Some time several months ago, Dan and I were at the feed store where we buy our cats’ food and litter when we came across a rainbow-striped cat harness with leash. Since for the first time we’re living in a house with a big fenced yard, we had started to talk about the possibility of trying each cat, one at a time, on the harness outside for a couple of minutes to see how they liked it. Both cats are avid watchers of what we call the Kitty Show (aka watching out the various windows and sliding glass doors and looking at all the wildlife that traipses through the yard) so we thought they might like to try some (brief, supervised) time outside.
Neither cat seemed to enjoy the experience overly much during the couple of initial outings, so we kind of forgot about it for a while. Then, January happened, and it was warm-ish and sunny and didn’t rain for nearly a month. We thought it might be fun to see if either of the cats was interested in outside time again. One day in mid-January, Dan put the harness on Loki and brought him outside the back door. Somehow, the cat managed to wriggle out of the harness, knock over several yard tools, run through a leaf pile, and hightail it back in the house, seemingly within the blink of an eye. All told, he was probably outside for about a minute and a half.
A few days later, Loki started scratching.
He scratched, and he bit himself, and he started pulling fur out of his back. He was acting like he had fleas, though I couldn’t see how he could possibly have them, since we’d been in the house for months with nary a sign of fleas anywhere. I checked him for flea poop and monitored Robin but I couldn’t find any sign other than Loki’s obvious discomfort. I found one flea in our bed early on, but neither Dan and I nor Robin seemed to be getting bitten at all. We realized that he must have picked up a flea during that 90 second jaunt outside (in January) (in barely 60 degree weather). We’d never had to worry about fleas at all in Denver, since there aren’t really fleas in Denver, and the cats were always indoor-only there. But squirrels and neighborhood cats run through our yard all the time, so I guess somehow there was a flea that managed to get on Loki during that minute and a half. Eventually, we decided that we’d just treat them both for fleas and be done with it, so we got some of that Advantage stuff and dosed both felines, washed the bedding and the rugs and vacuumed the carpets, thinking that would be the end of it.
It wasn’t the end of it. He kept scratching and digging. I didn’t see more flea poop on Loki, so I brought him in to the vet thinking maybe he had a flea allergy and he’d need a steroid shot to feel better. The vet found flea poop that hadn’t been there when I’d checked, gave him the shot, and told us to give him another dose of Advantage and flea powder the carpets in the house. So we did.
The shot, which wasn’t cheap (and neither was the vet visit) didn’t seem to give the cat any relief. He was starting to look all manky and bald on his back. We dutifully flea powdered all the carpets. Then one day I had gone into the bedroom to fold laundry on the bed, and I watched in horror as three adult fleas emerged from the fluffy, down-filled spread we had on the bed, the one thing that we hadn’t washed when we washed everything else because of the down filling. ARGH. It was disgusting, to watch the fleas come out to try and feed on me. I killed them all and immediately dragged all of our bedding outside and threw up in my mouth and then I threw the spread into the washing machine and washed it on hot. I’m sure the fluffiness will never be the same, but I’ll never be the same after seeing those fleas pop out from between the fibers of the fabric cover.
All of the bedding got washed again, and we vacuumed and flea-sprayed down our mattress and the bedroom rug again and the furniture in the living room. And Loki went after Robin.
We’ve had Robin now for over 14 months. During that time, we’ve had periods of time where the cats ignored each other or seemed to have interest in one another but generally left one another alone. We’ve also had times during which Loki goes after Robin ever chance he gets. Those times seem to coincide with stress, and I think the stress of having fleas for the first time in his life must have been more than his poor little walnut brain could handle, because since the flea problem started, Loki has been more vicious in his attacks. We’ve tried the things we’d learned second-hand from an animal behaviorist – praising him when she walks through the room and he doesn’t chase her; squirting him with a water bottle when he’s considering going after her; isolating him in a room when he does chase or attack her. Until the flea problem began, Loki seemed to be getting it through his head that his predatory behavior toward the other cat was unacceptable. But once that began, all bets were off.
The day we washed and vacuumed and sprayed everything again, it was sunny outside and I’d gone out to pull some weeds when I heard the telltale yowls and screams of a catfight. I ran back in the house to find that Loki had cornered Robin behind the bed in the spare room and was going at her singlemindedly. She managed to get away; he chased her. I had to throw a book at him to distract his attention enough to get him away from her and I shut him in the laundry room. She seemed rattled as usual but we didn’t notice anything amiss until the next day when she hissed and cried anytime she was picked up, and started obsessively licking a spot on her side. Of course, it was a Sunday, so no vets were open and we decided we’d watch it to see if it abscessed because we didn’t want to have to bring her in for another expensive trip to the vet if we could help it. We went online and ordered a plug-in Feliway diffuser to see if that would help with the aggression, thinking at the very least it couldn’t hurt.
Days passed, and her sore spot, a tooth puncture, didn’t seem to bother her anymore. But it developed a lump, so we knew she needed antibiotics. The vet scolded us for not bringing her in sooner, shaved the area, removed the scab, and flushed the abscess, telling us to keep an eye on it. That was on Thursday last week. By Sunday, the weird spot on her skin that we’d thought was just dark skin (she is, after all, a spotted/striped cat) opened up to be a large draining sore and of course, it being Sunday again, no vets were open. We called an emergency vet service in Santa Rosa asking for advice, and the lady told us to keep her from licking the spot using some sort of a cone collar. We put the cat in her carrier and drove her with us to Santa Rosa to keep her mind off the sore spot (instead, she protested the injustice of her confinement in the carrier and her transportation in the car) while we looked for a place that would sell us a cone. Instead, we found a donut-style inflatable collar at PetCo and when we got her home we put the thing on her.
She has never looked so pathetic.
Sunday night, after wobble-walking around and learning she couldn’t eat or drink out of her normal containers, Robin bravely emerged from her perch on the refrigerator to hang out with us on the couch. Loki was resting on the back of the couch behind us. When he saw her coming at him with that giant thing around her neck, he instantly attacked, and it was all we could do to get them apart as he chased her through the house. The poor thing couldn’t jump up to her normal safe places or protect or defend herself with that inflatable donut around her neck, and he managed to get a ton of fur off her.
He spent the night in the laundry room with his litter box and his food and water, while we cried and petted poor Robin in her donut and tried to figure out what to do next. We can’t let him keep attacking her (it’s not fair to her to have to always be afraid of being attacked) and we can’t stand the idea of giving up either of the cats (though honestly, we’re more likely to find a home for Robin if necessary; she’s sweet and loving toward people and she’s less than two years old. Loki is seven, great with people, obviously very aggressive and territorial toward other animals, and he’s already bitten a human once (me).) Sunday night was mostly sleepless, as pathetic donut Robin slept between us in the bed while I woke up every time she moved, afraid she’d be able to maneuver around the leaking donut (it had sprung a leak during the fight) and lick the open sore on her side.
Monday we brought her back in to the vet. They shaved more of the area, washed out the open sore, and gave us more antibiotics. And we talked to the vet about what we might do with Loki. He gave us a prescription for kitty antidepressants, saying that a couple of months on the pills might help change his brain chemistry so he’s less likely to see Robin as a threat or prey or something to be aggressive toward. And supposedly, they work best in conjunction with the Feliway diffuser. Meanwhile, during the time Robin’s open sore is healing and she’s wearing the donut collar, we’re going to keep them separated 24 hours a day like we always have when we’ve not been in the house. We’re trading off keeping her in the back of the house (with food/water/box and a bed and toys) while he’s in the main part of the house with us, and keeping him in the kitchen/laundry room (with food/water/box and a bed and tons of Kitty Show to watch) while she gets to have time with the humans. Maybe after she’s healed up and she’s had a full week on antibiotics, we can try heavily supervised time when both cats are in the same physical space. And by that time he’ll have been on the antidepressants for several days.
I don’t feel great about medicating Loki, not only because we’re messing with his brain chemistry (urgh) but because getting him to take a pill is not easy. And he has to take them every day. While he’s taking the antidepressants, we can’t be away for more than 24 hours because if we have a hard time pilling him, anybody he doesn’t know as well is going to have a BITCH of a time doing it. He bit me bad enough to give me nasty scars on my hand back in December during one of their fights, and I feel like approaching his mouth is just asking for trouble, but so far it’s gone OK as we’ve caught him sleeping and he’s not aware enough to put up that much of a protest. I’m hoping to find some pill pocket treats that might make things easier for giving him the daily pill, but that’s more money spent. And if giving him a pill every day for two months makes it so both cats can live in relative harmony without having to rehome one of them, it will be worth it.