Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Scoop on the Poop, or How I Became a Yuppie In One Transaction

Remember Pumpkin?

Unfortunately our emotionally scarred cat has been causing some troubles at home. Troubles in the shape and smell of poop.

Not using the litter box is apparently a common problem for cat owners, so for the first couple of weeks we just figured it was a matter of figuring out the combination of factors that would make the cat comfortable.

For the first few days Pumpkin used the box consistently, but then one day for reasons unknown she dropped the kids off on the kitchen floor instead of at the beach. Despite a thorough scrubbing of the area (using ammonia free products), she would just pick a different spot near the box to do her business.

Obviously we took the cat to the vet assuming there was some kind of problem, but the vet found nothing medically wrong that would explain the behavior. He suggested we confine the cat and retrain her.

We did this and sure enough the cat started using the litter box again. For 4 days. Then the poop started appearing on the floor.

Another visit to the vet and he prescribed Valium, saying it had to be a behavioral problem. Valium for a cat already seemed pretty odd to me, but hey he's the doctor.

It certainly seemed to calm the cat down at night, but didn't stop the poop machine from continuing her habits.

Since then we have tried dozens of things, including:

- Larger litter box
- Multiple boxes
- Multiple litters
- Feline pheromone relaxers
- Thorough cleaning of all boxes
- More toys
- Aluminum foil in places where cat has gone outside the box
- Food in places where cat has gone outside the box
- Vinegar in places where the cat has gone outside the box
- Leaving TV on while gone with birds playing in continuous loop
- Night lites
- Cat Behavior Books
- And Many More!

Absolutely nothing is working, and I'm starting to get concerned that all these efforts might just be exacerbating the problem.

The latest in this long list is keeping the cat in our bedroom since it seems to suffer some separation anxiety when it doesn't know where we are. This is probably a product of past treatment before we got her. We've made sure to play with the cat regularly and give her some catnip about twice a week (as per cat behavior books) to try to get her more relaxed. It's difficult to tell whether any of this does any good with the Valium right now, but overall I do think the cat seems more relaxed than she did on her first day home.

However, last night Jules caught the cat using the litter box to pee, after which she calmly stepped out of it and went to town right there on the floor of our bedroom.

At this point I don't think I've seen Jules this upset and stressed out since taking the bar exam. I know that there is some reason for the cat's behavior and she's not doing it to intentionally enrage us, but it just never seems to get any better.

Most info suggests that the cat is "middening", which is an extreme form of marking the heart of a cat's territory if it feels threatened. If that is what's happening, the frustration is that we can't figure out what is threatening the cat. It seems that it is just a lot of built up stress from past treatment and possibly fearing that our long absences during work hours mean we are abandoning her. I'm grasping at straws here.

Now, about five years ago I would've just suggested giving the cat back to the foster home or dropping it off at the SPCA. However, this particular cat has been in several homes before ours and dropping an adult cat off at the SPCA is basically a death sentence. We've spent a lot of money at this point trying to pinpoint the problem and we've grown attached to the cat, and the programmer part of me really wants to debug what is wrong. Finally, I don't want Jules to be upset that we somehow failed the cat. That probably sounds pretty lame, but the look on her face when we took the cat to the vet and they told us they would need to keep her overnight for testing was pretty heartbreaking. I don't want to imagine what her face might look like giving the cat away permanently.

So, with all of this in mind, I finally made a move that firmly places me in the category of "psychotic yuppie pet owner". I went and paid for a cat psychologist.

For $165 you get a 1-2 hour phone consultation followed by a month of daily follow up. The pragmatic part of me says this is a silly way to spend money, but when I consider the fact that we've probably spent 3-4 times that already on vet visits and trips to the pet store trying to solve this, I figure the worst that happens is the problem doesn't get fixed and we're no worse off than when we started.

A friend rightfully pointed out to me the following: "The You of five years ago would kick your ass for this." I assure you the shame is palpable.

But I also believe that one of the internet's greatest purposes is to make all shame public. And so it is in that spirit that I present myself for your mockery.


Anonymous said...

I can't bring myself to mock you. I like cats more than I like most people.

I just had to put my cat down not to long ago and it was a heart breaking thing. There's a line, for me it was about $1000 in medical treatments only to see my cat's health further deteriorate.

If you haven't reached that line yet, then who the hell are we to mock you? Oh yeah... we're the anonymous denizens of the Interwebseses and it's our right, duty and pleasure.

But not me, not today, not about this.

Dang it all... post up some more baseball stuff or something so I can properly mock you for liking the only sport to serve daiquiries in the outfield. Or for liking the only sport that even has an outfield for goodness' sakes!!

heather (errantdreams) said...

Yeah, I can't bring myself to mock you either. Our cats have their own issues. For instance, we've found if we leave a bath mat down on the floor it WILL get used for the purpose of pooping, whereas otherwise the box is apparently just fine. I don't know why bath mats seem preferable, but apparently they are. *sigh*

If you're right about the territorial stuff, then the only thing I can imagine is giving the cat lots of stuff to mark as her own through scratching (various bits of cat furniture all over the house) and then give her some time. And, well, as fatuous as this sounds, try to relax about it, because she's undoubtedly picking up your stress.

(This is coming from someone who cleans up cat puke on average at least once a day, which is an adventure when your cats are on a raw diet and one floor of your house has off-white carpeting. Enzymatic cleansers are your friends.)

Also, beware of catnip; the effects totally depend on the cat. We can't bring catnip toys into our house because they make one of our cats psychotic.

Sean said...

Kind of irrelevant, kind of not. Penny arcade had a great semi related comic/news story:

Comic -


DM Osbon said...

The very reason we have yet to get a kitten is the training part & the fact that we maybe moving within the year...

The pooping incidents..? Could this be the reason your cat has had other owners.

LastBestAngryMan said...

Man, I'll never make fun of you for this. Quite frankly, my cat could piss all over my pillow and it'd be a long time and all the same effort you guys are taking before I even considered giving him up.

And if any of you ever say you saw the LBAM write this, I will end you.

Anonymous said...

The god of the rockies is punishing you for not getting a dog...a good beating might do the trick!!

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that a former resident of your place had an animal whose scent is still lingering? It wouldn't even have to be a cat, the scent of a dog or even a ferret could be taken by a cat (especially one with emotional scars) to be a sign that there is a potential threat in the area. And the scent would not even have to be strong enough for humans to pick up on; cats have a much more sensitive sniffer than we do. If you think such a thing is a possibility, it might be a good idea to steam clean the entire rug, or give it a really good scrubbing with a potent pet odor remover.

Other than that, lots of love and affection, and positive reinforcement when the kitty uses the box. Negative reinforcement might not be such a good idea if the cat is really emotionally fragile, but could be okay if used gently and in moderation -- you guys will have to be the judges of that.

Good luck! I hope everything works out for you guys and Pumpkin starts using the box.


Anonymous said...

Ok... I was searching out pooping habits of cats because MY Pumpkin poops in weird places at times.

This is a cat that we have had since he was a kitten. No mistreatment here. He has been loved and adored by all. But he just picks days to irritate me and poop somewhere he's not supposed to. His favorite pooping gounds when he's mad at me for staying gone to long, or because I didn't feed him his 4th cup of cat food on time is my dining room table!!! Jerk. Right smack dab in the middle. He did it twice before I rigged the table. I put tape sticky side up so if he did get up on the table he would be one big taped up fur ball and might learn a lesson. Months that tape stayed on the table. Months Pumpkin pooped where he was supposed to in his litter box. So about a week ago I decided to take the tape off the table and put my decorations back up. I swear it wasn't 24 hours... I picked him up, rubbed his nose in it and sprayed him in the face with water. The next day guess what I found on my dining room table... Yes, little gifts for me. Jerk!! (I love this cat.. I treat him like a king.. thats why it makes me so mad) So, I took some tape, turned it upside down, stuck him on it and kicked him out. (He is scared of being outside.... no really...) So.. before night fall I brought him back in. Loved on him... fed him.. Everything is good. For two days. Tonight I found the little tootsie rolls under my desk. Im done. Guess he can poop where ever his little heart desires...... OUTSIDE. Since you are saying its not medical.. I'm ok with our new arrangement! Thanks for your post! TracyB.

Anonymous said...

Oh... I did forget to mention... he got out in the garage one day after I got my new car.... Right smack dab in the center of the roof of my new car..... JERK!!! Should have kicked him out along time ago!!

Yeah.. I will probably be out at 3 in the morning with a flash light calling here kitty kitty..... TracyB