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.