The E Word. Well 2 of them, Euthanasia and Eating(one's own body parts).
June 17, 2013 1:55 PM   Subscribe

No one lies considering euthanasia for their cat, but what other choices do I have in this matter? My cat is eating its own tail. I'm at a loss.

Female cat aprox. 4.5 years old, got her from a rescue. They told me she was previously feral and would take time to warm up. After 2 months of hiding around the house, she would let me pet her and then more or less settled in. Made friends with my oldest child, avoids the younger ones. Made friends with the other cat and dog. She's always peed in dirty laundry piles/baskets or on wet towels, but in the past few months she's taken to peeing in toy boxes, closets and under beds.
But most worrisome is that she is eating her own tail. The first time months ago, I noticed a bloody tail, I thought it might have been slammed in a door accidentally. I cleaned it up and it healed and fur started growing back. The second time I witnessed my cat several times attacking and viciously biting its own hindquarters. Bloody tail appeared again. I made sure to keep it clean, kept her in my bedroom to lower any stress and it healed again. I contacted the rescue for advice, but received no reply.
This is the 3rd time. Her tail is bloody yet again and I swear its shorter this time. She's been running around the house attaching herself and screaming. One time she was running down the hallway frantically and ran over the top of my foot and ripped it open quite nicely. She's also fighting with the other cat which has never happened before. Eating normally, sleeping most of the day under my bed unless shes out running around, freaking out and attacking herself.
She's spayed, de-wormed regularly, not overweight and otherwise very healthy.
I've contacted the humane society and they would put her down if admitted as she's not considered adoptable material. I don't know if rehoming her is a good option.
I'm worried about my cat, and my kids safety with an animal who's in pair and behaving unpredictably in the house.
I'll have the money for a vet trip at the end of the month, but won't be able to afford bloodwork/xrays/all the extras that vets in this city aggressively push down your throat and guilt you with.
Should I be preparing myself for putting her down at this point?
posted by tenaciousmoon to Pets & Animals (32 answers total)
Response by poster: Forgot to ad: I've had her for 3 years and all spelling errors due to needing to rush out the door in 15. Sorry.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 1:56 PM on June 17, 2013

Look into carecredit. Call local vets and explain your situation. The vet should be your first priority--certainly well before euthanasia. There could be something seriously medically wrong with her--or something easily treated! This is really, really something you need to talk to a vet about.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:58 PM on June 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

neosporin + a neck cone?
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:04 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is she regularly treated for fleas? Fleas can cause damaging grooming and skittishness.
posted by BenPens at 2:14 PM on June 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

It's totally understandable to feel worried and "at a loss" regarding the health and well-being of a pet you've owned for three years. I'm sorry for that, truly.

Having said that. You didn't specify your kids' ages, but you did mention "younger ones" and you said you're worried about their safety. That overrides other concerns, legitimate as they might be. Your first priority should be removing from the household an animal that's behaving in violent and unpredictable ways, heartbreaking as that might be. One book we talk about often on AskMe is The Gift of Fear, and although it doesn't get applied to pet situations much, one of the book's major themes is that fear is a human instinct usually worth trusting. When you find yourself saying aloud that you're worried about your children's safety, that's not something to second-guess. Remove the animal.

Dealing with the cat herself comes next. And although there may be veterinary options you could pursue, cost issues aside, it's probably worth giving some thought to the fact that the humane society has told you, "Yes, our course of action would be to put her down." To answer your question explicitly, yes, my personal opinion is that you should prepare yourself for that. In which case, I am sorry for what will be your family's loss.
posted by cribcage at 2:18 PM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

It strikes me as irresponsible to consider rehoming and/or euthanasia before you seek qualified medical advice.

Some light googling brought up references to feline hyperesthesia syndrome. One possible solution might be tail amputation. Flea allergy--easily treated with flea repellents!--is another possibility. But again, this is really something you need to talk to a vet about.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:25 PM on June 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

There's an earlier Ask thread about a cat biting its own tail that might be helpful.

Feline hyperesthesia syndrome is a possiblity. It could also be a food allergy, or stress (especially if it's a formerly feral cat who's now indoors).

If you're leery of vet expenses, perhaps you could try some cheaper remedies first and see if that clears up the problem. You could try switching to a new cat food, a high quality one such as Young Again that doesn't have a lot of grains.

There is also some good advice about the urination issue here.

Also keep in mind CareCredit, which PhoBWanKenobi mentioned -- that was a godsend when our cat suddenly came down with kidney problems. They offer promotional plans where you don't get charged interest as long as you pay off the balance within six months. You can also let your vet know that you can't spend over a certain amount for the cat's treatment, and they will treat accordingly.
posted by Mo' Money Moe Bandy at 2:27 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I worked at the cat shelter for three years, and trust me when I say that you're way over-reacting. Cats, especially feral or abused ones, can sometimes do really weird and self-destructive things. It sounds to me that your cat is just really stressed out by her new living arrangement and still needs to adapt, or has some underlying health issues that are causing it to flip out. That definitely warrants a visit to the vet to see what's going on, but euthanasia would not be the first place my mind would jump to hearing about your incident (honestly, with my experience, it hardly makes me bat an eye.)

Also, the reason why the humane society mentioned that they might put her down has likely nothing to do with her health but her adoptability. Sadly, if a cat doesn't fit a certain personality type and aesthetic appeal, its odds of getting adopted are virtually slim-to-none - and they have a certain time limit on cats before the cost runs too high to keep them around. If you've bonded with the cat, and it's started to take with you, its best chance is with you. Not to guilt you into keeping the cat, but putting it down likely has little to do with its health.

I agree that the cat's behavioral issue can be alarming in a family with children; however, cats will mostly keep to themselves unless provoked, and it sounds like the cat's behavior is pretty risk-adverse at this stage. Mostly, just train your kids to stay away from the cat for now, and when it gets more accustomed to humans (given it's been feral for so long), that's when you can start cautiously encouraging your children to make slow contact.

I feel like most of the behaviors you've described are perfectly resolvable in the long term especially given the cat's lack of prior contact, but it will take time. If you're willing to put the time and energy into this cat, I would go ahead and be optimistic about its prospects, but don't underestimate how draining it may be in the short term.
posted by Conspire at 2:28 PM on June 17, 2013 [19 favorites]

Oh, and just a thought - has anything changed in her living arrangements recently that might have occurred alongside this behavioral change? Because it's a little weird that it suddenly happened out of the blue. Even the most subtle stuff - like, moving her water dish closer to the litter box - can have some pretty drastic effects on cat behavior.
posted by Conspire at 2:32 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ask your vet about medication even if it's a behavioral rather than a medical problem. Many medications (Prozac, Clomicalm), are available in very cheap, generic forms. Tail-eating seems like an OCD-like behavior that could be helped by one of these medications. Especially if the alternative is euthanasia, it's at least worth considering.
posted by walla at 3:05 PM on June 17, 2013

Put a damn cone on your cat! She's stressed and scared, but not dangerous or unpredictable.

This happened to my parent's cat. It was borne out of fear and stress -- changing his environment from the city to the suburbs, where he could have a little more space to roam (outside even) fixed him for the most part. He requires a lot more human attention, but as long as he's engaged and not stressed out by abandonment, storms and wind, he's fine. He also wore a cone for a long time when he would attack his tail. It helped a lot.
posted by wrok at 3:11 PM on June 17, 2013

OK, there can be a medical reason for this -- give the vet the whole history. And sorry we want bloodwork/xrays on everything, but it's hard to even take a guess at things with only a piece of the picture! We can miss something REALLY IMPORTANT without the basic info these tests can provide.
But anyway, some animals have mental health issues, and while I work in the field I don't personally know much about the mental health/problems side of things. But, I have seen at least 10 real "head cases" (sorry for the terminology but I'm not quite sure what to use here, since I don't really know much about mental health issues or the right words to use in people or animals) in 30 years where self-trauma is the primary problem.
Sometimes antidepressant drugs help, sometimes a behaviorist ... sometimes a medical problem.
Try to give her a chance in hell if you can.
posted by bebrave! at 3:28 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Cone is a good idea, $10 on amazon.

I don't know if more time will help. She's 4.5 years old and you've had her for 3... That's two-thirds of her life!

I would go to the vet with a predetermined budget. If you can't afford the diagnosis/treatment and you feel like she is a danger to your small children, then putting her down might be the best of some difficult options. I hope it doesn't come to that.

Good luck! This sounds very distressing.
posted by beandip at 3:34 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please do not consider killing a pet because it currently has a bad habit/is bothered/unhappy/allergic to something.

You also don't have to spend a bunch of money you don't have on bloodwork/X-rays/whatever other pricey things you think a doc will subject you to.

Doing research on the symptoms described is cheap-to-free, and so are probable solutions.
posted by destructive cactus at 3:52 PM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: To begin, vet care here is not cheap.
A few examples: My brother just took in his cat for a UTI, cost him over $400. A few years ago I had to take the other cat because she got into the garbage and ate part of a turkey carcass that got stuck internally. $1800, no kidding, it would have been $400 more but I pulled her out a day early because we ran out of credit.

I was not a single parent when I adopted my pets, now I am and I don't just have a tight budget-I have a net zero budget. Any money I spend on this cat comes directly from our food bill. The most I could possibly sacrifice to that is $200 and that includes the cab ride to/from the vet as I do not drive.

To address your questions:
-A cone would work temporarily to help the healing, but like I said shes done this 3 times now. Wearing a cone for the rest of her life is not an option. Not to mention, I haven't been able to keep a collar on her as of yet, it stresses her out SO VERY MUCH.
-carecredit: my credit is shot.
-fleas-not a problem this far north. I've never heard of anyone's pets in this city ever having fleas, vets don't even treat for it that I know of.
-I haven't changed her environment, food, accessories, litter, ANYTHING in the past 2 years.
-Her peeing everywhere is really getting to me and although I've tried to correct it by confining her and re-training, we aren't getting anywhere. The extra laundry (and it's a lot) is expensive and exhausting.

I am the head of a household of 5 in 900sq feet, no basement. I didn't know this would be my situation 3 years ago when I adopted her. I know it sounds harsh, but the priorities around here are the 2 legged people, not the 4 legged. I should have given them all up for adoption to begin with, but I wavered, thinking, the cat in question is not re-adoptable and I feel responsible; my special needs kid and the dog were bonded and my other cat is an senior that I've had for 10 years and she wouldn't adjust well to a new home. I felt like we were losing enough, without losing the pets too. So now, here I am.

And yes, I will be bringing her to the vet at the end of the month for a checkup/advice, I'm just not sure if I'll be bringing her home. I suppose in a way I'm looking for permission to do that through my own crushing guilt because I do not have the resources to deal with this.

I feel really stuck.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 4:05 PM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

No first-hand experience with this, but a friend of mine has a cat who started attacking and chewing her own tail to the point of bleeding. The vet deemed it an anxiety and/or emotional issue and put her on anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds (can't remember which).

Best of luck to you and your kitty!
posted by a.steele at 4:06 PM on June 17, 2013

How do you know that the cat is not able to be rehomed? I think you are mistaken. Please call your local vet and your local shelter since you are not able to care for kitty anymore. That's not a bad thing; it's an honest thing, and the right thing to do is get in touch with the right people so they can help you transition into rehoming kitty so she gets the care she needs. Putting her down because you can't take care of her is extreme and not the answer you need to resort to just yet.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:10 PM on June 17, 2013

I understand your stress, but you need to contact a vet and tell them what you've told us about your resources. Call up different vets until you can find one who is willing to work out with you a payment plan (some will even do payment plans outside care credit) so that you can bring the cat in as soon as possible. Google animal emergency funds. There is no reason to assume that the cat needs to be put down or even rehomed. However, it sounds like the animal is in pain right now (and the peeing could be something as simple as a UTI which cheap antibiotics would cure!)--which by no means indicates that the pain is permanent or can't be fixed. It's inhumane to ignore that and let the animal suffer.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:14 PM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

These Birds of a Feather - the poster has already contacted the shelter and they have said they likely cannot rehome the cat.

To all the commenters here criticizing the poster - come on, give her a break! It sounds like she is dealing with this issue with a serious lack of resources and trying to do her best. I don't think piling on is exactly helping the situation.

To the original poster - I think you're doing what you can and it may be the case that the cat needs to be put down. I agree with you that food and shelter for your kids has to take priority over your pets. It's really sad, and you need to give yourself and kids time to grieve and say goodbye, but that may be the reality of the situation. I'm sorry you ended up in this spot. :(
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:17 PM on June 17, 2013 [14 favorites]

I was not a single parent when I adopted my pets, now I am and I don't just have a tight budget-I have a net zero budget. Any money I spend on this cat comes directly from our food bill. ... I know it sounds harsh, but the priorities around here are the 2 legged people, not the 4 legged. I should have given them all up for adoption to begin with, but I wavered...

It doesn't sound harsh. It sounds the opposite of harsh. You have stretched thin, beyond the point of wisdom and past where your instincts told you to quit, because you care. Likely you care about the cat's well-being, about your own emotional connection to her, and about your kids' (presumed) connection to her. It sounds like you're a caring person whose heart and effort exceed your means. Whatever that is, whether it's admirable or a fault or both, it ain't harsh.

I understand the impulse of someone else to advise you to go into debt on the animal's behalf. That sentiment comes from a place of kindness, too. But in my opinion, it's misguided kindness. You're being pretty clear with us about saying that you can't afford a pet. If that's the case, the right decision for yourself and your family is not to own a pet. The hard decisions in life are when you can't be kind to everyone and everything, and you need to choose. I have all the sympathy in the world for you in that circumstance.

If you can afford to go til the month's end, if you trust that your kids will be safe, and if your firsthand assessment is that waiting is in your cat's best interests, so be it. But to the extent that you're seeking permission to do something you're already leaning toward, my reaction is that you seem like a thoughtful person, you have looked into options, and you've laid out a case that truly does make sense. You have my sympathy for your guilt and grief, but also my person-to-fellow-person permission to move forward.
posted by cribcage at 4:29 PM on June 17, 2013 [13 favorites]

The reason I recommend calling and talking to vets is not to encourage you to go into debt but because most vets are empathetic to financial hardships--and many will work with you to work out various options, from low cost services to putting you in touch with rescue groups to taking an animals in as clinic residents (my last vet had 5 resident kitties for exactly this reason). I know it doesn't feel like it, but you have options! It is really just a matter of doing legwork to explore them.

Thinking of you ans your kitty.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:42 PM on June 17, 2013

Look, your kids and your well-being are just more important than your cat. Take the cat to a shelter.
posted by empath at 4:43 PM on June 17, 2013

The options I see for your personal situation (or if it were me.)

1) Try to put the cat online "as-is" to a new home. Be clear that it has medical problems and that the shelter said they would put the cat down and you are trying to avoid that. Be clear that you can't afford the vet bills.

This can mean someone wants to save the cat and has the time/money to care for it. (It could also save you the vet bill to put the cat down.)

Is there a No Kill shelter anywhere that will take it?

2) If you can't re-home on your own, put the cat down.

I am also unsure why some people are harsh. I'm all for animals and kitties are my favorite, but I would not take money away from feeding my children for a vet bill. It's sad, but it's completely your choice and you should not feel guiltily. This is not a (currently) healthy cat that you are putting down for no good reason. I think your reasons are valid.
posted by Crystalinne at 4:43 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Call up the local shelters/rescues and tell them.
There are folks out there that do just this (low cost vet care) for a multitude of reasons but many top the list at just wanting to save the pet/give them the best chance.
You sound legitimate and there are resources!

And at the end, if euthanasia is the best option, don't beat yourself up. Euthanasia is MERCY, and doesn't hurt a bit. But don't go there first, please.
posted by bebrave! at 5:14 PM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

if nothing else, going through a list of all your local vets/shelters will provide you with a plan. you can find out what resources are there, and you better weigh the costs/benefits of the situation.

you do sound overstretched. it's definitely harder to be methodical when one is overstretched. but if you are more methodical about reaching out for whatever resources are there, if you do have to euthanize the cat, it may be a cold decision, but you will know that you have tried your best.

i am a cat freak and not a parent, but nothing in what you describe to me sounds dangerous, as long as the kids know to not roughhouse with the cat/try not to startle her. i dunno, if you have a toddler, that might be different.

also, check Yelp or other online reviews of vets. In Philly, I had a vet estimate a dental bill at like $1800 and we ended up paying maybe $600 at another place, and got really good care.

good luck, just do your best
posted by angrycat at 5:46 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

This kind of behavior can definitely be a pain reflex; compulsively grooming certain areas is a similar sign of distress.

Many vets will absolutely do some kind of installment plan! You should not be afraid to ask about this at all.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:53 PM on June 17, 2013

Your situation sounds precarious to me, and I think you need to cut out of your life anything that's straining your ability to care for yourself and your family. These solutions are either expensive or time-consuming, and I'm not sure why everyone is supposing you to have extra time on your hands. To the contrary: my guess, from your having several (4??) children, including small ones and a special-needs child, in your house, and having no partner and no money to pay for after-hours childcare, is that any time and efforts that go into this will be taking away from the well of energy and patience you need to be able to draw from.

You say the cat's care is "exhausting." I'll bet it is -- literally exhausting your inner resources -- and you cannot afford to be exhausted by a cat.

I think you should stop here and consolidate your energy for the daily struggles. If the cat is sucking all the available enjoyment from a 900-square-foot home with 5 people in it whose food has to be counted out in nickels, let the cat go. Some people have the luxury of time. Some have the luxury of money. Maybe they can handle a cat like this, but right now you can't. You're doing right by the people in your house, and good for you for prioritizing when the alternative is letting the really important stuff fall apart.
posted by palliser at 7:32 PM on June 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

You mentioned you didn't get a reply from the rescue group -- have you called them again, or pushed harder for a response? I work with a rescue group and I know sometimes things fall through the cracks when they're dealing with a large intake or have too many animals to foster. The people who run it, though, would always want to take an animal back if it's not working out, even years down the line. Humane Society isn't the only option in most places, so her being put down doesn't have to be the end of her story. She might also be a lot better in a less stressful place without children and an owner who's under the weight of so much, as you are.

I hate the thought of any animal being put down for any reason. But I don't think that has to be the only solution. And a vet might be able to find a home for her, as well. I know you have a lot on your plate, but there are people who may be able to help her AND you.
posted by emcat8 at 9:56 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're in a tough spot. For comparative purposes, I cat-sat for a professor whose cat was gnawing on her tail and bleeding all over the place. After an incredibly stressful emergency vet trip, we were given a cone and antibiotics for the kitty. He ended up putting her on Prozac for some time, and they are considering amputating her tail if she starts gnawing on it again.
posted by ChuraChura at 3:11 AM on June 18, 2013

People come first. It is ridiculous that people are suggesting that you ignore your fear of the cat's behavior around your kids or that you should care for your kitty on credit.

I though people were being unfair to you even before your update. It comes from compassion for the cat, but they are ignoring you. Also, I think a lot of posters missed that you've had the cat 3 years.

You cannot go into debt over this cat. Not when 4 other human lives depend on you. It would be crazy to jeapardize their wellbeing in that way.

I would give the cat to the shelter/humane society. Maybe someone with the resources to help will take her on. Otherwise, yes, she will be put down. But, she's had 3 years of love with your family, and that's a longer and better life than she would have had as a feral cat.

You are faced with tough choices right now and clearly you are a compassionate person trying to do their best. Do not let anyone make you feel bad whichever way you do chose. They are not in your shoes. You will be the one to grieve if you do have to give the cat up.

My prayers are with you.
posted by no1hatchling at 4:52 AM on June 18, 2013

I would try contacting the rescue again until you get a reply. Depending on the rescue, they may allow you to return the cat. Your first call may have gotten lost somewhere along the way. I suggest trying to contact them again, tell them what's happening and that you can't afford treatment and see if they can take her back into the rescue.
posted by parakeetdog at 9:40 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

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