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Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Final Option

The problem started six or seven years ago.  When leaving for a couple of days away from home the owner accidentally closed the door to the office where the litterbox was, leaving two cats with no option but to eliminaed elsewhere in the house.  Unfortunately, they seemed to choose the daughter's room, causing quite an odor. After that one of the cats continued to urinate from time to time in that room.  Over the next year or so they tried various enzymatic cleaners to get rid of the odor and urine stains, but the problem continued to happen sporadically.

The people moved to a new house in a new state and they expected the problem to go away since there was no odor of urine in the home.  However, the problem continued.  At first it seemed to be mostly on the daughter's clothing and carpet, anything that was on floor level.  They continued to clean and disinfect the area to little avail.  Fast forward over the next few years and the urinating continued to happen and started being in other rooms.  Though infrequent it was any jacket, bedspread, clothing, or rug.  The owners started closing bedroom and bathroom doors to keep the cat out of it. 

As the problem worsened they tried to find other solutions.  They used Feliway pheromones, but the urinating was infrequent enough that it wasn't easy to tell if there was any effect. When "outbreaks" happened they had blood and urine tests performed, looking for kidney problems, urinary infections, or diabetes, but the tests always came back normal.  The  problem was getting worse and the cat was causing destruction to carpets and clothing.

As they thought about it they realized that there had been a lot of upheaval in the previous years. They had originally gotten the kitten in Utah when they had two other cats.  Since then they had moved to Illinois, North Carolina, and finally Georgia.  Over the years they had lost the two cats the problem one had grown up with, then added three dogs, two more cats, and two children.  The cat was always a bit "crotchety" and cranky, and was only really bonded with the wife.  Though he could be affectionate with some of the other family members, he only seemed to tolerate them. He never got along well with the other pets, and would continue to hiss and growl at the dogs even when the dogs never did anything to him and they had lived together for years.  Additionally he was the most destructive with his claws, resulting in damaged dressers and bedposts, even despite nail trimming.

Finally they tried behavioral medication, hoping that it would help mellow his mood.  The cat quickly learned that food or treats contained the pills, and it wasn't really possible to forcably pill him every day.  They went to a compounding pharmacy and got the medication made into a chicken-flavored liquid, but still the cat refused it.  There was no way they were going to be able to give the cat its medicine every day for even the three to four weeks needed to see if it would work, let alone for months or even the rest of the cat's life.

So they were faced with a bad situation.  They had a 13 year old cat who was ruining their home and had behavioral issues for half his life.  He couldn't be medicated.  He didn't really deal with change well or get along with other people or pets, so adoption wasn't considered a good option.  Even if they took him to an adoption agency he would likely not get a new home and end up being euthanized because of his age and attitude.  Even in a foster home the cat likely wouldn't be happy.  He had always been an indoor cat so they didn't think he would do well outside.  Though there were significant behavioral issues, he wasn't dangerously aggressive and was otherwise very healthy.  But they couldn't continue to allow their home to be ruined any further. They felt backed into a corner and didn't have any good options.

We euthanized him today. 

Yes, that may seem cruel to some.  However, I don't think there were any other good options here. The people had honestly tried everything they could think of and had put up with the problem for a very long time.  At the end of their rope they wanted to find the most humane option, and a quick injection seemed the only solution.

These are very tough situations to deal with.  I do think that in behavioral cases the client should do everything they reasonably can, and I won't euthanize on the first visit unless it's a severe aggression cases where human and animal health is at risk. But what do clients do?  They can't continue to tolerate it and the problem can't be fixed if the pet won't allow medication.  Other options could be cruel and would only potentially pass the problem to someone else.  These are very much situations of "damned if you do and damned if you don't".


  1. Litter box issues can be so tough!! It sounds like this client truly did everything they could. It's not the cat's fault that so much stress was introduced to his life, but life happens and they really did try to accommodate him to the end.

    That is pretty much the polar opposite of the majority of litter box cases we get surrendered to the shelter. First of all, they couldn't even be bothered to do the right thing and take the cat to their vet for euthanization. No, instead they dump it at a shelter where it gets to be terrified for a day or two before getting pulled (telling us a cat has box issues is a kiss of death and we more or less tell them that).

    There are a few exclusions -- if we can tell that an owner was absolutely pathetic we'll try to give the cat a chance. Like if they tell us they had seven cats and one litter box that was cleaned every few days. Yeah.... Or that the cat is peeing blood. Mmmhmm. Stuff like that. I mean really, can't they at least TRY not to be horrible human beings?

    Thanks for sharing your story. It is good to hear that there are people who go above and beyond the norm for their cats. The ending is sad, but likely appropriate for this case.

  2. Wow - I'm not sure what I would have done in this situation. Personally - the urinating would bother me more than a few replaceable objects being wrecked. Gotta hand it to them - they really went the extra mile for their cat and didn't dump it just because they were moving all those times. That's a tough spot to be in and I don't think anyone would fault them for their decision. It obviously wasn't an easy one for them.

  3. This sounds like a very difficult case, I can't imagine being in these owner's situation. I'd hate to have to euthanize a physically healthy cat, but it seems like they really did try everything and in the end really were thinking about the best interests of the cat. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Ugh. Sorry, Chris. Stuff like that really contributes to burnout (as you know). It's one bright side of ER - the rare euthanasia that I don't have to do! I have had people bring in animals for these sorts of euthanasias, but I refuse to do them on ER. I refer back to the rDVM for this, to ensure that the owners are not just trying to get me to do a convenience. I hate that I have to make the rDVM deal with it, but I kill enough stuff as it is!

  5. I was in this exact same position, my cat of 16 years just passed away, but he had urniation/behavioral issues his entire life. It was very difficult to deal with as he did ruin our house. We tried prozac for cats and it greatly reduced the incodents, but like this cat he would get to the point where you could not get a pill down him and he would not eat it. We tried the liquid and again, he did not like it. Finally, his age got the best of him and he declined for other reasons. We just had to euthenize him 2 weeks ago, but my heart breaks for this family for this was once a real consideration for me as well. It's hard to let something you love so much do so much damage to you house. You can't adopt him out because no one else would put up with it and treat the cat with love yet you don't want to let it to continue to happen. My heart goes out to these people. I know they did their best.

  6. We had a cat that peed on everything. Full work-up was normal. Tried EVERYTHING. Resorted to keeping her in the garage and mudroom when we weren't home and at night. Seemed to be working ok but we ultimately wanted to remodel the garage to a multipurpose room and the cat was only 10 years old. We were thinking of adding her to our barn cats but somewhat thankfully (sad to say, but true) she passed away a few months ago from an unknown illness.

  7. I just now saw this post and it really hits home for me.

    I have a fifteen year old male kitty that is sweet as he can be, but he's started pooping in my dining room.

    We have four cats that use cat doors to go outdoors to use the bathroom. So, I thought that perhaps the weather was too cold for him, so I put a litter box back in the garage - that didn't help. I removed that plant the he seemed to like to hide behind and have cleaned the carpets AGAIN and he's been better for the last three or four weeks.

    Ben has FIV (tested positive nearly 11 years ago) but has lived a perfectly wonderful life. He has begun to let his coat go a bit, sleeps almost all the time, (but still weighs probably 16-17 pounds!), so my next step is a full work up, but, sadly we have been discussing putting him down. He's always cold, has never lived outdoors - so the thought of making him stay in the garage or outside permanently isn't an option.

    I hate for his life to end that way - I rescued him as a tiny, wormy kitten, but I would never put him in a situation where he wasn't loved, cared for and happy.


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