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Drastic behavioral change re roaming

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
Brief background: Red Cat is about eight years old. He was neutered when his second owner took over his care after he was abandoned about six years ago. He was strictly an outdoor cat while the second owner had him. I've had him about five years, as an indoor-outdoor. He is an anxious cat, running in terror and hiding if he hears a car coming in the driveway or anyone comes up the stairs to the front door or often if the telephone rings. When coming in from outside, the first thing he does after demanding to be petted is to check that I have left the door to his emergency exit (the storage room under the stairs) slightly ajar so he can enter if frightened. Only once in the past five years has he allowed anyone other than myself or my late husband to pet him. Usually he stays in hiding until anyone else is gone.

In the years I've had him until recently, Red Cat has been a man about town. Because we have coyotes in the area, I have tried to keep him in at night, but he has been a regular escape artist. He would escape from the second floor deck if I didn't watch carefully. He would slip out between my late husband's legs when Walt went out on the deck for a smoke. Or he would just not come home for dinner if I let him out earlier. He was seen wandering blocks from here. During spring and summer, he'd escape and go "out on the town" at night once or twice a week; once or twice a month in the cold, rainy winter. Sometimes he would stay out all night. Sometimes he would climb the post to the second floor and meow at the glass slider to the bedroom or dining room until he woke me up and I let him in at 3 or 4 AM.

Until this spring. I think the last time he stayed out most of the night was in March. Now he spends little time outside; even in the nicest of weather he is rarely out more than about half an hour at a time twice a day. Often he just sits on the front or back porch, though he occasionally disappears for a brief time.

I should be happy that he is no longer a roamer and I don't have to worry so much. Instead I worry about what is going on, as he is now a clinging mama's boy, wanting to spend hours sitting in my lap and being petted, petted, petted. He wants my attention to the point I worry about neglecting my other cat, Purdy.

Is this related to his behavior of licking his belly until it is raw? (I've talked about that problem in some previous threads, and the problem is still not solved.) That problem started over a year ago, while my husband was still alive. The bare spot on his belly was only about the size of a quarter then, though. Now it is the whole abdomen.

Any insights anyone can offer will be appreciated.
post #2 of 10
Maybe he is just getting old?
When my dog was a puppy, she used to like the outside and would always run away on her walks. She never wanted to go home. When she got older, she would do her business as fast as she could on her walks and would want to go home.
On the other hand, you should take him to the vet to get checked, because he shouldn't definetly lick himself like that.
post #3 of 10
I would get his health checked, if you haven't already. As far as not going out - I'd suspect that there is another animal out there in the neighborhood that has him spooked. It could be another male cat (perhaps intact), a new dog he's afraid to walk past, a raccoon, or even a coyote that has been hanging around. We have a fair number of falcons around here, and our cat is paranoid when he sees one - he wants IN!
The belly-licking could be an autoimmune reaction, or stress. I really wonder if he has been "dethroned" by another cat.
post #4 of 10
Thread Starter 
Oh, I've been to the vet so many times with that cat it seems almost like another home! We've gone through a whole battery of tests about the belly-licking part. But I've never really mentioned the change in behavior regarding staying home, as my vet has made it clear that he isn't an expert on behavior. We have many raccoons around; I used to feed them, and they still come to the door. Many a time one of the cats and a raccoon have waited on the porch for me together. So that's not likely a problem. He could have been spooked by a coyote, though. Purdy still goes out, though, and stays out longer, and I'd think Purdy would be spooked, too if that was it.

You may be right about the possibility of having been dethroned by an intact male in the neighborhood. I haven't seen any other outside cats in the area in the past few months, but that doesn't mean that he hasn't. He used to be very territorial. And he has the battle scars to prove it. You should see his ears and chin! And I think I've had to take him to the vet three times with abscesses over the years. When he was inside and would see another cat in the yard, he would tear from window to window, clawing at the window, meowing loudly, then run to the door and try to reach the doorknob. (Thankfully, he couldn't quite reach it.) What was really funny was that Purdy, my other neutered male about the same age, would go to the window and look briefly, then climb to the top of the stairs (from which he could view part of the yard), flop over on his side and relax, like he was saying, "I'll just let Red Cat take care of that intrusion."
post #5 of 10
I still wonder about Red Cat's belly licking. If it started before your husband died, and then got worse, could it be that he was picking up on your grief and stress, and then continued the behavior due to his own sorrow? One of my sister's cats started to lick the fur off his back legs shortly after her Great Dane died, and didn't stop until he had to deal with two puppies (a St. Bernard and a Jack Russell - great combination, right?). My parents had a cat that stopped going outside as soon as their dog died; she just seemed to be waiting or looking for him all the time, although there was another dog in the house.
Our cat (neutered) only goes outside on a leash, but at the age of 3 1/2 he suddenly started to mark out in our yard. It took us a while to discover that an intact male was visiting every night, and marking. That cat has now been neutered, too, and rarely comes around, but Jamie is still marking every day. Our neighbor's cat was injured by that male, and she still won't venture much beyond her front steps, though she used to wander around a lot.
post #6 of 10
Thread Starter 
I just got thinking, if Red Cat's territory has been usurped by another male, he is now going through a mid-life crisis!

I know, I shouldn't laugh. To a cat, that is just as big a crisis as a man or woman losing a promotion bid to a younger outsider. But put in terms of mid-life crisis, it totally strikes my funny bone.

I've talked with the vet about the possible relationship between Red Cat's belly licking and the grief from my husband's death. I do think it is a possibility. However, I am still not totally convinced that the belly licking is strictly behavioral, though my vet thinks it's about a 95% chance it is. I personally haven't ruled out allergy yet. A couple of days ago I switched and am trying a fragrance-free litter. Hate the stuff. It is clay and non-clumping. But it is the only fragrance-free I could find. I'll give that a couple of weeks and see if there is any improvement.

Before I had kind of poo-pooed the idea that it might be food allergy, since he still had the same reaction even when I gave him food he had been eating for years. But I have since read that it is common for allergies to develop even if the cat has been on the same food for over two years. The vet ordered and I got some special food supposed to be low-allergy, but Red Cat will only accept it if it is only about one-third of his diet. Basically, he won't eat anything if it is more than one-third of his diet. That boy demands variety! And since he is overweight, it is dangerous for him to lose weight too fast, so I don't want to let him just not eat when he thinks enough is enough of that diet. So I'm in a quandary about what to do on that.

Also, how can one totally rule out flea allergy? I've read that just a couple of flea bites can keep an allergic cat scratching for a couple of weeks. I haven't seen any evidence of fleas. Not that I'd know one if one bit me, but I haven't seen anything that looks like the pictures I've seen. But again, I've read that flea-allergic cats are so effective at removing them that one often doesn't find them on examination.

So basically, I just don't know what to think or do at this point. The poor boy is obviously miserable.
post #7 of 10
here are some fragrance-free cat litters

Tidy Cats Crystals Cat Litter
ExquisiCat Crystals Cat Litter
Scoop Away Odor Eliminator
post #8 of 10
My senior cat OX who is 14 yrs old (neutered at 2) many many days spent the night out. But last July he tangled with something-got 3 abcesses on neck and jaw and did not want to go out AT ALL. Was peeing in my spare bedroom pretty bad. Sits by door but ran downstairs when trying to coax him out. I surmise this is about the time a tamed my stray Tommy who was a younger non-neutered male. This spring Ox went outside a couple times, tangled with Tommy a couple times too. Then back inside afraid to go out. But in the last couple of weeks since Tommy's injury Ox has been going outside briefly (10-15 minutes) and now a little bit longer. My husband thinks OX was/is afraid of Tommy I've kept them separate still waiting about another 4-6 weeks to try to reintroduce them. Ox however was never a lap cat even though he did sit in my lap twice last week- was I surprised. I must have Tommy's scent all over me but if both are outside they are nowhere near each other. So we figure since OX is so much older -it was Tommy establishing dominance-OX was quite a fighter in his younger day- played big brother to my other cats for years but got knocked of his throne.
post #9 of 10
Thread Starter 
Well, something certainly has that cat spooked! Yesterday I don't know what that cat saw, but he was in the house and you should have seen that cat run with that tail-down fearful run they get and he went and hid under a sheet. I didn't notice what window he had been looking out, but when I went outside there was a four-point buck and a doe bedded down in the yard. So it is highly unlikely Red Cat had seen a coyote or a dog. Could he have become that frightened of the deer? Usually he just growls at them.

Anyway, I sure can't tie the recent change in behavior to any specific incident. He has had fights with major injuries which sent him to the vet in previous years, but in the past year or so, he has only ended up with scratches. So whatever frightened him didn't actually hurt him too much physically.
post #10 of 10
He may have been chased by deer, and is thus afraid of them. After witnessing a Canadian doe attack and badly injure a little girl out walking with her family through the woods, my husband and I have a healthy respect for them. It was spring, and the doe probably had a fawn in the area. Something similar may have happened to Red Cat.

Since there are a couple of brands of low-allergy food, could you have your vet order three different kinds, and alternate them? I have the same problem with Jamie. He insists on variety. He's allergic to soy, and last year had a "rodent ulcer" on his lip (eosinophilic granuloma complex), which was successfully treated with cortisone shots. We really don't know what caused it, but usually it's an allergic reaction. Since then I've been giving him a 50 mg. capsule of omega 3 fatty acids in fish oil every week, and the problem hasn't recurred.
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