Cat very upset after outside time
February 19, 2012 5:35 AM   Subscribe

Our indoor cat got outside, maybe tangled with a feral cat. He came back inside and is now growling and screeching in the bathroom. Bad situation. This is a long story.

Last night, about 12 hours ago, one of our indoor cats escaped. He is about 8 years old and is neutered. He has been out before at our current apartment and his outdoor behavior was the same as it has been in the past: as soon as he gets out there, he's very much a stranger. I found him down in the bushes and he would not come to me. He ran up another apartment's stairwell and I almost caught him. I got a poor grip on the nape of his neck and the second I put my hands around his middle, he went into super survival mode with high pitched intense shrieking and flailing. I had to let him go.

After that, it was back to the bushes and if I got close enough, he would let out his low pitched warning growl (sort of like a revving engine) and hiss. I went upstairs to wait for changes.

I repeated calling him out of the bushes with food and treats with no success. The third time I went down, a feral cat (there are several around here) was slowly walking towards him in the bushes. Our cat faced the cat down and growled and hissed and did not run. I tried to scare the other cat away by tossing cat food at him and he eventually retreated. Still, I could not get our cat. Other times, he has come up to our door when he is ready to come in, so we decided to wait him out.

A little while later, we hear cat screeching sounds from outside and I investigate and don't see our cat. The second time we hear him, we open the door and he comes inside. This is where things get intense.

He came in looking wary, sort of low to the ground. When he came toward me, he softened and looked like he was calming down and was back to normal. He did not look hurt. No limp, no blood, no limbs looking weird. I noticed he had some feces by his backside and went to grab him so I could wash him off before it got on the carpet. He retreated quickly to a large box we have for cat play and our other cat quickly ran in after him. Big mistake. The two cats exploded into a full fight, up on their back legs, screaming. They fought and chased to several locations while we shouted for them to stop and eventually the ended up in the bathroom, screeching and clawing more intensely than we've ever seen. My wife threw water on them, which broke them up and the non-escapee cat ran out of the bathroom and we shut the door.

So here is where we are now. Any time we approach the bathroom door and speak, we get the low, intense growl and most of the time this is followed by the high pitched "fighting" screech. This is what scares me most. We just got up and he is still doing it. He has food and a litter box in there.

I am hoping he will just calm down on his own. No matter what, I will make sure the other cat is locked away when we open the bathroom. Is he traumatized for life?
posted by bobbyno to Pets & Animals (23 answers total)
Response by poster: Also, he has had his shots and boosters in the past, but they are not up to date.
posted by bobbyno at 5:36 AM on February 19, 2012

I think he's just confused. One of my cats attacks the others any time they come back from the vet--something about the smell, or them being gone for a few hours, just sets him off. He remembers who they are by the next day and they go back to being cuddle buddies.

Sounds like you really, really need to keep your cat inside, though, if it can have this effect on him.
posted by chaiminda at 5:43 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Call the vet! You will need a rabies booster ASAP. In fact, they may recommend rabies prophylaxis for you as well, and quarantine for your cat. Get their recommendations over the phone before you go in - I have had vets tell me all kinds of different things, some insufficient and some overly dire, in a similar situation.
posted by Frowner at 5:43 AM on February 19, 2012

Frowner: Rabias has an incubation period of weeks and it's unlikely the cat has caught it if they already had their vaccines up to date.

It's likely that the escaped cat smelled foreign to the other, instigating a fight. If he's not wounded, then I'd wait to see what happens within the next few hours. You certainly don't want to stress the poor animal any more with an unneeded vet visit/travel.

The exact same thing (with the cats fighting and whatnot) happened to me when I took one of mine to get neutered. He got back from the vet and smelled nothing like himself, causing uproar with the other kitties.
posted by Trexsock at 5:48 AM on February 19, 2012

posted by Trexsock at 5:48 AM on February 19, 2012

My indoor cat made those sounds and hid in the same way after he returned from an escape. His terror subsided after a day of that terrible noise. After he realizes he's safe, your cat will calm down, and then you can check him for cuts and bites, and then head off to the vet. Taking him now would compound his terror, and increase the likelihood that you'd be scratched.
posted by Francolin at 5:50 AM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

It couldn't hurt to have some things that smell familiar-like-home in with the freaked out cat. Maybe some dirty laundry, and something the other cat has been laying on, if available.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:54 AM on February 19, 2012

Nth waiting it out. My old cat was the same way, but recovered after a couple of hours.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:55 AM on February 19, 2012

I agree with Trexsock, no need for rabies booster. What I would keep in mind, though, is that in about 2 months or so you will want to take him in and get him tested for FELV and FIV. Even if your cat was vaccinated for FIV, the vaccine is not very effective, so you should get him tested.

He is just scared and if you can do so safely, just sit in the same room with him so he kind of calms down.
posted by bolognius maximus at 6:23 AM on February 19, 2012

Our indoor cat spent a night outdoors last year. In fact, we didn't even realize he had gotten out until we were awakened in the middle of the night by a cat fight on our back porch. We turned on the light and saw a cat that looked amazingly identical to our boy tangling with a yellow tabby that runs around the neighborhood. Of course, it was our boy. Before we could do anything, both cats scampered away.

We found him the next morning, hiding behind a bush against the house, acting very angry, and growling at us. He definitely wasn't letting anyone near him. We finally managed to lure him back inside the house by dropping a trail of his favorite treat, pieces of Kraft singles.

Once inside, we just left him alone. He hid for quite awhile but eventually ventured out to rejoin the family. He was skittish for a day or so.

So, yeah, just let him have his usual run of the house. Feed him normally. But don't make any special efforts to be in his face or to love on him. Just let him re-acclimate. But, you definitely should get him to the vet, just to check him over. Our guy got scratched in the fight, and the doc gave him an antibiotic.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:26 AM on February 19, 2012

I once had two cats that didn't get along. They mostly stayed in different parts of the house, or worked it out, but occasionally the gray one would go totally insane and attack the other. After separating them, gray kitty would have to be locked in a separate room for the better part of a day, otherwise she'd go hunting for the other cat. It unnerved me the first couple of times, but I eventually learned she just needed some time to calm down. Catnip sometimes helped.

And since you said the vaccines weren't up to date, I'd go to the vet as soon as possible next week.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:43 AM on February 19, 2012

Frowner: Rabias has an incubation period of weeks and it's unlikely the cat has caught it if they already had their vaccines up to date.

It does; however, I know that vet procedure is to give a booster right away (in humans, at least, rabies shots can actually prevent infection if given fast enough). I know this because my immunized cat (whose shots were current) tangled with a bat. I also know that I ended up getting rabies prophylaxis. The thing is, the odds of transmission are extremely low, but rabies is universally fatal. And unless you can track down, kill and examine the feral cat in question, you can't know if it was infected. It's very unlikely, but the CDC suggests erring on the side of caution.

After the cat-bat situation, our vet recommended light quarantine - no contact with other animals and only contact with the household - for nine weeks (or whatever the longest recorded cat incubation period is).

Now, it's extraordinarily unlikely that the bat was rabid - very few of them are, it was a juvenile and those often bumble into occupied rooms. And even an infected animal apparently rarely transmits rabies. But as I say, rabies is universally fatal.

And now is a great time to get the shots up to date.
posted by Frowner at 6:55 AM on February 19, 2012

A trauma like that can take a while to recover from. Make sure the cat has food, water, and a litterbox in the bathroom and leave him be for a while . We once had a cat hide out for a couple of weeks after a (to him, at least) "terrible event".
posted by HuronBob at 7:06 AM on February 19, 2012

Give him some time to feel and smell like himself again. Let him have his space and keep your routines exactly the same, routines are very calming to animals. Your cat had a very scary experience and then when it thought it was safe things got scary again (though what happened is pretty normal when there are 2 cats in the house and one comes back smelling different) he needs some space to process it, fussing it and the like will just stress it. Put some food, water a favourite bed or blanket with a familiar smell on and a kitty litter box in with it and when all the cats are calmer open the door and let it come out when it is ready.

Ring your local vet about getting your animal any shots etc it might need tomorrow, they will be the best source for this info. If it has been in a fight with a feral animal cat bite and scratch wounds can get infected very easily, and as they are puncture wounds are hard to see until they abscess and can be a bitch to deal with once they do so letting the vet check your cat out and getting it on antibiotics now if needed might not be a bad idea.
posted by wwax at 7:36 AM on February 19, 2012

nthing wait it out. Our cat Eli fell out of a first floor window two years and spent his first night outside ever. He was 5 at the time and had never been out for more than a minute or two. When he finally made his way back to our porch at about 4AM the next night, he ran into the bathroom and hid under the vanity for an entire day. He slept in the dark, close area until he felt safe enough to come out. We reinforced all of the windows and have had no issues since then.

I would also suggest making sure his vaccines are up to date in the future, if money permits. A healthy cat is a happy cat.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 7:43 AM on February 19, 2012

If this doesn't go away after today, then I suggest getting a feliway diffuser.

I recently had to struggle with a very scared cat and it literally made a night and day difference to her. I have a hard time believing it's the same cat!

(also, I will show you my pictures if you show me yours!)
posted by royalsong at 7:43 AM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would take kitty to the vet and make sure

A few years ago my indoor-outdoor cat came home with a bite. I was behind on her shots. I was pretty ho-hum about it, but I took her to the vet that day. The vet was immediately concerned, "...You don't know what animal bit her? Has she bitten you?"

The vet told me that the only tests for rabies are post-mortem (taking a slice of brain). Fortunately, in my county (PG county, MD) they would let you jump through hoops to save your pet.

She had to spend six months quarantined. This meant being in a locked room in a locked cage, with myself as her only contact. Someone from the county came to inspect the space, and I had to sign forms saying that if my cat bit me I would report it and submit to (painful!) rabies shots immediately. I was lucky that she was bit in November, so she waited out the winter in the attic in a cage. Twice a day I fed her and played with her for at least 30 min. I cried most of the time because I felt so bad for making her spend what could be 1/28th of her life stuck in a cage.

I was lucky that she came out of it okay, the same sweet cuddly kitty. I suppose cats don't have emotional defense mechanisms like that, to hold the whole thing against me.
posted by frecklefaerie at 7:56 AM on February 19, 2012

Give your cat a while (possibly several hours) to calm down in a dark, enclosed space with food, water, and a litterbox available to him, and keep the other cat well away until Escapee Cat is calm and ready to explore on his own. Pay close attention to your cat's eating, drinking, and elimination until you take him to the vet.

A visit to your vet is definitely in order (though it can wait until tomorrow), especially if your cat's vaccinations aren't up to date. If your cat has any abrasions or other wounds, your vet will clean the wounds and probably give an antibiotic; cat claws are really dirty and full of nastiness, and cat wounds are prone to abscess, so even a very minor scratch can turn ugly quickly. If your indoor cat was in close contact with a feral or outdoor cat, it's also possible that he was exposed to a virus/bacteria that may require treatment.

Your vet will advise you about the prevalence of diseases in your area for which other cats can be a vector. You should probably pay more attention to a local vet's recommendations re: quarantine and/or vaccination than to Some People on the Internet.
posted by Spinneret at 9:23 AM on February 19, 2012

Our cat had reactions like this just from smelling/hearing strays through the window. It freaked her out so much that she misplaced her aggression onto whomever was nearby. We tried waiting, training, calming spray, an herbal product from our vet called Nutricalm and, finally, after several years and several recurrences, Prozac. Hopefully yours will reorient and mellow out faster, but misplaced aggression is a thing to ask your vet about if it lingers.
posted by Occula at 10:18 AM on February 19, 2012

Give her time to calm down. One of my cats who seldom goes out was gone for several days, and when he came home he was freaked out like this, hid under the couch, would not go near any of us. I determined he was not injured, when he finally let me get near, but he kept this weird behavior up for about a week. Eventually he came back to being the same friendly old cat he always was. Cats can get very scared by a bad experience. A friend had an indoor cat who escaped and was out for a week, and it also took that one a while to come back to normal, but he is fine now too.

Ironically I was just talking to my tenant and a similar thing happened with one of his cats this morning, who is now hiding in his basement. Yes, watch for injuries and especially abcesses, but in the mean time make sure your kitty has food, water and litter box near where she is hiding. Hopefully she will be ok.
posted by mermayd at 11:41 AM on February 19, 2012

I just wanted to add my sympathies, because the low-pitched growls are scary, but those insane screams of fury made my husband and I emotional wrecks. It's awful.
posted by Occula at 3:19 PM on February 19, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers, especially those early on this morning that helped me calm down a bit.

Update: went to the weekend emergency vet (don't have time to type the epic story of how I got the cat in the carrier) to check for injuries. Luckily, there are none. Cat calmed down very much on the way there and was cool when we got home, but now that he smells his brother and maybe remembers last night, he's growly and shrieky, but not as much. Much better.

I have separate food and litter boxes for both of them and they will be separated for as long as it takes to return to normal.

Thank you very much!
posted by bobbyno at 6:27 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

So glad to hear it! My tenant's kitty is ok too, he came out of the basement and settled down. It may take a week or so but your cat will get back to normal in time.
posted by mermayd at 4:41 AM on February 20, 2012

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