Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I have three cats that are giving me gray hair.
Darling kitty 1 is a tortie named Chloe that I adopted 8 years ago when she was a baby. She was spayed at 6 months. She LOVES to go after paper and plastic items so our home is as paper and plastic free as I can possibly get it. She has always been healthy, so I think it’s strictly behavioral (she’s done this since we got her). My vet doesn’t seem to be concerned and he also hasn’t offered any medication treatments. Any suggestions?
Precious kitty 2 is named Anya and is a cat I “inherited” last year. She is approximately 13-14 years old, has all her claws, was spayed approximately 4 years ago. She doesn’t mind being petted, but HATES to be picked up or touched in any way for various illnesses. Currently she has a sticky eye discharge that my vet says is allergies. My vet, who is hilariously optimistic, gave me a gel to squeeze into her eyes. Yeah, right! It would be easier to harness a bumblebee!
Adorable kitty 3 is Ivan, Anya’s brother, also 13-14 years old. He’s overweight, though he has lost weight since I’ve had him (he came weighing about 21 lbs and now weighs about 16). I believe he was neutered when he was a kitten. Issue 1: He moves a bit slower than he did just a few months ago and I’ve noticed a popping noise when he walks. I’ve already made an appointment with the vet, but I wonder if there is anything I can do to help him feel better in the interim. He doesn’t mind me gently rubbing his hip and leg area, but I don’t know if there’s anything else I might do to ease his discomfort. Issue 2: he was declawed by a previous owner–all 4 paws. I might be crazy, but it appears that at least one nail may be growing back and it appears to be coming through one of his toe pads, which I’m sure is extremely painful. I’m afraid to consider surgery because he’s an old guy. It doesn’t appear to bother him, but I want him to be healthy.
Any advice for me for these three crazy but lovable kitties?
Siouxsie: As far as Chloe’s situation goes, the condition of eating objects like paper, plastic, yarn, baskets, and wool, is called pica.
Thomas: Cats sometimes eat these objects because they have a nutrition deficiency or other illness. Since your vet seems to have ruled that out, we can deduce that it’s behavioral.
Dahlia: I love to eat napkins and tissues, especially used ones! They taste like stuff that Mama ate, which is real yummy. I don’t like to eat plastic or regular paper or stuff like that, though.
Siouxsie: The tendency to eat or suck on foreign objects tends to be more common in Siamese or other Oriental breed cats, as well as mixed-breed cats with some Oriental heritage.
Thomas: Some behaviorists view pica as a disorder of the feline hunting instinct. We hunt by catching prey and then tearing the fur and feathers off before we eat it. Pica mimics some of these behaviors. If Chloe seems to enjoy tearing up the paper or plastic before she eats it, this may be part of the problem.
Dahlia: There’s a theory that regular cat food doesn’t provide an opportunity to do this kind of ripping and tearing, pica can be reversed by allowing the cat to occasionally eat something that gives them a chance to use this instinct properly. Some folks would suggest letting Kitty go out hunting, but we don’t think this is necessary.
Siouxsie: First, you can put down a couple of pieces of paper or plastic that have been treated with bitter apple spray. This will make the paper repulsive and may help reverse the behavior. Then make sure to schedule lots of active play sessions with Chloe, particularly with “thing on a string” toys so she can exercise her hunting instincts properly. These two tricks should help.
Thomas: Now, on to Anya the impossible-to-medicate. When it comes to difficult cats, the first thing you have to do is adjust your own attitude. If you go into the process thinking it’s going to be a battle and feeling anxious about it, Anya will pick up on those feelings. The two tricks to medicating a cat are be fast and be relaxed.
Dahlia: Our best advice would be to try and medicate Anya while she’s relaxed, maybe just coming out of a nap. Have your vet or one of the techs show you how to hold and restrain Anya so that you can administer the eye gel. Give her a treat after you medicate her, so that she begins to associate being medicated with a reward. That’s worked great for me!
Siouxsie: You might find these detailed instructions on how to give a cat eye medication to be helpful, too.
Thomas: Now, on to Ivan. It’s pretty clear that he has some kind of arthritic condition. The popping in his joints and stiffness and limping on cold, damp days are pretty much a giveaway. We’re glad you’re going to take him to the vet and get this condition checked out. Heat is definitely helpful for kitties with arthritis, and Ivan would probably love you forever if you were to get him a heated cat bed (note: the link to this site should not imply an endorsement of this particular product or retailer; it’s simply for descriptive purposes).
Siouxsie: Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements can help stop the deterioration of Ivan’s joints, although they won’t cure the problem. There are lots of yummy cat treats that have glucosamine and chondroitin in them; Mama gives me glucosamine/chondroitin treats because I get a bit stiff and creaky when it gets cold and damp, too.
Dahlia: If you do give glucosamine and chondroitin to Ivan, make sure you’re using a product made for cats, not dogs or humans.
Siouxsie: You should not give Ivan any standard NSAID pain relievers–aspirin, Tylenol, Advil, etc. Although dogs can tolerate aspirin for pain relief, cats cannot. NSAIDs can literally poison a cat. If pain medication is warranted, your vet may give you a medication like Metacam, an NSAID labeled for use in dogs but successfully used off-label in cats, that you can use on the days when his joints are really bothering him.
Thomas: The bottom line with pain relief is that your vet will tell you what is and is not safe to use in this sutation. Follow your vet’s orders very carefully.
Siouxsie: Regarding the claw issue, it certainly is possible for a cat that was improperly declawed to have a claw grow back. Usually when this happens, the claw is twisted and/or grows out in the wrong location–through the paw pad, for example.
Thomas: Ivan probably will have to have surgery if this is the case. Surgery is more risky in older cats, but if he is basically healthy, he should come through just fine. We’d recommend that you allow your vet to do a pre-anesthetic blood test, which will allow your vet to see if Ivan’s liver and kidneys are working properly, among other things.
Dahlia: Good liver and kidneys is very important because anesthetic is detoxified and removed from the body by the liver and kidneys. If Ivan’s liver or kidneys are compromised and he needs to have surgery, your vet can adjust the dose of anesthetic and make sure he gets extra after-care so that he recovers well from the surgery.
Siouxsie: We won’t lie to you, Michelle: Surgery is always a risk. Even healthy cats can have allergic reactions to the anesthetic or die from undetected health problems during the course of an operation. But the odds of this kind of tragedy happening are very slim. Vets do thousands of successful, uneventful surgeries over the course of their careers.
Thomas: When you take Ivan to the vet, talk to your vet and see what he or she thinks about this protruding claw. If your vet suggests surgery, make sure that you’re open about your concerns. Your vet will appreciate your honesty about your fears and may be able to alleviate a lot of them.
Dahlia: Good luck to you and your three wonderful feline companions, Michelle. Please let us know how things go.