Herbie is a fidget. He has a tendency to overgroom. Sometimes he pulls at the fur on his back so much that thin patches appear. Occasionally he even licks himself raw and nicks his skin with his teeth. On a solid white cat this is very noticeable in vivid red which he then licks across his fur in a pink streak. Although it heals very quickly I am trying to find out why he does this and it is proving tricky.
My vet suggested I give all 3 cats their flea treatment, in order to rule out the obvious. She also gave him a shot of steroids to stop the itching and possible inflammation. The shot wasn’t really effective, as later on that day, and the day after, there was a new red patch on Herbie’s back. That was a week ago, and there have been no red patches since then, but still plenty of scratching and fidgeting.
It is very difficult to pinpoint a cause, especially as it’s been happening on and off for months. It could be an allergic reaction, so a blood test is an option. Was it a reaction to his first booster vaccination, back in September? Well, he was scratching before this, but in the vet’s surgery he was absolutely rigid with fear, and as soon as he got home he attacked the vaccination site as much as he could and pulled the fur off around it. For weeks afterwards he continued to pick at the fur on his back.
This makes me think it could be stress-related. When Herbie came to us as a kitten, he had to find his feet in our house with 3 other cats (now 2). He did this very well at first but as he matured he seemed unsure of himself and his place in the family. I tried hard to boost his confidence as underneath his bravado he is quite a sensitive soul. His bad experience at the vet last year may have triggered a pattern of behaviour, a neurosis. My vet is very cat-friendly and patient, and I don’t know why Herbie was so freaked out on that occasion.
Then in December my senior cat Barney was put to sleep. This left Top Cat up for grabs. Larry decided he was going for it. Always a confident and friendly lad, he started to throw his weight around a bit too much. Monty took the brunt of it and there was lots of scrapping. Now Larry and Monty, litter mates, who used to be best friends as kittens, can barely be in the same room without friction. Herbie adores both of them and just wants everyone to be happy. He plays delightfully with each of them and he doesn’t like it when they fight – which is nearly every day.
Talking all of this over with my vet, she suggested I work on allowing Larry to be top cat, whilst making sure he is not top cat over us. The lads are together a lot, so I should let Larry have more time apart from the others. I could also feed him further away from the other two. He can be quite dominant and I need to come down on him hard when he crosses the line. For example, last Christmas he lashed out at my hand whilst I was writing a card and drew blood. I was furious and I held him down by the scruff of his neck, shouting ‘NO! NO!’ I chased him upstairs and made him stay there on his own for an hour. I did not allow the OH to go and talk to him. Larry has been a lot better behaved since then…until yesterday when he scratched both my hands for no good reason. This time I was too shocked (and upset) to react. I just didn’t speak to him for the rest of the day. The OH rather unhelpfully says ‘but he doesn’t scratch me’. Well, Larry and the OH have a very close bond, which is lovely. But I feed them, so he has to learn that he can’t ‘bite the hand that feeds’. More to the point, he can’t be a scratch risk to anyone in the house: either myself or any visitors.
Coincidentally, Larry did not like his food yesterday and spent all day howling at me to serve something else. I took to opportunity to show my dominance by refusing to budge.
If anyone has an idea of how to handle this minefield of feline psychology, please pitch in!
Finally, my vet had another suggestion: get another cat. I am not sure if this is wise…
Till next time,