Monday, March 19, 2012

My Cat is Houdini: When You Think You've Tried It All...

As I've mentioned before, my cat, Cady, is not your average feline. During the day, he lives a pretty typical life. He enjoys sleeping as the sun shines through the windows and warms his fur. He sleeps soundly on my bed and when I walk by, he may lift his head to acknowledge me if he feels ambitious. Obviously, I can only monitor part of his days when I'm working full-time.

What I do know is that his relaxing schedule changes once I walk through the door at night. I am instantly greeted by a friendly chirp from the top of the stairs. As I put my bags down, that friendly chirp evolves into a loud screech and then soon after, an ear-piercing yowl. It's not long before I know what he wants: to go outside. I don't know a great deal about what happened to Cady in his past. What I do know is that he's just about 10 years old and has a great yearning for the outside.

I've tried to teach Cady that I will not respond to him until he stops yowling. To a certain extent, this does work and he understands after awhile. According to many cat behavior websites, I have learned that a cat's excessive meowing will be reinforced by anything-even if you yell at him or her to stop. To a needy cat, negative attention is still attention. So, I try my best to ignore him when he gets loud, even when my ears almost start to bleed.

Once Cady has calmed down a bit, he slips into his harness and drags me out the front door. He cannot wait even one second to get outside; I have all to do to lock the door before he takes off. As we approach the lawn,  he starts to sprint (and I try to keep up,) and gets enough leverage to jump half way up a tree while attached to the harness. This is an art that I have adapted to more than he has. He's a natural at climbing trees and I'm a natural at being dragged across the lawn.

What is funny about Cady is that he is at his calmest when he is walking outside. He literally walks about a mile per day. I take him out for 25 to 45 minutes daily and he enjoys every moment of it...that is, until we make the trek home. He tries to chase birds, he smells the air and trees and even bonds with the neighbors. The only con to these journeys is that he never wants to turn around. I have to carry him most of the way home. Cady's innate longing to go outside just compacts his ever-present anxiety.

Once I bring Cady back inside, he may or may not continue to yowl for awhile to go back out. Tonight, I tied a long leash to one of my balcony chairs and he laid on the deck looking around contently. The leash was long enough for him to wander around comfortably, without him getting close to the railings. The last thing I need is for him to jump off the second story deck (and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he tried to do that!). I left my back door open and checked on him every few minutes. Just as I poured myself a glass of juice, I heard a clanging outside. I looked out the door and saw Cady sitting on top of the table, without his harness on! The rascal escaped from a buckled harness. It was as if it were a magic trick. It also hit a nerve in my head.

Cady being a goofball. 
I've tried to help Cady's anxiety for almost a year now through pheromone diffusers, collars, toys, games, outdoor walks, etc. But now, I have reached a point where his anxiety truly worries me. Beyond wanting to go outside often, if I'm gone for longer than usual, (which is never very long,) Cady throws up on the carpet out of worry. If I break his routine even slightly, he is all out of sorts. And recently, his meowing has gotten worse during the night time, because of his strong desire to go outside when he pleases. I brought Cady back to the vet, who recommended that Cady go on a low-dose Prozac to help calm his nerves, especially at night time. It is unhealthy for both Cady and I to be up all night long. And I cannot be the pet owner he needs me to be if I am tired all the time. I ordered the Prozac in liquid, chicken-flavored form. I will continue his walks and routine and see if the medication helps.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by being unable to help your pet, try Googling some pet behavior websites or visit your vet for some help. It is OK to need help from others; for certain situations, you cannot help your pet alone and it is very easy to become frustrated when it impacts your daily life. With the help of a vet, a behavior specialist, books, websites, family and friends, I believe it is possible to trick even my Houdini of a cat into enjoying his life a little more. No pet owner is perfect, but it is possible to keep the magic alive for an animal who loves the outdoors, while providing a stable life in the home.

Click here for some helpful pet behavior tips.

1 comment:

  1. Wow you have been through a lot on this journey with your cat. You deserve a lot of credit for trying so hard to find a solution for his anxiety. You are a very dedicated pet owner and cady is very lucky to have you! Thanks for sharing your story and I can't wait to hear more!