Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
My 12-year-old cat won’t or can’t eat. Until two days ago he was always hungry. We noticed a large cat around the house and also a strong smell of urine/spraying in the room where he sleeps — maybe the intruder? Now he is apprehensive about coming in and doesn’t eat anything. He even rejects a saucer of milk. He also gets aggressive when I try to feel his abdomen. I’m taking him to the vet but would like your input all the same. Many thanks in advance.
Siouxsie: Well, Alan, we think there are a couple of things going on here which may or may not be related.
Thomas: First, we’re glad you’re taking him to the vet, because from what you’ve said we think he may have a urinary tract infection or urinary blockage. We say this because he’s not eating — a sign of illness or infection — and because he reacts strongly when you touch his abdomen.
Dahlia: Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can cause cats to pee in inappropriate places. UTIs are painful, and cats can begin to associate the litterbox with their pain; therefore, they may choose to do their business elsewhere in hopes of avoiding the pain.
Siouxsie: We are a little concerned that you said your cat was always hungry until a couple of days ago. He may have worms or he could have some sort of chronic illness like diabetes or hyperthyroidism, which cause a cat’s appetite to increase. “Senior” cats — those older than about 10 — tend to be at an increased risk of developing these illnesses.
Thomas: We suspect that your vet will do a blood test to determine if your cat has an infection or if there are other possible problems.
Dahlia: Cats that go outdoors are at a high risk of getting worms. First of all, outdoor cats hunt, and their prey may be carrying parasites or may have fleas. Fleas are the primary way that cats get tapeworms because the eggs lay dormant inside the flea, and once the flea gets into the cat’s digestive system, the flea is digested and the egg hatches, and then takes up residence inside the cat’s intestines.
Siouxsie: If you’ve noticed things that look like rice grains around your cat’s anus, on or in his stools, or in areas where he sleeps, it’s pretty likely that he has tapeworms. Those rice grains are segments of the tapeworm, and they’re full of tapeworm eggs! Blech!
Thomas: Fortunately, worms are easy to treat. Your vet can give you a pill that will kill the worms.
Dahlia: Urinary tract infections are treated by antibiotics, and they usually clear up with a 10-day or 2-week course of medicine.
Siouxsie: If your cat’s urinary tract is blocked, though, the treatment is more complicated. Blockages can occur because of crystals, inflammation of the urethra, and/or mucus. Male cats get urinary tract blockages more than females because male cats’ urethras are longer and narrower than females’.
Thomas: When a cat is blocked, the urine backs up into the kidneys and can cause infection or kidney failure. A cat with a urinary tract blockage needs immediate veterinary attention. The treatment includes cystocentesis (removing the urine from the bladder with a syringe) to relieve the pressure and pain and get the kidneys functioning again, as well as subcutaneous fluids and catheterization to remove the blockage.
Dahlia: Once a cat has had a blockage, veterinarians recommend a special diet based on the kind of crystals that were found in the bladder or in the blockage itself. These special foods are designed to create fewer crystals and reduce the chance that the cat will block again.
Siouxsie: If your cat starts acting more painful or you notice a strong ammonia smell around him, if he starts looking glassy-eyed, or if he goes to sleep and you can’t wake him up — don’t wait for your appointment. Take him to an emergency clinic right away. Urinary tract blockages are life-threatening because they cause kidney failure. Kidney failure can cause other organs to fail, and multiple organ failure often leads to death.
Thomas: So now that we’ve discussed the medical possibilities, let’s move on to the intruder cat issue. It’s possible that the intruder cat has caused your cat to get stressed, which would lower his resistance to disease and could cause behavior like spraying.
Dahlia: Some cats get very upset when intruders come into their territory and they can’t do anything about it. When that happens, the victim of the intrusion shows his stress by spraying or marking inside his house. It’s instinctive behavior that’s redirected inappropriately.
Siouxsie: We’d recommend that you allow your cat to sleep somewhere else for a while, preferably where he can’t see the intruder cat. Clean up his urine marks with an enzyme cleaner or a mixture of vinegar and water. You can find more details about cleaning urine in this column.
Thomas: You may want to use a feline pheromone diffuser to lower your cat’s anxiety level. These products, marketed under the brand name Feliway Comfort Zone, are available at vets’ offices, pet stores, and online. We’d recommend using a plug-in diffuser in the room where the spraying took place and using the Comfort Zone spray on the spots where your cat sprayed (once you’ve cleaned those spots as we recommended above, of course).
Dahlia: We’ve had very good luck with Feliway. Mama has used it to resolve territorial spraying problems and to lower our anxiety from traveling and moving to a new home.
Siouxsie: Of course, we have to add that if you haven’t had your cat neutered, you really ought to do that, too. Un-neutered male cats tend to be a lot more aggressive about territory issues … and their spray smells about 10 times worse than the spray of neutered cats!
Thomas: Good luck, Alan. We hope your kitty is OK and that our advice helps you to keep your cat calm and contented.