Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stress in a Multiple Cat Home

Bette is left, Myrna right. How can they sleep like that?
Stress-a leading factor in causing congestive heart failure in cats with HCM.  Stress-noise, changes, other animals, visitors, work being done on the house-those are the things we think about when we think about stress.  Those are the things we are ever watchful against when protecting our cat who has HCM.  We check her daily for signs of her illness.  We check many times a day to make sure she is breathing easily.  She receives her meds at set times. What we hadn't counted on, and what has recently become an issue, is that living with six other cats, even four of her siblings, can be stressful.  There's a lot of activity in a seven cat household.  There are cats who play roughly.  There are cats who cry when they are upset, can't find a toy, want to be fed, even when they have a toy in their mouth with which they are playing.  There is Baby, the oldest house cat, who swats and hisses at them all for no other reason than they have gotten too close to her, close enough for her to reach them. 

Then there is Myrna's brother, Jimmy Stewart, a handsome grey tabby who unfortunately, has had litter box issues.  He has his own reasons for stress and he has shown it with inappropriate elimination.  He's a very loving, sweet boy but he's physically, emotionally, and mentally sensitive. Smells bother him that don't bother others. Noise bothers him.  He's the first to get sick and gets sicker than any of the others.  Cooper, the oldest male, bully's him.  When he's bullied, he bullies Myrna by attacking her.  What began as typical rough housing, escalated into extreme violent attacks, so much so that we've spent the last two months separating them at night and when we are gone and even short spells during the day.  We don't know what sets him off but it happens a lot around the litter boxes after she's gone in one.  I'm sure that's a clue to his issues but not sure why it affects him.  And yet, when they are in the same room, they are fine and will even curl up and sleep together. Jimmy doesn't attack Myrna every time he sees her. 

He's spent the last few month going out of the box and marking.  His habits have spread to two or three of the other cats.  At one point this summer, it was so bad we were afraid that all seven were having issues.  We read and we tried everything. We put boxes upstairs again after we hadn't needed them for a few months.  We changed litter five times. We changed location of boxes.  We removed liners. We cleaned with three different urine removing cleansers. We cleaned with soap and vinegar. We gave him special play time, special attention. We put food and water down where he kept going. We used different techniques to dissuade him.  All to no avail.  Finally, we spoke to a specialist in early October who suggested that we clean using orange cleansers. I found one at Ace Hardware. I spent two days wiping walls, trim, floors, furniture, and washing anything that could be washed.  I used bleach water on tough urine spots on the wood floors. I even cleaned the basement where the litter boxes are.  We cleaned the boxes with soap and bleach. We used yet another different litter. We plugged in Feliaway. We sprayed with Feliaway. We used treats when we took him downstairs to use the litter boxes to entice him to go.  We have tried to set a schedule for him. Those all seemed to work very quickly and by the end of the week, we had 10 incidents and not 15.  The following week, we began medicating Cooper with a psychotropic because we felt we couldn't medicate Jimmy if the oldest male, Cooper, was being a bully and causing issues. (Just to note-it wasn't an easy decision but Cooper drew blood one Saturday by biting him very hard.  Cooper is a very anxious cat even without six cats in the house.) 

Since then, it's been better but still with issues.  We still have one or two others who either mark or go out of the box.  We know it's not always Jimmy because it happens in places I know he was not in. Other times, we're not sure and he had access to the area so it could have been him.  We see Jimmy use the boxes on his own in the basement but he goes on the pads under the boxes upstairs instead. We can't figure that one out or what to do to entice him to use the boxes upstairs. An old chair I had for 24 years was marked on by Bette Davis when she had a UTI in October but was successfully cleaned.  But it was recently marked more than once by someone and I unfortunately didn't catch it until it was too far gone and we had to toss out the chair.  Sigh. Oh well, time to redecorate the room! We've now decided to medicate Jimmy because he might still be marking and because he's still a bit anxious about something.

So, what does this have to do with Myrna and HCM?  It's not good for her condition to be attacked and to be afraid and fighting off her attacker.  Urine marking and inappropriate elimination can cause stress in other cats because they know urine shouldn't be where it is. It can lead to the others exhibiting such behavior.  The house should smell clean and should be as clean and calm as possible.  Her owner or mother (me) should be as calm as possible.  Time spent cleaning is less time playing with cats. It takes hours to clean up after messes. Then there's the corresponding laundry to do (aside from washing soiled items, there are the rags used to clean the house that must be washed because they can't sit in the dirty laundry basket smelling of urine. Trust me-it stinks!)

I'm hoping that by calming Cooper, calming Jimmy, and keeping the house clean, that it will produce a calming affect on others, and will in the long run, be of benefit to Myrna.  She needs a positive environment. They all do. We all do.

Myrna goes to the cardiologist on Thursday for a checkup. She seems fine. I'll post results after the visit.

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