Quote of the Moment

"It's never wrong to hope, Byx," said my mother. "Unless the truth says otherwise."
- from Endling #1: The Last, by Katherine Applegate

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Kitty Conundrum

Cats are strange animals, both in the wild and in the home. They can be deathly ill before you know it, or they can behave so bizarrely you'd swear they were on their way out only to shake it off even as you pick up the phone to call the vet.

In the past few weeks, I've been contemplating this matter on a very personal level.

For about a month, I'd been finding random accidents about my room. I figured they were tied in with Leo, who has known urine crystal issues and is, even by this household's standards, kind of weird. (And this household, remember, once had a dog who tried to put a dead outdoor rat into my sister's pet rat cage, because he seemed to figure that's where rats belonged.) Anyway, round about two weeks ago, I finally pinned down the culprit.  Not Leo, but Orion.

Orion had been acting a slight bit strangely - he'd get in bouts where he'd yowl like he was in pain, but immediately forget about it when he was distracted, and showed no discomfort when picked up, unlike Leo when he's in a trouble zone. But, as I've mentioned, we're used to peculiar pet behavior in our household. Peculiar, however, does not extend to accidents. Since Orion was overdue for a physical anyway, I took him in to the vet's.

Aside from an enlarged thyroid, the vet saw no reason for concern, but he ran bloodwork and a urine check anyway. The results: bloodwork and thyroid A-OK, urinalysis not so much. He didn't have crystals (the usual go-to suspect, especially in older cats), but he did have blood in his urine. The next most probable cause was an infection. I picked up some antibiotics that evening and started dosing Orion. (Thank goodness I have weird, and heavily brainwashed, cats who will eat anything concealed in a kitty treat...)

I found a couple of accidents the next few days... but Orion was likely still irritated. And he was still using the litter box most of the time.  Give the antibiotics a few days to kick in, and he'd be right as rain.

The following week - eight days ago - I got a wet wake-up call at 2 AM. Something was trickling onto my face.  It wasn't rain, and it wasn't right.

I scrubbed down my face, changed my pillow, and crawled back into bed half an hour later... only to have Orion return.

And it happened again.

Once is an accident.  Twice is a cry for help.

I locked him outside in the cat run, but he spent all night pawing at the cat door and meowing. I broke at 6 AM, but couldn't risk trying to sleep again. I just kept staring at that cat, willing myself to understand what was wrong, why the antibiotics didn't seem to be working.

What I was going to have to do if he kept this up...

Later that day, when the rest of the world had woken up, I went down to the vet to report this latest development, all the while dreading the next night.  It was a work night.  I couldn't go to work on two hours' sleep.  I still had the incontinence pants from Randy's final days (over ten years ago, one of Orion's brothers had a degenerative nerve issue that rendered him incontinent toward the end), so I thought that would help with the symptom.

It would not solve the problem.

I reported to the vet, who had never heard of a cat intentionally urinating on a human being. (He believed me - I've been going to this vet for nearly 20 years, and it was just too bizarre of a story to make up - but he'd never heard of it.) He decided it was time for further exploration.  I dropped Orion off at the vet on the way to work, and picked him up on the way home.

The good news: the X-rays didn't show anything to worry about.

The bad news: the X-rays didn't show anything to worry about.

The vet said it was probably an idiopathic issue (idiopathic = we don't know what the heck's causing it, but nevertheless it seems to be happening), possibly related to a blocked anal gland he'd discovered while preparing for the X-ray. It could also be a deep-kidney infection that older cats are prone to, which also could've been triggered by the stress of a blocked gland. In any event, even if the now-cleared gland was the trigger, the infection itself still had to be dealt with. The vet decided to try switching him to another, stronger antibiotic for a week to see what happened.

Fingers crossed, this would do it... because I couldn't go on like this. I couldn't live with an incontinent animal forever. It wasn't fair to my other cats.  It wasn't fair to him.  And it wasn't fair to me. (The alternative - kicking him outside - would only be fair to the coyotes.) I also couldn't afford further investigation by specialists, which would be required if antibiotics didn't do the trick. He's an old cat - he'd be in his 80's if he were a human - and there's only so much one can expect to put him through for far-from-guaranteed results.  Which left only one plausible solution... one that made me feel like a monster for considering, after having this cat since he was nine weeks old.

Anyway, I watched that cat like a hawk over the next few days.  He was acting more like his older, playful self. He no longer attempted to urinate on my person. He wasn't doing his yowling-for-no-earthly-reason thing nearly as often.

But I kept finding accidents...

Not as many.  But still there.  And with a disturbing gravitation to my bed.

Which leads me up to today.  I spent the morning at the laundromat, cleaning my blankets, while a tarp covered my bed. I also hunted - in vain - for an actual waterproof, non-absorbent bed cover, the kind they used to sell for kids with bedwetting issues. (Mom and I have determined that modern kids apparently no longer wet beds - or, if they do, the rest of the family must start wetting theirs so the child's self-esteem isn't hurt, as it would be if they were forced to use specialized bedding to keep their sheets and mattresses urine-free, as kids in my generation were.) We finally settled on an oversized waterproof mattress cover to cover my bed during the day. This won't, however, help me at night; I can't sleep under plastic without suffocating, and some of his "accidents" have happened while I've been sleeping. Including one on my pillow.

That afternoon, I called the vet with the update.

No, the continued accidents, especially the seemingly-intentional nature, were Not Good.  They seemed to indicate some sort of stress or separation anxiety... though Orion did it whether I was in the room or not. But the vet didn't think we should give up yet. Maybe he was still irritated, and maybe he just needed some help calming down.

This evening, in addition to the antibiotics, Orion started on kitty Prozac. He's also on Cosequin; apparently, they've recently discovered that there's a glucosamine coating on the bladder in cats, which seems to have something to do with protecting it, so he figured an extra dose of the stuff couldn't hurt.

This is pretty much all he can think to try. If this doesn't work... if this habit can't be broken...

So now I'm sitting here, watching Orion like a hawk, wondering if I'll be able to sleep through the night without having to change my pillowcase (again.) Wondering if we've finally hit on the magic bullet that will get him back in the litter box habit.

And wondering if I'll still have three cats by the end of July.

(The photo at the start was from a recent visit to the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma. I would've blogged about it, but why bother?)

SATURDAY UPDATE: Well, it looked like we were making progress... Only two accidents since I posted this. Not as bad as it was, but still enough to show that the problem's still there, and that it's not entirely under control.

Damn, damn, damn...

If it keeps up, I'll be talking to the vet early next week. Orion might just need a higher dose of Prozak.

Fingers crossed, that's all he needs... because that is doable. Continuing to live with an eye and a nose peeled for fresh "spills" isn't.

TUESDAY UPDATE: 72 hours without a known accident. Definitely looking better, knock on plywood-colored substance... I might try doing a "towel test" later today or sometime tomorrow. (This involves putting a towel down.  Last time I had a towel on the floor or on my plastic-covered bed... well, it would test to see if he still feels the need to mark, but has simply been avoiding the plastic.) It would be nice if I didn't have to sit on plastic to type on my computer... or sleep on a plastic-bag-covered pillow. (The cover is technically supposed to be waterproof, but I wasn't going to take the chance with cat urine.)

NEXT SATURDAY UPDATE: Thus far, Orion has passed the "towel test." And the "pillow without plastic" test. And the "chair without plastic test." However, he did not pass the "sandals left on the floor" test. Still, much better than I'd feared.  I expect I'll be calling the vet next week with the update, and to ask what to do about it - he might just need a larger dose of Prozak. He also might need checking to make sure the infection itself is actually gone, too - since it's not nearly so frequent, it might just be residual behavior issues.

In any event, things are looking up from a week ago.