Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Alex: Diagnosis Please (Where Is Dr. House When I need Him?)

Alex and I have been spending a lot of time recently outside on the deck. Alex claims the big chair and I get the little one.

Heart of Darkness asked me a rhetorical question: “Nick, why do dogs and cats lick themselves? Because they can!”

That’s not only a cute joke but it also is quite relevant to the cat with whom I live. I have mentioned before that Alex has been scratching himself and licking himself to the point that his pink skin is showing through his stunning white and back coat. He has also cut into his skin and, when scabs form on his self-inflicted wounds, he licks them off, too.

Therefore, last week I again ticked the elusive feline into his cat carrier and we drove, with Alex whining meows the entire way to see Caryl, his vet. Please understand that when Alex visits Caryl he evinces major changes in his behavior:

  • He stops his whining and meowing the moment we walk into the vet’s office.
  • As difficult as it is to get Alex into his lovely, simulated leather, soft travel carrier, in the vet’s office Alex refuses to come out of the carrier.
  • When he is dragged out of the carrier, he clings to me as if he were surrounded by the element he hates most (water) and if I were to let him go he’d drown.
  • Finally, when Caryl or one of her assistants carry him out of the examining room, he becomes completely submissive: they can do (almost) anything they want with him and he doesn’t complain or try to escape.

During his visit with the veterinarian, she ran (are you ready for this?) $206.00 in various tests. Alex and I remained at the vet’s until the results of all of the tests except one culture were available. The results? Nothing can be found wrong with him! Alex is as healthy as any four-and-half-year-old feline can be. There is no explanation for why he is self-mutilating! It is sort of Alex’s version of dear Susie’s (note her new blog address) WTF disease.

The best Caryl could do for the cat who owns me was to send us home with some liquid antibiotics to prevent these open wounds from becoming infected. Of course, my first attempt at one mil. dropper into his mouth was disaster. He escaped from my arms, landed on my desk, sent everything movable on the desk onto the floor, jumped off the desk, ran like a bat out of hell, and hid from me.

Of course his belly betrayed the cat, and I caught him just a he completed his favorite dinner. This time I held him tighter, like a baby in my left arm, and when Alex had tilted his head back as far a he could, I got the dropper in his mouth and sent the antibiotic to the back of his mouth. Unfortunately—or maybe fortunately—the damned cat seems to like the taste of the antibiotic and wants me to give it to him more often than the prescribed twice a day. Could Alex be becoming a cat version of a Vicodin addict, like Dr. Gregory House?

Here is where we stand: (1) Alex is healthy. (2) The vet can find no explanation for his licking and scratching.

Could his self-destructive behavior be the result of some psychological trauma? I worry about my little housemate!


  1. He doesn't have fleas, I take it? Is he getting into something outside? I'm sure these are all questions you've already answered, I'm just grasping at straws. Maybe he needs one of those little cone things so he doesn't lick himself and they get a chance to heal?

    I sure hope Alex starts feeling better soon


  2. curmudgeon cat has flea allergy, which means that only one unnoticed flea bite can, for all practical purposes, make him rip all his fur out while trying to scratch the itches.

    i've usually had better luck with advantage or revolution than with frontline [for killing fleas], but most vets will sell you just one tube of each, rather than making you buy the whole box. once you find out which product seems to work best, then buy it by the box [6 tubes for advantage, i think 4 tubes for frontline, and i forget how many for revolution].

    whatever you do, do NOT buy the non-prescription stuff at k-mart or the pet store or wherever. it may seem cheaper than the stuff the vet will sell you, but too many cats have bad reactions to the over-the-counter brands.

    unfortunately, scratching and pulling their fur out can also be an indicator of stress in cats, which can be more difficult to treat. this is flea season, though, so if your wallet can stand it, it's worth trying that first.

  3. ` I'd watch those WTFs running through the streets nonetheless....

  4. You seem to be getting some good advice, Rev. Saint. I hope something works to help Alex.

  5. Nick, I do feel it is a psychological effect from when you and Alex were parted. Animals develop these behaviours through stress, then they become habits. There are medications that can be given (more money, I know). Why not suggest the idea to your vet?

    I worked with vet pathologists for seven years and it's quite a common complaint in animals...cats and dogs licking, birds feather plucking, horses post sucking, etc.

    It'd be worth a try to have Alex put on a mild anti-anxiety med.

    Just a thought

    Hug to you and Alex

  6. I know cats are far more sensitive to chemicals than most animals. Could he have been exposed to something? Maybe a neighbor sprayed insecticide or fertilizer, and he ran through it?

    I hope he's better soon. I've always believed that Hell isn't hot, it's itchy. ;o)

  7. Maybe he does need one of those cat collars. I hate them, pets hate them even more, but he can't continue to hurt himself like that. I'm glad he likes his medicine now, anyway.

  8. I always write "Alex is so cute" but hurting himself isn't at all cute. Nick. tell Alex that for me while you tickle his chinny-chin-chin.

  9. Is there some way to distract him? Maybe his scratching started with an itch and became a habit.
    As you can probably tell, I don't have a clue what I'm talking about.

  10. Do you think that it could be from when you were away? Is that when it started? Maybe he was doing it to entertain himself and now it has just become a habbit. Ummm... not sure.

    That vet bill is pretty rough. That is a lot of money to find out nothing is wrong. Well, at least you have peace of mind.

    I hope you two figure it out soon.


  11. hi nick. i was just reading another blog and the author mentioned her cat is going thru the "creepy crawling skin/fur thing" (as her vet calls it). i think it is basically some form of allergies due to the hot weather. she gives her cat steroid shots, which help some.

    i had also thought originally it might be stress and/or heat related, in which case, a steroid shot may work.

    just a thought...i know this is the worst time ever for more expenses but...

  12. Hi Nick..I hope you read down your blog replies. My FIL had a pup that was doing this to himself really really badly. His girlfriend researched a LOT on the internet and what worked was a mild solution of vinegar and water. It helped tremendously. Good luck...pets are so darn hard, but the rewards...worth it.

  13. I agree with Puss and Boots.

    Letting people know in comments that I somehow zapped Is America Burning.

    It's visible in bloglines and I hope WA can put it back together.

    And no, I don't have a clue how I did it.

  14. Hope Alex gets better soon, Nick...

    Off topic - just double-checking...

    You got the one email, right?

    I did send you another one - there's no rush for the reply, I just wanted to ask you something...


  15. I, too, agree with Puss In Boots. Stress can do weird things to four legged people.
    Hope he improves soon.
    Take care, Meow