Mean cat. No, REALLY mean. Find us a vet in Austin who can handle that?
June 7, 2014 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Our cat is terrified of strangers to the point of serious violence. (We have both owned reasonably shy and standoffish cats before. This one is worse than any other cat we've known — the bites and scratches he gives people who pick him up are sometimes not just warning nips but serious attacks. We are almost certain he was abused before we adopted him, for this and other reasons.) We need to find a vet in Austin, TX where we can take him. We have already been asked not to return to Animal Trustees, the discount vet clinic in town, because he clawed a vet tech there, so we are worried that he will be unwelcome other places as well. Suggestions?

To stave off a possible derail: Yeah, I recognize that it is completely fair for a vet clinic to tell us not to come back, and it was probably completely unfair of us to spring him on some random volunteer vet tech. But there's some medical care that he really does need. So we're hoping to find someplace that we can bring him without feeling like we're being unreasonable customers or demanding too much of the staff. Might there be someone here who specializes in difficult animals? Or at least someone who's known to be willing to handle them?
posted by nebulawindphone to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would just be upfront and blunt as possible about how he is, and call the various clinics and explain. If there's a clinic that is known to treat exotic animals, or also does wildlife work, that's who I'd try first.
posted by The otter lady at 1:48 PM on June 7, 2014

Digby HATES getting his nails trimmed. My vet uses Feliway (the plug-in one) in the examining room and I totally see the effect on Digby. He's more chill and mellow and doesn't mind the vet tech so much.

Also, see Jackson Galaxy.
Good luck!
posted by NoraCharles at 1:53 PM on June 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Have you thought about a house call vet? I'm not in Austin, but I can vouch that house call vets worked far better than hauling a stressed out cat to a strange location full of animal smell.

Based solely on yelp reviews, I'd call this guy: Doctor Bendall’s Veterinary Housecall Practice.
posted by 26.2 at 2:05 PM on June 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You can call any vet you'd like to discuss this; a random vet may give you the option to pick up sedatives for your cat or offer to sedate in a carrier prior to examination. Alternatively, contact an Austin cat rescue that deals with feral cats and has a spay-release program and they will be able to recommend a vet that has a protocol for dealing with what are basically wild, angry, terrified, hostile kitties. This vet will be well able to help you.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:06 PM on June 7, 2014 [9 favorites]

Seconding DarlingBri's suggestion of contacting a cat rescue, as there are definitely vets out there who have working with feral cats as part of their specialty.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:13 PM on June 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We had the same thing happen with our cat (he lacerated a vet tech and we were told not to come back), and we just called around to other vets (really just starting with the one closest to our house and working outwards) and the first couple we called said it was fine. They made a note on the chart so the vet would know and it was no big deal. We've been going there with our "bad" cat for ten years now. Sometimes they handle him with gloves, sometimes they put him in a cat straitjacket (basically a sack that contains his legs), sometimes they anesthetize him if they need to do something bigger. Often the have two techs in addition to the vet if they need to hold him.

This isn't unusual for a cat and forewarned vets (especially if they handle a lot of cats) are usually fine with it. (Also, we switched to the 3-year rabies shot for him and we only take him in every 3 years. He does not go outside so our vet agrees he's at low risk for other diseases and that, in his case, it's better to examine him less often and accept we may miss something than subject him to the stress of yearly examinations.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:16 PM on June 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: In addition to looking for vets who work with TNR programs or recommendations from feral cat rescues, you could try a feline-specific practice, or a practice with a veterinary behaviorist on staff.

Or just call around. When you call ahead and discuss the cat, here are some key words to use: begin by saying that you have a "very fractious" cat who needs routine medical care. Then you can get into the details. "Fractious" is polite veterinary health speak for "this cat may rip your face off, so plan accordingly." It will convey that you are not exaggerating or minimizing your cat's displeasure or reactivity.

(Seriously, just search "fractious cat", and you will see what I mean.)
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 2:41 PM on June 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yeah- my sister's cat did this. They switched vets to one who does mostly cats (is there one in Austin?) and were up front about it. No big deal, they put a sticker on the cat's chart that denotes "ANGRY" and they've been going there for years now. Vets at cat-specific practices are probably more likely to know how to deal with it.
posted by charmedimsure at 2:42 PM on June 7, 2014

Definitely find an all-cat clinic and explain over the phone before you make the appointment. They will have seen it all. When I lived where they had all-cat clinics, it was an amazing huge difference in attitude about cat behavior. My experience at an all-cat clinic was that ALL cat behavior was normal and they just had strategies for dealing with each different thing.

The more clearly you describe the problem, the better able they will be to cope and prepare.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 3:14 PM on June 7, 2014

Best answer: I am a cat owner in Austin, TX.

I think you'd probably be just fine in most veterinary practices except Animal Trustees. I've used Animal Trustees before -- and they really can't handle anything difficult b/c of the number of animals they deal with. But they're generally awesome.

I've been very happy with Austin Vet Hospital on IH-35. Give them advance notice of your cat's issues. Dr. Palvino is not easily rattled, in my experience.
posted by pantarei70 at 3:20 PM on June 7, 2014

charmedimsure: " they put a sticker on the cat's chart that denotes "ANGRY""

Yep, this exactly, my cat has a bright red sticker on his chart that says "BITER."

I joke that that's only because they don't have one that says "POOPS FOR SPITE" because he eventually figured out that even if he couldn't bite and scratch people, he could poop on them.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:26 PM on June 7, 2014 [11 favorites]

My cat has an orange sticker on her file for similar reasons . . .

We were told by our previous vet that they were "uncomfortable" handling her. I was very upfront about her issues when "interviewing" new vets and the one we ended up with was wonderful with her. A kitty "straight jacket" was also used on more than one occasion.
posted by ainsley at 5:16 PM on June 7, 2014

My older cat is very aggressive with veterinarians, and really strangers in general. We basically just warn the vets in advance that he scratches and bites, and about half the time he ends up going under general anesthesia for his checkups. It's a little more expensive (+$60) but I think it tends to be the least stressful for everyone and he gets a more thorough exam. On his last check up his teeth looked "fine" when he was examined briefly while hissing and generally freaking out, and then after he was under, the vet discovered a FORL on one of his teeth. As a result of all this difficulty, we usually only take him to the vet every other year or if he has a specific problem we're concerned about. It's worked for us and he has been very healthy. However, we have definitely been banned from every groomer in our neighborhood for nail clipping, so I feel your pain there! :)
posted by amileighs at 5:24 PM on June 7, 2014

Best answer: 2nding a home vet. We have home vets and it makes life for everyone much better. Costs a bit more, but there are economical options for home vet care depending on where you live (and I'm certain in Austin you'll have good options).

Home vets take care of animals that are too sick to leave the house, too immunosuppressed or cats that are stressed out by visiting the vet. And whether or not your cat is mean, s/he is likely even meaner being dragged out of their safe place, stuck in a cage and hauled off to the vet. I remember my cat growing up would puke in the car on the way to the vet and on the way home. It got so when my parents pulled out the cage she would puke as well.

So - my cat can be crotchety, particularly if people are trying to look under his tail (that's private!). Vet knows this ahead of time. I also help with cat management. When the vet is doing the parts of the exam that I know will irritate him, I sit nearby, not interfering but ready to jump in. When Mr. Arnicae is doing this, he wears garden gloves and will proactively put his hand in a place where the cat can easily bite him. I am pretty good at avoiding being bitten/scratched and am pretty firm about holding our cat (scruffing him) while talking to him in a soothing, loving voice.

The cat usually nails someone every other visit (light bite, nothing that requires more than the most cursory band-aid), but the vet is ok with it because she knows to expect it, and we're ok with it because we get bitten every so often.

But if you want to imagine a truly pathetic scene, imagine my cat at a vet's office. We've had to do this twice when we moved and needed to see a vet quickly. Our cat was paralyzed with fear, literally so frightened that when the vet picked him up he defecated, and also did am amazing imitation of a buzz saw. There was literally blood and saliva on the walls of one exam room. Give home vets a try, I bet it will really help your cat ratchet down the mean from 10 to 7.
posted by arnicae at 5:40 PM on June 7, 2014

Best answer: While I understand the idea behind the house call vet, please be aware that it can quickly get ugly in your own home. The positives (your cat feels more confident, is less aware that MEDICAL things are about to happen and doesn't get riled up on the way to the vet) might be outweighed by the sheer number of places your cat can run and hide. When you're in my exam room, the cat can hide under the chair or in the sink, both places that can be easily reached if needed. I have had some pretty ugly house calls where the owners just didn't realize what a fiasco it could become, and I think in the end might have been more stressful on everyone.

I think finding a cat hospital, and talking to them ahead of time about your fractious cat is the way to go. Then a big glass of wine when you get home for the humans, and some tuna and catnip for the feline. Best of luck! And cheers to you for maintaining his health even when it is a total pain in the rear.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 6:31 PM on June 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wait, did you forget to favorite the suggestion for Feliway spray?

That stuff is MAGIC, and a home diffuser might help with his PTSD, too.

I can't nth it enough. One of my kitties swears by it!

Feliway. Sometimes expensive at stores, cheap online. In a spray bottle or diffuser. Get some right away.

posted by jbenben at 12:06 AM on June 8, 2014

My mother had a cat like this. She took in a semi-feral one autumn who was decidedly not domesticated enough to tolerate handling. The cat was named Mottle. She was definitely fully grown. My Mum got lacerated but was indifferent to the scratches. When she took Mottle to the vet however, they wouldn't even examine her. They looked at my Mum's arms didn't want her to open the cat carrier.

Mottle continued to be very grumpy and would scratch you if you disturbed her for the next couple of years. But she got a whole lot calmer about life and started to figure out that you were not actually brutalizing her when you touched her, you were merely claiming the comfortable chair with the cushion, or putting a bow on her collar or whatever.

After some eight or more years, Mottle no longer bites or scratches and while she's not a total furry sook she can be handled without problem by anyone who needs to.

So your poor little cat might possibly out-grow this behaviour, if there is consistent un-flappably calm handling. I'm not saying your cat will definitely get over it, but it is possible.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:15 AM on June 8, 2014

Response by poster: We took him to Austin Vet Hospital, after two detailed and reassuring phone conversations. They let us make a very early morning appointment so there wouldn't be other pets (dogs in particular) around in the waiting room, and they told us not to feed him after midnight the night before so he'd be prepared for sedation if it was necessary.

It did indeed end up being necessary — we couldn't even coax him onto the scale un-sedated — but the vet and vet tech were both totally chill about it and handled the whole situation gracefully, and our cat was still way less freaked out and terrified than we've seen him at any previous vet visit. He is now caught up on his shots and tapeworm-free. (Yay! Go team!)

I also talked to someone at Dr. Bendall's, and I was definitely impressed, but it sounded like it would probably require two visits to get our cat the care he needed — Bendall would have wanted to try and do everything without sedation, and then come back another time to try again under mild sedation if the first attempt didn't work. We figured the odds of getting everything on the first try didn't look good, and money is tight this month. I really was impressed with their approach, though, and we might give them a try the next time around if we've got a bit of cash to spare.

Thanks everyone for the tips.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:29 PM on June 29, 2014

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