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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 01-03-2011, 12:38 PM Thread Starter
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Biting behavior from a normally good cat

Sorry, but I have to set the scene for this...

My mother-in-law is 90 years old, tiny, still lives in her own home, and until recently has had two cats, both adopted as strays 7 or 8 years ago.

Blackie was a big old chubby black shorthair, calm, laid back, not terribly social, but definitely not anti-social. Muppy is at least part Maine Coon, large, long haired, great temperament, friendly, outgoing, and loving.

Since she lives down the street from us, I go over and trim the cats' nails when necessary, and help her when it's time to take them to the vet and stuff like that. As an aside, MIL is just starting to slip mentally, but she's still mostly with-it.

In October, it became evident that Blackie was not well. MIL has a vet that makes house-calls, so Dr. G. stopped by to see what was wrong. She diagnosed liver failure, as the cat wasn't eating or drinking and had lost quite a bit of weight. To make a long story short, after about a month of waffling, MIL finally decides it's time to put Blackie out of pain, so in early December, Blackie goes to the Rainbow Bridge, and MIL is down to one cat. (trying not to sound callous, it was a bad time, and we all were sad, but it had to be done, the cat was dying before her eyes, and was clearly in pain.)

So anyway, now it's a one-cat household, with Muppy as king of the hill. Except that Muppy has now become rather anti-social, preferring to hide in the basement than come up and socialize. And when he does, he''ll only tolerate so much--then he bites! He's NEVER done anything like that before!

I was trimming his nails the other day, and he bit me twice! Not hard, but hard enough to just break the skin. If I had been just petting him, I would have said "Ouch!", blew in his face, and walked away, but I needed to finish with the pawdicure, so I just did the "ouch" thing, and kept trimming.

MIL has admitted that he's bitten her a few times recently, too, while she's been petting him. The behavior seems to have started after we lost Blackie.

Do you think it's possible that Muppy is afraid that he's next? Is he missing his buddy? What would cause a normally very good cat to start biting like this?

I've coached MIL on what to do if it continues, how to discourage the biting, but what if he doesn't stop doing it? She's 90 and her skin is like tissue, Muppy could do some real damage if we're all not real careful.

I'd be grateful for any suggestions!
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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 01-03-2011, 12:51 PM
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I would take him to the vet first. If he is hiding and biting, he might well be in pain, so would get that checked out
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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 01-03-2011, 01:07 PM
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Whenever a cat starts biting out of the blue like Muppy he should be given a complete physical and blood workup. It's possible that something has changed physically and he's in some discomfort or pain. Some cats react by biting. Yes, it is a very serious concern for an elderly owner whose skin is "tissue thin" especially if she gets a bite and does not immediately wash it out well with soap and water and cover it with neosporin or polytropin, she could easily get a nasty infection and blood poisoning. You say your MIL is "starting to slip mentally". Is she slipping up on immediate first aid for a bite or scratch? or feeding Muppy? --- that may be a cause of biting, as most cats can get pretty cranky if they're hungry. It's also possible that the loss of his cat friend Blackie has Muppy feeling grieved and distressed at his absence, and is acting out because of this. Muppy may need some sort of medication to calm him or something else. Some people have had success with "Rescue Remedy for Pets" or "Feliway" products; others found their cats did not respond. I haven't had any experience with those products.

You may have to consider removing Muppy from your MIL for her safety and wellbeing as well as the cat's. Is it possible for you to look after Muppy? Then you could take him for visits if she still misses him too much.
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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 01-03-2011, 01:44 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the quick responses.

Xanti, Dr. G. checked Muppy out when she diagnosed Blackie, and Muppy was given a clean bill of health, so I really don't think it's a health issue.

Catloverami, MIL knows what to do about cat bites, and has been taking care of herself properly so far. We tried Feliway with no success.

MIL would never let Muppy be re-homed, even at the expense of her own health. It took her almost two months to decide that Blackie was sick, in pain, and incurable before she would act. If she were allowed, she'd probably be an animal hoarder, but we keep an eye on her, and have avoided that so far.

As far as hunger, definitely not! MIL puts out kibble and water in pretty much every single room of her house, upstairs, downstairs, basement, and garage every day. And she offers about three different types of canned food each day, as well. She's done that for years, ever since I convinced her that cats cannot live indefinitely on a diet of fresh tuna and scallops, even though they begged for it...

I really am afraid that if we tried to re-home the cat, a) she'd pitch a really major fit, and b) then she'd simply adopt another few strays.

Muppy has always been a very nice, personable cat, and I'd gladly take him, but husband is allergic, and one cat is all he can take.

I can only think that Muppy is either missing Blackie, or he's afraid that he will mysteriously disappear one day, too, and is afraid.
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 01-03-2011, 02:20 PM
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It appears you have most of the bases covered. The only other thing I can think of to do would be to pay extra attention to Muppy----hard if he's not willing to receive it tho. Does he like to be groomed? Some cats love to be combed and it does make them feel better, even if you have to do it two or three times a day. Another thing you might consider is an animal behaviorist or psychic. Some people do have the ability to connect and "talk" to animals, so maybe some insight may be gained as to why Muppy is biting and what can be done about it. Your vet or his vet techs may have a recommendation. Perhaps another cat would solve the problem? Hope you find a solution.
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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 01-03-2011, 03:20 PM
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When the vet checked him did he just do a physical exam or did he do blood work as an indicator of health issues? Your grandmother's cat is showing classic behavior of an ill cat. They will hide, disappear, and not want to be touched when ill. Cats are masters at hiding illnesses.

Also her cat could be grieving. Believe it or not they do grieve when they loose a companion. They exhibit some of the behaviors you mentioned when grieving.

I have used Feliway. It works half the time I use it. The plug in is more effective than the spray. Also try Composure Liquid by vetri science. You can find both products on Amazon cheaper than from the companies, which produce the products. I’ve tried Bach products. My friends and I have had better results from Spirit Essence. You can put SE directly on their skin.

When you are elderly a pet is a great source of companionship and comfort. I would do all you can to keep this kitty with your grandmother. Make sure the vet you are using is cat savvy and goes beyond just a physical exam.
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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 01-04-2011, 08:41 AM Thread Starter
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Catloverami, Muppy sort of likes to be groomed, but he doesn't come running for it, the way my Toby does, so that's not a real incentive here. We really don't want to go the way of adding another cat--my MIL is 90 and we're trying to encourage her to keep it down to one cat, but she'll probably end up attracting another stray to her door to adopt eventually.

Mitts & Tess, the vet did complete bloodwork on Muppy and gave him a clean bill of health. I agree, it's possible that he's grieving for Blackie, but how long might that last? He's never been unsociable before, and before this, he would never bite! I'm just afraid that if he keeps this up, we'll have to re-home him, but who would want to adopt a cat that bites?
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 01-04-2011, 12:24 PM
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I don't know- I might go to a different vet and do another bloodwork. It could be something that wasn't there at the time of Blackie's illness, but has developed since then. I believe it's definitely worth another shot.

Other than that, it sounds like it could be just grief. Check out the Spirit Essences like Grouch Remedy or Changing Times (Spirit Essences - Product Catalog), or Bach's Rescue Remedy (Original Bach Flower Remedies® - www.BachFlower.com).
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