This is a story about a cat brought to us because of her excessive grooming, to the point of pulling her fur out and making her skin sore.
Tinks had been used to one-to-one interaction with her owner, arely seeing other people and never interacting with other cats.
This was the way of life for 18 months – until her owner’s circumstances changed and they moved in with her parents.
Within two weeks, Tinks had become very timid and stayed in her owner’s bedroom, only venturing out for food and to use the litter tray when everyone was out of the house.
Eventually Tinks wouldn’t leave her owner’s room at all and, if anyone else came near her, she would bolt under the bed.
Tinks used to have a lovely full glossy coat, but soon after moving she started to lick and groom a lot more.
This over-grooming continued and so the owner brought Tinks into us thinking it was a parasite issue. But, on examination, it was clear this was not the case. As the owner told us about the recent change in Tink’s life, it became clear the over-grooming may be down to stress.
There were a lot of people in and out of the house everyday and, as Tinks was used only to interaction with her owner, this was undoubtedly causing her stress. As the consultation progressed we discovered that the entire family had been trying to make friends with Tinks, sometimes by taking her out from under the bed for forced cuddles and fuss. Unfortunately, this actually did more harm than good.
By the age of 810 weeks, kittens will normally have had interaction with at least half a dozen people and, of course, their siblings. But Tinks was a rescue kitten at the age of 16 weeks and, as such, had not had a huge amount of interaction with others. The bond was developed on a one-to-one basis and by suddenly having to cope with new humans and being forced into contact, this simply sent her stress levels off the scale.
However, the other damage done by this forced interaction was that, up until this point, Tinks could hide away and come out on her terms. Now this security blanket, so to speak, had been removed and so she only had grooming left as a way of dealing with her stress levels.
In order to start getting Tinks back to a normal life, one where she felt safe again, we put into place a few simple steps:
1 Leave Tinks under the bed – do not drag force her out for cuddles.
2 Be patient with her and allow her to build a trust with the rest of the family in her own time.
3 Provide an area for a safe retreat for when Tinks felt stressed other than her owners bedroom.
These three steps helped towards a less stressful life, but there were other things we needed to do.
In order to let Tinks know she was safe anywhere in the house, we suggested the following steps:
1 Place a cat bed with Tinks’ scent and her owner’s scent on it in another place in the house in a quiet area.
2 Put some catnip on blankets – again placed around the house.
3 Invest in some food dispensing toys to occupy Tinks and start gentle play.
4 Move Tinks feed and water bowls out of the bedroom – not too far away to start with maybe just to the landing.
We found that after two weeks Tinks had started to venture out of the bedroom to feed but would still retreat back into the room when people were about.
After another week, Tinks had started to realise that there were other safe places in the house to go too when people were about – this was huge progress!
To complete the happy environment the family started to introduce play times with Tinks - one at a time at various stages and times. This was also a huge success.
We recently saw Tinks for her annual booster and WOW what a difference – full of confidence and a smashing shiny glossy coat.
A little time, patience and effort can go a very long way.
* Column is written by Suzhy Winfield, Head Nurse at Vetsavers in Spalding