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Cat with possible depression/anxiety (long)

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
Hi everyone, I have an 18-year-old cat who I think is suffering from depression. I should preface this story by saying that she has never been a very social or playful cat. We found her as a stray, so we think that she was away from her mother at a very young age and was never socialized properly. We also had another cat who was put to sleep in September 2006, and they were housemates for 17 years but not close buddies. They basically tolerated each other. After he was gone, she seemed to open up a bit more and became more social with us.

We took Lulu to the vet recently last week, and she checked out okay, aside from her mild early-stage kidney disease. Back in May we got two ragdoll kittens (brother and sister), and when we first introduced Lulu to the kittens, she seemed okay. There were the usual first-contact hisses and all, but after a few weeks she seemed okay with them being there. Of course, if they got too close to her, she would hiss, but she was never aggressive towards them. She would still socialize a bit, come down to eat, and hang around in the living room with us after she ate. Then she slowly started to withdraw from us. At first, she started to stay upstairs a lot and would only come down to eat. Then she wouldn't come downstairs to eat. I would have to go up and get her and bring her down to eat, which she would. Then she started to run upstairs in the middle of her meal, not finishing her food unless I brought it up to her. Now she won't come downstairs at all to eat. BTW, she never really lost her appetite during this time. In fact, her appetite seems very good, better than usual.

Then a few nights ago, she decided to pee where she was laying in her safe spot behind the TV in our bedroom, which is the first time that has happened. She usually goes to the litterboxes without fail (in the spare bedroom on the same floor or the ones on the main floor, I have 4 of them). I called my vet yesterday morning, and she suggested that we see a behavioral specialist, but it is outrageously expensive, and we just cannot afford to take her there, plus it's over an hour from our house (Lulu does NOT do well in the car) and the only one in our state.

I'm just not sure what to do. I have her in the spare bedroom right now, away from the kittens. She's not too happy about it (she cries when I go up and she tries to run for the door to get out), but she has her own space without the kittens getting in her way and she has been eating and using the litterbox. I feel very guilty for keeping her in a room by herself, but I don't want her to pee on my carpet.

I have done a bit of research regarding holistic solutions, i.e., flower essence, but I'm so confused because I'm not sure which specific flower essence would work for her. My husband is stopping at the local health food store to pick up a bottle of Bach's Rescue Remedy to try out, so we will see how she does on that. Unfortunately, we are going to be gone Friday and Saturday this weekend. I have tried Feliway in the past, but it didn't make a difference in her socialization. I really did not see any difference at all.

How long does it take for me to see a difference with the Rescue Remedy? Is there any other specific flower essence that I could try on her? Here's a list of the ones that I think may help her: Gentian, water violet, walnut, and honeysuckle. Did I miss any? Would combining these make a difference?

I'm just so confused, and I feel so helpless because I'm pretty sure she is stressed out by the kittens and not by the death of my other cat, although maybe it's a delayed response. My research says to get rid of the stressor, but that obviously is not going to happen.

Sorry for such a long post, but any advice you can share would be most appreciated. Thank you!
post #2 of 9
My first reaction here is to wonder why you got the kittens when you did - vs possibly an older cat at least if you were thinking of new 'company' for your older cat, but what's done is done I guess. She's obviously feeling (literally) put out by them - at her age she can't defend her territory and is just afraid. Crazy question - is it possible at this point to maybe have the kittens live somewhere else, even for a year or two, and let her have her place back? It seems so mean (though I know you had no intention of it) to have put her in this position at this time in her life, though I may be the only one here dumb enough to say it out loud. If you choose not to, I'm not sure what to tell you, because the fact the kittens are there seems to be enough to keep her upstairs, regardless of other things. I personally doubt that at this point in time flower essences etc. are going to help. There's a lot more going on than the usual fussy intro. problems you'd have with other cats of a more equal age. But that's just my 2 c's worth.
post #3 of 9
I've been doing some research, as I'm ultimately studying to be a behaviorist, but I'm just begining my journey. I'll see if I can help some.

Given that she peed in her "safe spot", and has kidney disease this might be related to her disease and not to something behavioral. But if you've spoken to your vet and your vet doesn't think that's the issue then it probably is behavioral.

Okay, let's see. When she peed inappropriately, was anything going on that you can think of that was different from her normal routine? Has any furniture been moved, litter boxes moved, are the new kittens "bogarting" the litter box or standing near it and preventing her from using it? Have you changed cat litters or types of litter boxes?

When she's in her safe spot is she there because the youngsters are bugging her and she's trying to get away, or has this always been her safe spot since before the kittens came?

I'll check the book I have with me and see if I can find any information that might help.
post #4 of 9
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Larke View Post
My first reaction here is to wonder why you got the kittens when you did.
I actually wanted to wait until Lulu was gone before we got new kittens, but my husband's thinking was that they would liven her up and in time she may even be a "mother figure" to them. In retrospect, I wish we would have waited, but like you said, what's done is done.
post #5 of 9
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by CatsAreBetter View Post
When she peed inappropriately, was anything going on that you can think of that was different from her normal routine? Has any furniture been moved, litter boxes moved, are the new kittens "bogarting" the litter box or standing near it and preventing her from using it? Have you changed cat litters or types of litter boxes?
Nothing has changed. I did change the kind of litter from regular to clumping when the kittens first arrived, but she has used that without a problem except for this one time. She has continued to use the same litter since she has been separated from the kittens.

Originally Posted by CatsAreBetter View Post
When she's in her safe spot is she there because the youngsters are bugging her and she's trying to get away, or has this always been her safe spot since before the kittens came?
Her safe spot has always been in our bedroom, usually under the bed. Then she started sleeping on top of our bed when the kittens arrived, and then she moved to behind the TV.
post #6 of 9
Half the problem I think may be that she's (understandably) not 100% 'compos', and while allowed to lead her normal life, she could handle being 'old', she's now having to deal with slight dimness on top of the invasion, and just isn't up to it. I really think she's a bit past the time when she'll learn new behaviour.
post #7 of 9
Okay, this is what I'd do. If they're harassing her, I'd get some of those "pop-up" tunnels, or you could even use empty cardboard boxes. I'd give her her own space, that she can get into and out of. If you can afford to put in one of those tiny cat doors that have the "key coded" collars and give it to her, that would be great. Otherwise, I'll have to try to think of something else. I wouldn't lock her up, though, especially if it's making her more unhappy because it'll make the situation worse.

Give her "hidden" paths to move around the house in, like the cardboard boxes, ends opened up, on their sides, taped together so it creates a "tunnel". Try to put them so that one end opens at the cat box, and one end opens perhaps at a cat tree. They also have "kitty tunnels" or kitty blocks that you can build.

I'd try moving the cat boxes to an area that she can "see" what's coming or going for a good distance in every direction. Add another litter box or two (how many do you have?) It's supposed to be one for each floor and/or one for each cat plus one extra.

It sounds like maybe she's a combination of depressed and anxious.. between the death of the other cat and the addition of the two new ones.

Play with the kittens to wear them out. Feed all three together, if possible. If they're not eating well together, separate them a little (maybe 8 feet or something) and put their plates down where they can see each other. If they stop and hiss at one another or stare at one another, move them further apart but if they make it through meal time without any problems, next meal time, put them a little closer together. I'd try moving in increments of about a half a foot or so.

When you play with the kittens, try to play with her too. Even if she doesn't interact, if she tracks it, or stalks it with her eyes, it will build her confidence. You may want to play with her seperately while they're put up for a while. She doesn't necessarily have to have the vigor of the youngsters in order to get a positive experience out of it. According to what I've been reading it's a mental as well as a physical exercise, and make sure to wind down the play session like the "prey" is wounded, and then like she's "caught" it.

I'd also spend time trying to pet her, or just simply sitting with her, and giving her treats to build a more positive experience between the humans and her.

What kind of the Feliway did you try? Was it the spray or was it the plug-in and how long did you use it for? Supposedly this takes about a week to have any effect, and it may also depend on if you had enough of them, how often you were using it, as well as where you were using it at. Were you using it to only stop her from marking or were you using it to help her feel more comfortable around the kittens? I can look that up for you to and try to find the specifics on it. I remember some of the suggestions but there are probably things that I'm forgetting regarding how to use the feliway.
post #8 of 9
Thread Starter 
Thanks for your suggestions. The kittens are not necessarily harassing her, unless you call wanting to play with her "harassing." They like to play with her tail, and of course she doesn't like that and will hiss at them. I always move them away from her when she starts hissing. When they get in her "space" behind the TV while she's back there, she will also hiss at them, but there have been other times when all 3 of them are on our bed, and she seems fine, but of course they aren't bothering her during that time. It's when they get too close to her that she has a problem.

Today she was much better in the spare bedroom. She has been eating, using the litterbox, and even purring when I spent time with her today. The main reason I have her in that room is because it has a wood floor, so if she were to have an accident, it would be easy to clean up. What about making her safe spot in our bedroom inaccessible to the kittens? I am thinking of moving her back there but keeping the kittens out. I think she would be more comfortable in there, plus I don't think I'd have to worry about her peeing on the carpet, especially if the kittens don't have access to that room. She has been using the litterbox faithfully since being in the spare bedroom.

I like your idea of the tunnels, but unfortunately the only time she comes out is at night to use the litterbox (at least until a few days ago). She never comes downstairs anymore, and if I try to go and bring her downstairs, right away she will run back upstairs. She does not come out from behind the TV at all, not even to eat. I have tried putting her food a few feet away from her safe spot. She won't even attempt to move from there to eat. I have to move it right in front of her, and then she has no problem eating. Again, they all used to eat together at first, but now she just runs upstairs. I used to keep Lulu's food about 5 feet away from the kittens' food, but they could see each other. I have watched in the past to see if they are trying to eat her food, but they aren't, so I'm not sure why she was running upstairs in the middle of eating.

There are 4 litterboxes, 2 upstairs and 2 downstairs.

I have tried playing with her with numerous cat toys. In the past, the only thing that she has ever reacted to is a laser, and lately she hasn't reacted to that at all. She just runs and hides upstairs. I've even tried playing with her upstairs, again no response at all. But like I said, she was never a very playful, social cat, even as a kitten.

I used the plug-in Feliway for 1 month. It was plugged in right next to her safe spot in our bedroom since that is where she spends all of her time anyway. She has never sprayed and in fact never peed on the carpet until just a few days ago, and even that was just one time. I do have the back of the TV blocked off from the other kittens so they can't get back there. I was using the Feliway basically to help her feel more comfortable with the kittens, but I never did notice a difference.
post #9 of 9
If she's hiding back there, it might be that the tunnels will help her. Apparently what it does is offer them a "safe" route that they can move from one point to another in, without being seen. If she's "hiding" it may simply be because she's old and isn't as rambunctious as the kittens, and she may just be afraid of it making her ache if they pounce on her or play with her. Anyway, in theory it gives her a "safe" way to travel from point a to point b. I did have some set up in my house as play toys for awhile and my Mau (the shy one, much like yours) loved them.

If you can set up your room where she's able to spend time with you guys as her safe den, that might be better. Although, by putting her in a seperate place and keeping her there, you're establishing that all the rest of the house outside of that room is the territory of the kittens. They probably won't care, given that they're kittens, but it may affect her anxiety/place in the pecking order.

Oh, I meant to mention to you that there are behaviorists that will talk to you via phone or online, and the ones I looked at were (in my opinion) pretty reasonable in price.. as they probably cost about the cost of a vet visit, sometimes less. If you do a search on the net for "cat behaviorist" a number of websites will pop up. I know within the top few hits there was one that was $75 for a one hour phone consultation, an extensive questionaire regarding the situation, and then there were follow ups included by email or phone for at least a month (some offer ongoing forever). I also saw one that was $150 but she was one of the ones on the expensive end. I think she was the most expensive unless you include one that I saw that wants you to cover the travel. A lot will do the consult on the phone given their theory that cats will seldom do whatever it is that they're doing while the behaviorist is in the house.
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