Our cat is getting extremely hostile to us. What next?
January 29, 2014 10:12 PM   Subscribe

Our cat is acting more and more irrational. I think we will have to have him put down. Any thoughts welcome.

Our cat found us three years ago, a tiny kitten on the point of starvation, according to the vet. He was completely feral, unused to any touching, but gradually came to enjoy "careful" petting. He joined two other cats, much older, and they get along. What he seemed to like most was just being in the room with us. Like our other cats, an indoor/outdoor cat; we have a covered porch with a safe place for cats.

In the last six months, he has started attacking us. At first it was when we wanted him to do something he didn't want to do, like leave the bedroom or get off the dining table. We never hit him, even a token smack, because instead of making him retreat, hitting caused him to declare all out war. For awhile he would retreat if a napkin or magazine were flapped at him and we firmly and loudly said "NO!", but now he's started to jump up near us to get petted, accept a tiny pet, and then try to bite and claw -- very seriously.

Other changes: he goes to the door frequently, and will sit in the doorway lashing his tail, indefinitely, but won't go out. And he's gained a lot of weight in the last six months.

So the obvious answer is "Go to the vet." But we're on a fixed retirement income and already deeply in debt for dental work and a new sewer line. If it were as simple as an abscessed wound or infected tooth, we'd take him anyway. But this seems like a case of lots of tests, and if they do find out what's wrong, either surgery and/or regular pills, shots, etc. He HATES the vet, and has to be sedated to just be looked at. And in the meantime, he gets more and more potentially dangerous. (Isn't fighting with the other cats, but avoids them.)

To add to this, we are now taking part time care of a baby who just learned to crawl. I can't possibly have them together, but shutting the cat away from people just makes him worse. Mr. Kestralwing says we have to have him put down. Killed, to be more honest about it. But we can't give him to the Humane Society, he'll bite and scratch a few people there and they'll put him down. It's our responsibility, and I won't just foist it off on someone else.

I've had cats die from trauma, and I've had to have several very old cats put down at the end, and I had one cat declawed after he almost took out my eye (the outcome of that was very positive, the cat calmed down since people weren't so jumpy around him). But I've never been in a situation like this.

So, as I say, looking for opinions and stories of your similar experiences. Thanks.
posted by kestralwing to Pets & Animals (34 answers total)
So the obvious answer is "Go to the vet." But we're on a fixed retirement income and already deeply in debt for dental work and a new sewer line.

If you can't afford to go to the vet, you can't afford to have a cat. Sorry. "Fixed income" doesn't mean "no money." It means tightening your belt and doing what you can to get to the bottom of this.
posted by jayder at 10:25 PM on January 29, 2014 [44 favorites]

Take your cat to the vet. You have no idea what is going on, whether he is in pain, or how easy or hard it will be to fix. You can't just adopt an animal and refuse to care for it when you don't feel like it anymore.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:29 PM on January 29, 2014 [33 favorites]

Go to the vet, please. This could be a thyroid problem that is relatively easy to remedy, or the cat could be in some other form of distress. You would have to go to the vet to have him put down anyways...why don't you make that a positive visit instead? Call around and ask about costs and payment options...let the vet know you took in a stray...I am sure you will find a sympathetic cat loving vet or someone who can tap into some financial resources.
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:31 PM on January 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

I agree with all the above posters that you can't just put your cat to sleep without any investigation or knowledge whatsoever. That means going to the vet.

"It's our responsibility, and I won't just foist it off on someone else."
Yes, your cat is your responsibility and part of that would be trying to find someone who can give him his life if you can't. That's not "just foisting it off on someone else", when you say otherwise you'll kill him. At least try and see if a no kill shelter will accept him, or someone else who is capable of caring for him.
posted by Blitz at 10:37 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I got this!!

I had my suspicions when the opener was, "severe personality change," but confirmed it when in the explanation you mention unusual weight gain....


Similar to my past experience. If I remember, the meds were fairly cheap.

Go to the vet and request blood work for thyroid issues. This will prove less expensive than feeling around in the dark for a diagnosis...At least it is a concrete place to start.

I understand putting down a cat that can't be successfully re-homed, only successfully tolerated by another caretaker/household.

If daily meds could resolve your cat's behavioral problem - could you keep him?

If so, pursue a diagnosis.

posted by jbenben at 10:38 PM on January 29, 2014 [10 favorites]

You don't actually know that the cat will behave the same way if surrendered, but there are no-kill rescues. It is not "your responsibility" to kill an animal rather than letting it find a better home elsewhere if it comes to that. This does, I agree, totally sound like just stress behavior and that the cat might very well be fine in another home, and at least at this point is young enough to still have a decent chance of finding a place. A baby and two other cats could, by itself, be enough to make some cats antisocial, especially if he was always a bit skittish.
posted by Sequence at 10:39 PM on January 29, 2014

Pain like teeth problems (common for cats) could also cause a behavior change.

But the weight gain makes me think thyroid, so, y'know. Do your best.
posted by jbenben at 10:41 PM on January 29, 2014

Is he neutered?
posted by windykites at 10:42 PM on January 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

If it were as simple as an abscessed wound or infected tooth, we'd take him anyway.

Since you would do that, you should commit to getting a vet to make at least an initial assessment. (Try to get a vet to do a house call. It might cost a bit more but it will be less traumatic for all involved.) This may or may not be a situation that calls for lots of tests, but just be honest with the vet, that you do not want to do lots of invasive tests or take heroic measures, and you must remain within your budget. But you never know--it may be something simple that you can inexpensively address.

And remember, just because a vet recommends a course of action that costs thousands of dollars doesn't mean you must follow it. But I think you'd feel better if you did get a vet to see the cat and assess him at least once.

And SakuraK is right, this may be a fear/anxiety response to your family and home specifically, and the cat may do fine rehomed. Or not. But it's worth trying to get some help from your vet first.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:43 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

And I meant to add, I'm sorry you're dealing with this. It sounds stressful for all involved--the cat and you as well.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:46 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would call the vet and talk with them first. Explain your situation. I put a healthy 7 year old cat down after I moved into a new situation and he flipped out. I do not feel bad about it.

Don't let people guilt-trip you. You have a baby that needs to be safe. Re-homing a cat with aggression issues is very difficult.

I agree though it may be the thyroid and the meds are cheap but finding that out is not cheap.
posted by cairnoflore at 11:13 PM on January 29, 2014 [10 favorites]

I would say, look long and hard to find him a new home. I don't think he is irreparably broken, but it doesn't sound like you're really ready to work on fixing whatever is wrong. (If you're jumping right to the idea of putting him down, I think it's probably reached a point where this relationship can't be saved.) Find him a new home, or put him in a no-kill shelter. Put some work into that. Please, do not put him down.

Just to get you by, while you look for his new home... Get some cheap cat toys and play with him. Just a feather on a stick, stuff like that. Use up any psycho kitty energy. It may make a big difference.

I put a healthy 7 year old cat down after I moved into a new situation and he flipped out. I do not feel bad about it.

I don't think I can say much about that comment that won't get my comment deleted immediately. So I'll just say, that's sure not how I would have handled the situation.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:54 AM on January 30, 2014 [30 favorites]

Mod note: Folks, this needs to be answers to the OP, not discussions or arguments among people answering. Please offer helpful suggestions and don't just come in to argue with other people, vent anger or pronounce judgement. Productive. advice.
posted by taz (staff) at 1:05 AM on January 30, 2014

This kind of issue (something's wrong with the cat, but you don't know what, and the cat seems distressed/in pain) is exactly what a checkup with the vet is for. That shouldn't be an extremely high fee -- my vet charges about $50 for an examination. Be honest with the vet that you can't afford to do much for the cat, and definitely if you need to talk more extensive testing or treatment options, tell the vet your budget before deciding anything. Most vets are animal lovers and will try to figure out the most effective battery of tests or treatment to follow given the amount of money you have to spend, because they don't want to see an animal suffer or go untreated, either.

Also, have some hope: while this might be serious, it isn't necessarily serious, and I don't think you should jump to conclusions. For all you know right now, the cat is extremely constipated and just needs an enema and a slightly different diet. (Especially if he's a male cat used to eating dry food, this is a very real possibility, because they're prone to urinary tract infections under those conditions, and I'm wondering if the "sitting at the door lashing his tail" is him needing to go but being frustrated at not being able to).

If it turns out that the cat does need treatment you can't afford, or if things go well medically but it ultimately turns out you just can't live with this cat, then you can cross those bridges when you come to them. (In general, I think that if the cat can't live comfortably with anyone, ie, he can't be treated or it's very difficult to give him treatment, then I think it might be merciful to put him down. If the cat could live comfortably with someone but that someone just isn't you, ie, you resolve his health problem but can't get along anyway, then I think it would be better to surrender him to a no-kill shelter. In that circumstance, they'll do their own assessment of his adoptability, you don't have to judge for yourself whether he's adoptable or not).
posted by rue72 at 1:39 AM on January 30, 2014 [11 favorites]

Our cat is acting more and more irrational.

Your cat is a non-human animal. It is not appropriate to expect him to reason at a human level. Your expectation of rationality on the part of a housecat is misplaced.

We never hit him, even a token smack, because instead of making him retreat, hitting caused him to declare all out war.

If you never hit him, how would you know that being hit causes him to "declare all out war"? Something is obviously missing in this equation.

So the obvious answer is "Go to the vet." But we're on a fixed retirement income and already deeply in debt...

You can't possibly know that a trip to the vet will result in crippling costs. You need to be a responsible grown up and take him to the vet. If the vet tells you that you need X and Y treatments which usually cost $Z, then you get to go from there and determine what your budget will permit.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:18 AM on January 30, 2014 [14 favorites]

IANA vet, but it sounds an awful lot like a behavioral issue. He sounds stressed, frustrated, and bored. Major changes to a household can make cats flip out in all sorts of ways, and a baby is as major a change as you can get. Did he start acting out before or after the baby arrived?

Try getting some new toys and playing with him more, and adding interesting new things to his domain like shelves to perch on, comfy private places to rest, a bird feeder outside the window. A lot of this can be done for extremely cheap (one of my cats' favorite toys is a cardboard box with some holes cut in it). But you will need to invest some time. If nothing improves after about a month of effort, or if other physical symptoms start showing up, it's vet time.

You're right that he's your responsibility, and it's good of you to want to resolve this yourself instead of surrendering him. But I don't think he's beyond rehoming, and if you work with a no-kill shelter they'll be able to match him with the right people. Better to give him that chance than to euthanize him.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:47 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

It seems the kill decree has come down from your husband? And, I think I'm reading this right, the killing will be done by you or your husband, not via euthanasia?

So, I would show your husband this thread, with the many suggestions therein. I would push back against the Mr., because I think, given the language of your question, you want to do the right thing, and from the information in this thread, you can see that being responsible for the animal does not mean, at the very least, a brutal disposal of an animal like this.
posted by angrycat at 5:30 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, since the baby you are caring for is a factor, it seems in order to a) charge a bit more so you can take the cat to the vet if you are charging or b) if this is something you are doing for a family member, perhaps you could ask the family member for assistance. Surely this is better than sending a cat to the bottom of a river, or whatever the plan is.
posted by angrycat at 5:33 AM on January 30, 2014

As a side note on angrycat's idea, if the plan is home disposal of the cat, this is most certainly illegal. It happens, and people do it all the time. But if caught, that could be very expensive in terms of ticketing, etc. Going to the vet at this point could easily be the cheapest option.
posted by oflinkey at 5:50 AM on January 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

You should take the cat to the vet asap. Tell the vet you have a limited income, they'll work with you to make sure you can limit costs and get on a payment plan.
posted by lydhre at 6:06 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have the cat put down. You are correct to be concerned about the possibility of a spiraling storm of medical costs, and having the cat euthanized is a known, fixed cost.

Pets aren't people. They're possessions.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:02 AM on January 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

looking for opinions and stories of your similar experiences.

Well, I had a much-loved two-year-old cat put down after I spent $800 for tests. The next step for medical treatment for her (including more tests) would have been a couple grand, and I drew the line (and to be honest regretted spending the $800, but that's how testing can be).

So you're right, just the testing can be very expensive. I don't think you should let anyone here guilt you into spending yourself further into debt in order to be a "responsible" pet owner. "If you can't afford the vet you can't afford the pet," applied in all circumstances, would suggest that poor people should never have pets (which is silly and cruel). I'm sure the $800 I spent on my own cat would have been waaaaay prohibitive for a lot of people who are otherwise loving and responsible cat owners.

I think you have to figure out your own limits, and then make your decisions without guilt. Perhaps a trip to the vet to ask about thyroid issues would be an acceptable course for you, but not hundreds or thousands of dollars' worth of open-ended testing. If so, that's fine. Best of luck to you; I know it's tough.
posted by torticat at 7:14 AM on January 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think I'm reading this right, the killing will be done by you or your husband

Since she says, "Mr. Kestralwing says we have to have him put down," I don't think you're reading that right.
posted by torticat at 7:17 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

From the OP:

Mr. Kestralwing says we have to have him put down. Killed, to be more honest about it. But we can't give him to the Humane Society, he'll bite and scratch a few people there and they'll put him down. It's our responsibility, and I won't just foist it off on someone else.

My apologies if I misread it. But given a second reading, I don't think so.
posted by angrycat at 7:20 AM on January 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

nthing going to the vet and explaining that you are on a fixed income and are concerned about costs. Vets are used to this and many will set up payment plans. A thyroid blood test isn't terribly pricey and the meds are cheap, but if you don't think that you could handle feeding this very skittish cat meds daily, then find a no-kill shelter or a rescue in your area. Hell, if you tell us your general area, I'll bet the fine people here would be able to find you a whole list of shelters and rescues that could be options for you.

What I'm saying is: it's not black & white, super-expensive vet visit or death. This is why no-kill shelters and rescue organizations exist.
posted by bedhead at 7:26 AM on January 30, 2014

Is the cat fixed?

Do you ever play with the cat? Think ball/mouse/whatever strung on the end of a stick that you interactively wave around?

Could there be other animals outside the door that are freaking him out?
posted by o0dano0o at 7:52 AM on January 30, 2014

Hi! I'm a vet student. I really feel for you, OP. Pet ownership has its ups and downs, and it sounds like this kitty is not doing so well. From what you said, it sounds very likely that he may have a medical issue going on. Cats are terrible at telling us what's wrong, they often don't display clinical signs until things have progressed significantly, and when they do try and tell us that they're feeling crummy it's often through unwanted behaviors (urinating/defecating outside of the litter box, vomiting, aggressive or avoidance behaviors). I highly recommend that you bring him in to see a vet. Yes, going to the vet is stressful for both the cat and the owner, and is an additional expense when you are on a tight budget, but it sounds like this cat is in pain, and the cause of his pain might be very treatable. Be very honest with your vet about the symptoms he's displaying, as well as your financial situation. Many vets will work with you to explain which test(s) they think are most necessary vs. which tests might not be very useful in his case. Please don't expect freebies or hand-outs from your veterinarian. I would not make any decisions about whether this cat needs to be euthanized until after he's visited a vet.
posted by gumtree at 7:58 AM on January 30, 2014 [13 favorites]

Before you rule out taking the cat to a vet, please look into CareCredit for veterinary services. It was literally a life-saver for one of our cats when he became seriously ill and we were unable to afford the vet costs. They offer payment plans that are zero interest if paid within 3-12 months depending on the plan. In our case, the vet office suggested the plan and was able to help us through applying for it, so it was very easy.

You say you've had the cat for three years and this started six months ago -- this raises the possibility that the cat is in pain from a chronic health problem. Cats instinctively hide pain and symptoms of suffering, and it can be difficult to tell that something is wrong with them if it's internal and there aren't obvious outward signs.

I would definitely take the cat in, though. That way you can at least have had professional consultation before making any final decisions, and you'll know you didn't have the cat euthanized over something minor like an abscessed tooth.

If you're very concerned about how the cat will handle going to the vet, I suggest looking for a vet office that only treats cats (if you haven't already done so). That way, you'll know the vet is practiced in dealing with "difficult" cats, and the absence of dogs in the office may help reduce his stress level.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 8:19 AM on January 30, 2014

You're in WA state? Please google "low income vet washington" and do some research -- there are services, charities and low-cost vets out there to help you. I learned this when I was helping my MIL seek care for her two cats as she was living solely on disability (read: VERY low-income) at the time.

Here's some links that I found:



posted by joan_holloway at 8:46 AM on January 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I also couldn't tell if your husband is planning on killing the cat himself, but if that's the case it would be better to take it to the Humane Society. At least if they euthanize it, it'll be less stressful for the cat.

Also, the people at the Human Society deal with cats all day long and may have coping strategies for dealing with your cat that you don't. They also have vets that treat the animals there, so it's possible or even likely that they'd check to see if something is wrong before they just euthanized the cat.

If you have no other options, it might actually be better if you did foist the cat off on someone else. I think it would be better for both you and the cat.
posted by i feel possessed at 10:13 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another financial resource, the Humane Society itself has a list of places and resources that can help. I suspect, like many others, that your cat's change in behaviour is due to a health issue.
posted by annsunny at 11:34 AM on January 30, 2014

My parents had to deal with this situation: aggressive pet (in this case a dog), insufficient resources to fix the situation and small children whose safety they were worried about. More than one person advised them to have the dog euthanised, but they managed to find a new owner with no kids who was prepared to take on a problem animal. (This may have had something to do with the three wailing children following them around the house screaming "She didn't meeeeeean it! She was just plaaaaaaying! She'd never reeeeeeally hurt us! If you get rid of our dog, we're going to run away from home! You are terrible parents and we are going to call ChildLine!" I even wrote a protest song about the dog. I'm amazed they didn't have me euthanised!)

So yeah, I understand that it's a tough situation. I just think you need to take another look at the way you've stacked the outcomes in terms of desirability.

You win the lottery. Money is now no object when it comes to curing the cat. or anything else, in fact.

Somebody shows up on your doorstep saying "Do you have any problem animals I could rehome? Like right now today?"

You find some sort of discount or payment plan that allows you to get a cheap diagnosis and it turns out to be something quick and cheap/free to fix.

You find some sort of discount or payment plan that allows you to get a cheap diagnosis and it turns out to be something fixable but beyond your budget. Fortunately you manage to find somebody with more disposable income who's prepared to rehome the cat now that the illness is a known quantity.

Even the diagnosis is beyond your means and you reluctantly give the kitty to the humane society, hoping that they'll be able to treat or rehome him, but suspecting he'll end up euthanised.

Even the diagnosis is beyond your means, yet you spend money getting the cat euthanised at the vet.

One and two are pie in the sky, but it seems to me like you've ruled out three and four without giving them due consideration also that you've got five and six the wrong way around because of some misguided sense that the cat is yours to deal with and that if you can't deal with the cat, then nobody else gets to try either.

Just promise me that you'll try to look at all your options rationally and then choose based on what is best for the baby and the cat in that order.

Otherwise I will have to sing the protest song I wrote as an eight year old and nobody wants to hear that, trust me.
posted by the latin mouse at 12:23 PM on January 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

Just chiming in to say that getting fat and being mean DO sound a lot like thyroid, and also the cat is probably stressed. Talk to your vet, or use some of the linked resources to find a low cost vet. If you were here in Ga, I'd send you to my vet. But go. A blood test should not be expensive. We had to have CBCs done for our cat every 3-4 weeks and those were really not a cost that was concerning, ie, I cannot even remember what it cost, it was pretty trivial.

Babies are stressful for PEOPLE who theoretically understand what the hell is going on. I can't imagine for the cat. No one has mentioned Feliway, so I'll just say that out loud. The diffuser is not cheap (I think it's $50 to get started) but it may help, can't hurt, fixed cost investment on that one, and probably will make all the cats feel better about having their environment suddenly contain a tiny human that makes no sense.

Good luck. I know this is stressful for everyone involved.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:27 PM on January 30, 2014

This is fixable! I used to have a 20 pound cat who would draw blood from anyone that looked at him wrong. I just thought was his personality. Now I have a 10 lb cat who is a cuddly, loving sweetheart. It's the same cat, before and after diagnosing and treating his thyroid problems. The transformation is amazing!
posted by platinum at 5:28 PM on February 3, 2014

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