treated, which was about 5 years old when I was called in to help.
The problem as it was told to me, was that about a year ago Blu started spraying in the house. This sounded very strange, as the cat had lived a perfect life for 7 years prior to this. I asked the owners to keep a log book for a week, in which they would note when and where the cat sprayed. I was hoping that a pattern would emerge from this that would make diagnosis of the problem easy. No such luck!!
I went around to visit Claire and her cats, managing to take only one wrong turn on the way, thereby arriving a half-hour early for my appointment. Claire was very sweet and obliging, and didn’t make me sit in the car until the correct appointment time.
The first thing we did was go through the log they had kept for the past week. There was no pattern here at all – Blu had sprayed on the piano, on the guitar case in her sons’ bedroom, on the computer tower and on the curtains. He had sprayed in the lounge on the chair and in the master bedroom on the curtains. These markings occurred both north and south of the house, so it wasn’t a problem that was isolated to one area.
Claire very kindly took me through the house and showed me the spots. Literally!! There were lovely pile carpets, which were spotted with urine stains, which stubbornly refused to come out. She also showed me the litter tray, which was kept in the kitchen. The cats had free access to a large and rather lovely garden, which they generally preferred to use. The tray had been placed in a cardboard box with quite high sides to prevent the cats from scratching the litter all over the floor. I asked whether Blu used the tray. Yes, he did, but he would balance all four feet in one corner, and then scratch the cardboard when he was finished. This didn’t surprise me, as Blu is a good sized cat and the litter tray was more suitable for the smaller queens.
Only one of the queens used the litter tray and she was unwell. I asked to see her and was rather appalled at her condition.
Buffy was skin and bone, and her fur was dull and lifeless. This was the abused kitten that they had rescued, now about 5 years old. She had mouth ulcers and could only eat soft food. She had stopped grooming herself, but from time to time would pull her fur out in chunks. I actually saw her doing this – it was almost as if she wanted to rid herself of this unsightly mess covering her meagre frame.
We then went in to the garden so I could see if anything out there could be a contributor to Blu’s spraying in the house. It appeared that a number of neighbourhood cats visited the garden periodically. This generally was not a problem, but there was one cat that had moved in to the area about a year ago (!) that Claire’s cats did not like. They would growl and fluff up their hair on occasion, and Claire would have a look out of the window and see the interloper in the garden. She would chase it off, and her cats would calm down. This visiting cat would always jump on the wall alongside the driveway gate in order to gain access to the property.
- The litter tray was too small for him to use comfortably. I suggested that Claire buy a bigger tray, and fill it with garden sand from a spot where Blu usually chose to eliminate. She should place this tray beneath the window where he usually jumped outside to do his business.
- I was sure that Buffy’s illness was worrying the other cats. Claire had taken this cat repeatedly to her veterinarian, who put it on antibiotics. This suppressed the mouth ulcers so that the cat could eat without pain, but didn’t seem to improve the general condition of the animal. I suggested that she see another veterinarian who has a reputation for being particularly good with felines.
- The unwanted visitor was a major concern. Many neutered cats will suddenly start spraying if they are stressed by having a visiting male enter their territory and start challenging them. I suggested that Claire move some of her potted plants on top of the wall that the vagrant was jumping on to, and that she place tin foil over the area where this wasn’t possible. Both of these articles would hopefully deter the interloper from trying to enter the garden, and get it to move off to somewhere easier to infiltrate.
Cats are very sensitive and interesting creatures, and they often try and tell us when they are distressed or unhappy with their environment. For instance, a cat with cystitis (a bladder condition that causing a burning sensation when passing urine) will often urinate in the bath or on the stove instead of in its litter box. This in the hope that the owner will notice the presence of blood (much more visible on the white surface that in the litter tray) and take the cat for treatment.
I left Claire to implement my suggestions as best she could.
A couple of weeks later, I spoke to Claire, and learnt that Blu’s spraying had decreased significantly, as he was choosing to use the larger litter box which had been placed underneath the window where he usually moved in and out of the house. The sick old queen, had been taken to the feline veterinarian, who had diagnosed kidney failure along with a bacterial infection. Although still battling to eat, the cat was visibly better after just 10 days. Claire was due to take her back for a check up to see what else could be done to make her life more fulfilling.
Seeing the improvement in the cats’ well-being and behaviour, Claire decided to take the big step of trying to trap the stray cat that had been terrorising her pets. Often this is a humane option, as the stray can then be put up for adoption (once sterilized), and be placed in a caring, loving home.
Not only were all the cats happy after these simple changes, but Clair’s family were able to focus on enjoying their pets instead of worrying about them.