Can I stop my kitty from compulsively scratching her face?
October 3, 2007 6:51 PM   Subscribe

Is there anything I can do to keep my kitty from scratching her eyes? She's been in an e-collar for two months post-eye-surgery, and it's time for freedom. But whenever she's out of the collar for more than an hour or two, she scratches her eyes and ends up bleeding. The vet says she's just neurotic and needs to get used to being uncollared, but I'm worried she's going to do some serious damage to herself.

My lovely Laila-kitty has been through a lot since we adopted her the first week of August. She's a six-year-old medium-haired tortie, and she'd been at the shelter for a month when the we met her and fell in love. Now she's a single, indoor-only cat. The boyfriend and I work from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., leaving her alone in the apartment.

She had a case of conjunctivitis that the shelter had been treating with some mild eye drops for about a week. We would later find out that feline herpes was the culprit. She was spayed the day before we brought her home midweek; all of the uproar made her herpes flare up something fierce. By her check-up on Saturday, her cornea had ulcerated, and her eye had nearly, well, burst. We rushed her to an emergency ophthalmologist for a conjunctival pedicle graft on her left eye.

Two months and several thousand dollars later, she's gotten an all-clear from the vet to be freed from the e-collar. (Actually, due to a chronic ear sensitivity, she *needs* to be freed from the e-collar so the current ear problems can die down.)

However, every time she's been out of the e-collar for more than an hour or two in the last couple months, she's scratched and rubbed her eyelids and mouth to the point of bleeding -- leading to another expensive visit to the emergency vet.

She had a checkup today, and her graft is doing just fine. She treated with Revolution just in case she had fleas (although the vet didn't see any), and her claws were trimmed. The vet suggested that the past two months in the collar had just made her neurotic and that she was going to groom compulsively for a while. However, in the few hours since we brought her home, she's already rubbed and scratched her right (non-surgery) eye raw -- and that's with us watching her almost constantly!

What could be causing her compulsive scratching behavior? What the holy hell can we do to keep our kitty from self-harming? (Declawing is not an option.) I'm scared that she's going to cause herself some serious damage.
posted by weatherworn to Pets & Animals (9 answers total)
I'm not a vet or anything close to one, but I had a cat who compulsively scratched for several months -- to the skin, to bleeding, to the point where we were finding little "plugs" of fur and scab all over the apartment. He never scratched at his eyes, though.

We went to the vet and were referred to an animal dermatologist (which we were told would be super expensive). We also got steroid shots (which lost effectiveness rather quickly). What ended up working?

Changing his food to something with less additives/less processing. I know it sounds hippy dippy and new age-y, but it worked.
posted by proj at 7:53 PM on October 3, 2007

Hmm. For what it's worth, she's eating Science Diet Adult Original . . . because that's what she got at the shelter, and that's all she'll eat. (When she was very ill, we offered several different wet foods, but she turned up her nose at everything -- baby food, tuna, Fancy Feast -- except the Science Diet kibble. Weirdo.)

I still have the bag of Royal Canin Indoor; maybe we'll try that again.
posted by weatherworn at 8:03 PM on October 3, 2007

And now she's gotten to the other eye. God, this is miserable.
posted by weatherworn at 1:45 AM on October 4, 2007

Best of luck to you and Laila.

Sounds radical, but if you can attach a baby sock (with adhesive tape) over each paw, that will reduce the ability to scratch. Also, it may distract her. Perhaps distraction is the key. Alternate idea is to put something on her to lick off when you take off the collar - maybe she'll focus on that. Another option (sounds awful, but's nothing worse than she's doing to herself) is to wet her hair down, then remove - maybe she'll focus on drying herself instead.

Agree with proj that food can sometimes be a culprit. Also, you may talk to the vet about some type of pill that will make her less hyper.

Right now, she's probably just so overjoyed to get a chance to scratch that itch, she cannot help it! Anything you can do to distract is worth a try. See if she will play with something- laser pointer, dabird flying toy, string, new bag or box to explore...

Oh, and congrats on the tortie. Everyone I've known are people lovers. Sounds like she's one very fortunate kitty.
posted by mightshould at 5:28 AM on October 4, 2007

If she is actually using her claws, you may want to try SoftPaws to at least prevent injury. But frankly, I'd be finding another vet for a second opinion, her eyes should NOT be this itchy and/or she has an underlying behavioural/psychological issue which needs to be resolved. Your vet's "it'll go away" attitude is disturbing, especially since it sounds like you have a real and valid concern that your cat will seriously injure herself. I'd put the e-collar back on and find another vet, preferably one who has a good background in cats and cat behaviour.
posted by biscotti at 6:52 AM on October 4, 2007

I would try softpaws. They are a safe and humane alternative to declawing. They are pretty much just plastic tips you glue on over the nails. While they won't stop the scratching they will at least protect the skin and eyes from the sharp ends of the nail. They are around $23 for 40 nail caps. A lot cheaper than a trip to the vet so it might be something worth trying.
posted by GlowWyrm at 6:53 AM on October 4, 2007

Our old, cranky kitty, Katie, goes through periods of incredible neuroses: she hisses at everything that moves, she digs at her mouth (causing it to bleed and become infected) and she obsessively grooms. There's no rhyme or reason to it, either. Sometimes she's crazy, sometimes she's not. Luckily, our vet is fantastic and has worked with us to get her to chill out. She takes kitty Prozac during her crazy times and it really, really helps.

I'd tell your vet that you aren't happy with "it'll go away" and that you want to explore other options. If your vet won't play, find a new one.

Good luck!
posted by cooker girl at 6:58 AM on October 4, 2007

Thanks for the suggestions, all. I came home to a relatively unscathed kitty this afternoon, but I'm probably going to be holding my breath for another week or two.

The boyfriend and I are going to discuss finding another vet. I've already e-mailed my aunt, who's a feline vet on the other coast, about the situation. With luck, I'll be getting some more good advice from someone I trust.

I picked up a set of Soft Paws, and we may try those out in the next few days.

In the meantime, I'll try to wear her out with many snuggles and games of Laser Pointer Madness!
posted by weatherworn at 3:38 PM on October 4, 2007

I have heard very good things about the Boston Cat Hospital in Kenmore Square (617) 266-7877 (I have no commercial interest in the place, just FOAF contacts that recommend it).
posted by Rock Steady at 10:08 PM on October 9, 2007

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