My cat's a nightmare (washing, pooping, moving socks, flicking letterboxes...). Any suggestions?
October 20, 2008 3:40 PM   Subscribe

I've got a problematic cat. She's a stray. I've had her for 8 years now, and we estimate she was about 4 months old when she decided to join me. There are 4 main problems: the persistent washing (till she bleeds); the crapping on the floor; the moving of socks and other small items around the house; and the general neediness. The vet is out of ideas. I have this naive hope that there will be a solution (ah, your cat has "Needywashingcrappersock syndrome, ms handee"). But I'm running out of patience (and cash). So it is time to Ask Metafilter. Anyone got any ideas?

The washing thing has necessitated monthly or bi-montly vet visits for about 5 years. This summer, the vet thought of trying a surgical intervention, and that got infected, which made the whole situation 1000% worse (and means I've spent about 2000 dollars in vets fees this year). We are unclear whether she's better or not - current diagnosis is eosinophilic granuloma, but nobody seems entirely sure how to treat that.

The crapping thing is a real problem. She hasn't gotten used to the new house, and we've been here over a year now. She will crap next to the litter tray, or in the middle of the kitchen. She will stand in the litter tray and crap over the edge. She will, if the tray is entirely empty, maybe get most of the crap in the tray. But rarely all. This is really really getting me down.

The sock thing isn't so much of a problem in that it's easy to deal with, but it's been going on for the whole time we've had her, so we've had a while to adapt. We are now experts at keeping drawers shut and hiding the laundry. But if there is a sock or some knickers lying around, she will move them from room to room or from floor to floor. She's got a special noise (sort of half miaou half grunt) she does when shifting socks so we can tell when she's doing it.

This last one - the neediness - isn't so much of a problem either, but when she's out and she wants in she will sit at the front door flicking the letter box till we let her in. This, as you can imagine, impacts on our sleep. And if you're reading a book, she'll come and headbutt it until she gets attention.

(There's a sense in which this is 4 questions in one - and I would be grateful for answers to any of them - but I can't help but think these things are all linked...)
posted by handee to Pets & Animals (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not that I know anything about anything, but a friend of mine had a cat who was doing the excessive washing thing and the vet put the cat on Prozac, which I guess worked for them. It's possible it might help with some of the other symptoms too.
posted by phoenixy at 3:56 PM on October 20, 2008

The washing, I have no clue. What kind of surgical intervention?

For the crapping, check your local pet store for cat attract litter. I just switched to it, and my cat now poops happily in his box. Also, if she's doing over the edge, maybe the tray is too small, or maybe you need an enclosed tray.

The sock thing: you have a cat.
Neediness: you have a cat, but maybe she could use a cat, too.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 3:59 PM on October 20, 2008

When my cat overgroomed it turned out to be food allergy. Better quality food fixed it.
posted by zadcat at 4:04 PM on October 20, 2008

Response by poster: phoenixy: possibly worth a try, i will bring it up with the vet next time i go to hand over money.

cat pie hurts: she had a really baggy belly that the vet thought was causing her irritation and picking up allergens, so basically, a tummy tuck.

there is one other cat in the house already, they seem to get on well for cats (she chose to move in with us, and they scrap occasionally but are generally friendly, often sleeping-in-a-pile, washing each other, and despite having their own food bowls don't seem to distinguish).

zadcat: what food? i've had them on supermarket dried, supermarket wet, IAMS type pet shop dried... I'm willing to try strange foods if need be. Seems an easy-ish solution. The vet did suggest a "natural" diet which consisted of small animals complete with bones and stomach contents - this seemed a little too much effort for me. You have to draw a line somewhere... and mine falls somewhere before procuring mice and small birds...
posted by handee at 4:15 PM on October 20, 2008

Oh my god, it's like we have the same cat. Seriously, she grooms like crazy and carries the socks around while wailing. She just started the poop thing and I'm about to lose my mind over it. She's not super needy, just needy enough to be cute.

(You know this thread is useless without pics, right? :)

What's with the surgery, though?
posted by sugarfish at 4:17 PM on October 20, 2008

Overgrooming: food allergy, overly dry climate, fleas, anxiety - has your vet checked for all of these?

Potty problems: bigger cat box with Cat Attract and a mat you can wipe up going out 1ft around box. We cut an entry way into a storage bin for the kitty we had with this problem and it ended. Otherwise, has vet identified any anxiety issues where she'd be trying to "expand" her territory? Also, since she's allowed to go outside, too, she might not have a clear understanding of potty-area-limitations.

Socks: sounds like she lost some kittens early on and developed the neurosis about moving them from one place to another. Can also be a manifestation of anxiety.

Neediness: Kitties have different personalities just like people, and yours is a lovebug (bugs you for love). Anxiety might be increasing this, but it's highly like you've just got a high-contact kitty.

Do you guys have other pets?
posted by batmonkey at 4:17 PM on October 20, 2008

Try a bigger litter box.

Supermarket foods are universally crap, as is Iams. Try Wellness, Orijen, EVO, Innova. But the grooming may necessitate medication. Also, I would get a second opinion.
posted by biscotti at 4:19 PM on October 20, 2008

Agh. Didn't preview. Does your other kitty have any health/neuroses issues?

Supermarket food often has colour, flavour, and filler ingredients that cats can develop over-sensitivity to as a reaction. This can definitely cause over-grooming. rtimmel just got a bunch of great answers to figuring out how to find a better pet food.
posted by batmonkey at 4:23 PM on October 20, 2008

posted by k8t at 4:38 PM on October 20, 2008

My sister's cat does many of the same things. For the pooping she got her cat one of those enclosed litter boxes (this one, I think.)

As far as the socks and underwear go, my sister actually dedicated some of her old socks and undies for the cat's exclusive use, I think maybe 4 old pairs of socks and 2 old pairs of undies? All her other stuff she keeps in a closed drawer.

The neediness I'm not sure you can do anything about.

The washing til the cat bleeds sounds terrible! I hope someone more knowledgeable can makes some suggestions because that sounds like an awful thing to try and figure out on your own.
posted by supercrayon at 4:43 PM on October 20, 2008

I had great success putting a cat on prozac for the licking/cleaning issue as well.

As to the litter issues - you might put a bigger pan under the litter box. I have a huge metal baking sheet underneath the litter box that catches any litter that gets kicked out of the box. Try a different litter - if you're using clay scoopable then try crystals, wheat scoopable or the stuff made from recycled newspaper. The litter box issues may be that she doesn't like how the current litter smells or feels.

And yes, try a different food. My cats like (and do well on) Nutro, Wellness & Innova.

It would be best not to try all the new things at once. Phase them in over a few weeks.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 4:43 PM on October 20, 2008

Also: if your cat doesn't do well with pills - the prozac can be put into a cream that you apply to the inside of the ear. Your vet will know a pharmacy that can do this.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 4:45 PM on October 20, 2008

A kitty of mine had eosinophilic granuloma, which was kept in check with incredibly expensive "prescription" food (the name of which escapes me, but it was made of duck and peas) - the vet thought it was a food allergy issue and this seemed to cure it.
posted by tristeza at 5:18 PM on October 20, 2008

Try Feliaway. After we moved, one of my cats took to pooping on one of my chairs. I think it was out of anxiety and having a hard time adjusting to the move and new house. I got an off brand of Feliaway from the pet store, and it worked like a charm.
posted by at 5:24 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

One of our cats had digestive problems and the vet kept suggesting we try different foods but would never recommend a specific one. I finally cornered her on it and she whispered "tender vittles." I think since the vet also sells foods they can't recommend a brand (?). Anyway, the tender vittles cleared the digestion problem up immediately.
posted by muscat at 5:27 PM on October 20, 2008

How much attention does your cat get? Petting until she's sick of it? See if giving her a lot more attention and gentle massaging or rubbing on all of her body helps.

Is she alone much of the day? Obviously you can't just stay home, but anxiety may come from being alone a lot.

Nthing the better food.
posted by Listener at 5:29 PM on October 20, 2008

nthing the prozac. the licking thing is kitty OCD and the bowel thing and clingy thing can also be symptoms of it.
posted by Maias at 5:42 PM on October 20, 2008

I would bet it's the kind of 3-colors cat (white, with patch of black and orange).
If it is, this kind of cats are proven to have strong character, and except for the washing which is really unusual, there's not much to do.
From my experience with a cat like this, repulsive (tried all of them) only have limited effects, the cat get used to it, and at worse it get stressed by it, and its behaviour only became worse.
I guess meds should work, if you're not against it.
posted by anto1ne at 5:59 PM on October 20, 2008

I have a formerly feral cat who washes obsessively. We put her on low allergen cat food -- this one. You have to get it from a veterinarian, unfortunately. (It also gives her digestive issues which probably would not be compatible with a cat that poops all over the place, your mileage may vary.) Our vet told us if it didn't work, Prozac will be his next recommendation. It works somewhat, but not I think that's where we're headed.

My cat also does the toy moving while howling thing. I know that she had at least one litter before she came to live with us, and I've always theorized that she's reminiscing about the stressful old days when she had to move her kids around and ward off predators. Since your cat was a little too young for that to be applicable, I'm now wondering if maybe her toy is an imaginary snack for later instead...
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:02 PM on October 20, 2008

Is there just one litterbox? I read in another AskMe thread that there should be one more litterbox than cats, and probably one on each floor. We had the stray pooping thing since moving to a new house, and I realized that all 3 boxes were in the basement, and one cat seemed to have claimed the basement for herself, probably chasing off t'other cat. This would account for hasty over-the-edge, or wrong location poopage. I moved one box upstairs and so far so good. I am also using Feliway and hormone pills, though, so who knows!
posted by fish tick at 6:11 PM on October 20, 2008

We got a Clevercat litter box, which really helped our cats decide to poop inside the box vs just outside the box. Having the extra room and privacy also enticed them.
posted by cior at 6:12 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Extra litter boxes, different litter regimens (some cats are picky). Better cat food -- also reduces the stinkiness of the poop. I've had good success with Eukanuba, though I now use some weird local stuff.

Sometimes the excessive neediness is due to having been weaned too young; this is way too late to fix.
posted by jeather at 6:30 PM on October 20, 2008

There are also cat attractants you can put in the litter box to make the cat want to go there. When my cat started peeing in various corners, I used this cat attractant coupled with cat repellents on the spots she'd been using. It took about a week to get her sorted out but she switched back to using only the litter box.

If you do get the cat repellent, make sure to read the instructions; many (most?) of them carry stern warnings about not using them near any foods.
posted by johnofjack at 6:42 PM on October 20, 2008

I see there is used cat litter available at that link.
posted by fish tick at 6:59 PM on October 20, 2008

That's hilarious.

I wanted a link to a page with a picture of the product, though I guess Google Images would have worked just as well.... handee, I'm sure your local pet stores would carry it if you decide to give it a try.

Ah, and a warning: those bags are much heavier than a bag their size looks like it ought to be.
posted by johnofjack at 7:03 PM on October 20, 2008

Look for the so-called 1-1 foods: foods that are one kind of protein, one kind of carb, and a very short list of ingredients. EVO, Inova, and California Natural (all the same company) make several 1-1 foods for cats. Supposedly, a combination of peas and duck is particularly successful for cats with allergies. Natural Balance makes both a dry and wet pea/duck diet. My dog has food allergies and switching to a 1-1 food has eliminated his scratching, licking, gas, and diarrhea.
posted by weebil at 7:24 PM on October 20, 2008

My 5-year-old kitty will do the "walking and crying whilst carrying toy/sock/bra" thing. He never had kittens, and as he was a shelter cat, I don't know how early he was separated from his mother. He tends to do this at night, after I've gone to bed, and during the day when I'm away at work (I'll come home and find the blue mouse toy in the middle of the kitchen, or in my shoe, or in the food bowl).
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:32 PM on October 20, 2008

I just said this on another thread. There are things that help kitties mellow.

It sounds like she might have a food allergy, but she might also benefit from Feliway. There is a natural substance my vet told me about that is cheaper. I'll mefimail you about if I can find the name.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:34 PM on October 20, 2008

computech_apolloniajames: yeah, the 'brave hunter brings gifts' thing...I realise now my interpretation of the issue made me assume that had been ruled out. heh. Occam's Razor, eh?
posted by batmonkey at 8:33 PM on October 20, 2008

Lots of good advice here. I'd reinforce the "do something different with the litterbox" thing for the pooping -- if you have a covered box, try an uncovered box, or vice versa; change litter brands, try changing the litter more or slightly less often, etc. -- basically, if there's something she doesn't like about the current box situation, try to figure out what it is. This combined with cat repellents (and enzymatic odor destroyers, vinegar, citrus scents, etc.) in the inappropriate spots, feliway and cat attractants in the right spots, etc., might go a long ways towards sorting out the pooping issue.

Alternatively, if there really is a food allergy, that could be part of the pooping issue also; definitely consult a vet, but look for foods with different grains and proteins than you have now -- if it's a cornmeal and chicken food, try lamb and rice, etc.

Carrying the sock and wailing is a phantom kitten thing; some ex-queens do it, some females who were early spays do it, there's not much rhyme or reason for it, other than try to ignore it (or make fun of it, depending -- hey, if it's entertaining...). Most of them do it in cycles, or get over it altogether.

Thinking of all of that together, seriously, go get a workup from a good vet, preferably one that makes a point of a feline practice (you might try to find a local cat show, attend and ask a couple of local breeders who they recommend) -- I don't want to alarm you, but this could all be part and parcel of something getting her hormones out of whack. That's probably a remote chance, but better to check and be sure than miss something important. If it were me, I'd spring for a blood work-up and a couple of x-rays, just for the reassurance, and I'd probably insist on it if the allergy thing didn't pan out, etc.

Best of luck!
posted by nonliteral at 8:43 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Before you try an expensive litterbox, make one yourself for $6:
Get a big Rubbermaid-style bin. Cut a hole fairly high on the side, or in the lid. Instinctively I suspect that putting the hole in the lid might be a better choice- but if you decide to put the hole in the side, make it high enough that if cat's in the box, her butt is a few inches below the hole. Smooth the edges of the hole with sandpaper or a file. Put lots of clean litter inside, then show it to the cat. Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:38 PM on October 20, 2008

My cats recently had a dust-up and my vet prescribed prozac for the two at the center of the issue. He assured us that it was very safe and had few side effects.

I did some reading about its use in cats, and it is apparently often suggested for the sort of problems your cat is having (specifically the over-grooming), as well as other stress-type behaviors.

I have also been using Feliway diffusers and spray, which are supposed to help with the same sort of issues. I can't tell whether it is having any effect or not, but a bottle of the spray purchased online will only set you back $20 or so, and might be worth a try.
posted by MsElaineous at 5:52 AM on October 21, 2008

I'm late to this but here goes..

Everything you describe about your cat and her behaviour says to me Hormone Issue. Follow nonliteral's advice about seeking out a feline only veterinary practice and ask for a blood test for hormone levels, specifically to establish if her oestrogen levels are low.

If they are, this could be the cause of the excessive grooming, the general needyness and also the carrying stuff around. She's likely reached a level of insecurity that has brought her to the inappropriate pooping behaviour because of the psychological state that messed up oestrogen can cause and also stress from the house move. It's called middening and cats do it when they are distressed. Fix up every room she uses with Feliway Diffusers and use the spray around her bedding, doorways and anywhere she rubs her face.

There may be something more behind low oestrogen levels but if they are just idiopathically low then a course of oestrogen will sort her out. If the excessive grooming has been going on for a long time, that may be the last and hardest part to sort out, but it is possible she will stop when her hormones are at the right level. When physical and environmental causes have been identified, treated and not worked, that is when drugs like Prozac can be considered.

If she does have Eosinophilic granuloma complex (a skin biopsy should have established this) then there are plenty of treatment options available.

Also, follow what Biscotti said and get her onto a good quality food.

You need to find good cat vet sooner rather than later, for the sake of your cat and your wallet.

Good luck!
posted by Arqa at 9:43 AM on October 21, 2008

When your vet is "out of ideas" it's time to find another, better vet. If you can't find one locally, consider taking your cat to a clinic at a veterinary school (if there is one within driving distance) where she will be examined by faculty who are up on all the possibilities. This can be really valuable for a cat like yours, who does not fit the profile an everyday vet sees. (From a little web surfing, the veterinary hospital at Liverpool looks to be quite advanced.)
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:18 PM on October 21, 2008

Umpteenthing Feliaway. Both of mine are anxious house cats who've been through a few moves lately. Feliaway worked wonders calming them down.
posted by vbfg at 5:19 AM on November 24, 2008

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