An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Cat Who Eats Too Much: Kitty's Story

Dear Greyce,

I'm an 11-year old, long-haired beauty with a problem: I want to eat all the time and it is getting me into a lot of trouble.

Six months ago, I was diagnosed with diabetes; this is being regulated by diet (so I've been losing weight) and so far I've managed to avoid having to get insulin. I do continue to pee a large volume, though. Our vet recommended that I eat food with a higher fibre content to give me a greater feeling of fullness but it is difficult to find. Also my diet is difficult to control when Herself and I go to stay with her folks. I only have to look as if I'm hungry and they deliver treats; and so I'm gaining weight again.

On a typical day, I eat one can (5.5. oz or 165 gm) of wet food and 1/4 cup (125 ml) of dry kibble, divided into portions as follows:
- 1/2 can for breakfast.
- kibble during the day when Herself is not home to feed me.
- 1/4 can when Herself returns (late afternoon).
- 1/4 can before bed.
I love treats but seldom get any, unless I am with Herself's folks who dole them out to me by the handful. Basically Greyce, I love food including cheese, meat and some veggies.

In case you tell me to get exercise, be warned: I'm older. Though boldly curious, I don't particularly like to play despite the presence of toy mice, a crinkle bag and wands. I don't engage in solitary play but will sometimes play with a wand and Herself, for a few minutes, IF I feel like it.  We have a cat tree, horizontal cat scratchers and cat beds. My favourite activities (other than eating) are to lie about on mats or follow Herself around. I'm very particular when it comes to people and there are a very few with whom I am comfortable. I avoid strangers and don't like young children at all.

For the most part I live in a two-bedroom apartment with Herself, Herself's Room Mate, a chinchilla named Sam, and the room mate's one-year old, unneutered male orange tabby, Crush (with whom I don't get along). 

The room mate and I are having issues. I can understand that she isn't too thrilled that I stalk Crush. And she doesn't like me to be in her (bed)room, most likely because I bully Crush if he gets too close to me. However I'm also getting on her nerves when I follow her, in the hopes of getting food. 

The room mate doesn't want me in the kitchen when food is being prepared. The purrsons have set up a boundary: the lino (kitchen floor) becomes out of bounds during food preparation times and the hardwood (living room floor) is okay. So they put me on the hardwood and if I try to enter the kitchen, they say, "No." If  I don't leave, the room mate stamps her feet near my face and yells; so now I don't trust people and hiss when they walk by. Alternatively as a disciplinary measure she sprays me with water until I'm drenched and hissing. 

I also get watered if I'm inspecting the garbage, going somewhere I'm not supposed to, or stalking Crush. Don't get me wrong, Greyce; Herself also administers discipline, but usually by clapping her hands or making a loud noise (which scares me).

I'm not very happy with this situation Greyce. Either is Herself, or the room mate, or Crush. What do you advise? Please keep in mind that Herself is a student and doesn't have lots of money to spend.



Dear Kitty,

My heart breaks when I read about a situation such as yours. Truly, it is a disaster waiting to happen. Without appropriate intervention, something is going to hit the fan.

Consider the following possibilities:
- Insulin looks very likely given the weight gain and Herself's folks refusal to get on board with your diet. This is serious. Very serious. But that ain't the half of it.

-Your relationship with the room mate is going to go completely down the toilet if your behaviour continues without intervention (and understanding and commitment on the humans' parts). Stress levels will rise (exacerbating your diabetes and possibly triggering other medical conditions as well); I won't guess how it will manifest in the room mate. But I don't think the situation will be pretty.

- Crush will likely start to beat you up in about 6 months, when he will be 18 months old and - if still intact - like a teenager with raging hormones. Are there plans to have him neutered . . . soon? And before the room mate thinks to herself "finally Kitty gets her come uppance", think again. One of these days your humans are going to find themselves with costly vet bills from scratches and puncture wounds. And if that continues, one or both of you cats is likely to start to spray urine around the place. Won't that be fun for them to clean up!

And let's take this one step further: It will likely mean some purrson (along with said cat) has to leave home (on far from friendly terms) or - to save the human's relationship, it may just mean one cat has to go. And given the odds, said cat would be you.

Worst case scenario? Crush and you beat each other up and spray around the place, thereby eating up your respective purrsons' bank accounts in vet and cleaning bills. End of any civil relationship between the room mate and Herself. End of any possibility of the four of you continuing to live together. Re-homing? not so easy for an older, diabetic cat who is less than resilient. Euthanasia? Let's not go there; but seriously Kitty, the clock is ticking.

We need to deal with the following issues and all of them are important.

Feeding Issues

First the good news: Congratulations on losing some weight. I know how difficult that can be. And it's a great idea to have four feedings a day because it would help your blood sugar levels remain stable. You are fed in the kitchen (on the floor) with Crush being fed on top of the pantry. This is a great division of space because it enables Crush to eat in peace and doesn't give you access to his food.

Problem: The kitchen is a difficult area for you. It is associated with the preparation of cat and human food, as well as with the consumption of your own. Sometimes you are allowed to be there (like when you eat there or when food is not being prepared) and sometimes not. And from a cat's point of view, it would be very difficult to distinguish between the two.

Yes, the purrsons have made a boundary and tell you to cross back over the line. Oh my, how confusing for you! You are NOT a dog and thus not subject to taking cues from humans. The kitchen lino and the living room hardwood are both hard, smooth surfaces, making it almost impossible for you to distinguish between them. So you are left in a situation where in your mind, sometimes entering the kitchen is okay and other times it is not. But you have no clue about the rules of the game. Sometimes no one bothers you. Sometimes you get yelled at. Sometimes the room mate stamps her feet near your face. Sometimes you get drenched with a water bottle.

From a feline viewpoint, this is like living in a gulag where you have no idea when punishment will be delivered but can guarantee that whatever you receive you will have no clue as to the reason. This would be enough to drive any cat mad! And it is the foundation for your rising mistrust of humans. Frankly from a feline point of view, in your household people become crazy at odd times that don't make sense; one minute they are fine and the next they go ballistic. What's a cat to do?

Solving Your Kitchen Problem

Kitty, here are some alternatives to consider depending upon practicality and budget. I've saved the best for the last in the list, so be patient and read on.

Erect barriers at the two kitchen entrances. The most useful barrier is a baby gate (assuming that you are too large, meaning heavy, to leap over it but that Crush still can). Baby gates come in different lengths and some work like actual gates that humans can open and shut to go in and out themselves (rather than trying to hop over it). This would keep you out of the area at all times the gate is shut. However the purrsons might see this as a nuisance. And it can be costly.

Alternatively, the purrsons could consider the possibility of confining you to the bedroom while food is being prepared, thereby keeping you out of the way. Your could be lured there by any of various means: 1) a small food treat (and I do mean small), 2) being carried to the room, 3) being herded with the use of a Cat Separator. (I put a diagram with instructions in my recent entry "Three Black Cats . . ." on August 14, 2012) - and from all reports, it works really well. It's is also very easy and inexpensive to make. Just know that it isn't used by coming in contact with you, but rather restricts where you can go and in that way, gently guides you to where the purrsons wants you to be.) If you become upset and either meow incessantly and scratch or bang at the door, consider putting you curiousity to work with a homemade food puzzle to keep you occupied. And if you are kept in a room for any period of time (say, beyond 20 minutes or so), then you MUST HAVE access to a litter box - especially with the amount you are peeing.

Alternatively (or in addition), change the location where you are fed. Yes you are fed in the kitchen, likely because humans associate the kitchen with being a proper place to eat. Also it has lino floor which is easy to clean up if you spill. And it is near the food supplies. Moving the location of your food is one way of making it easier to stay away from the kitchen. The likely place (from your point of view) would be the bedroom - even under a desk if that works for you and your purrson.

My biggest recommendation on this matter is to change your manner of feeding. You associate human activity in the kitchen with the possibility of being fed. Most cats do, which is why they tend to congregate in the kitchen at meal times. You need to break this connection. The easiest way to do it is with the use of an automatic feeder. Basically your daily portions are put in the feeder and a timer is set. At timed intervals, a tray opens and you can eat from it. This assumes you will finish your portion in one sitting (rather than being a nibbler); and given that you adore food, I don't see a problem. Because you consume wet food, you need a feeder with compartments that keep the food chilled. There are several such feeders on the market and there is a comparison of automatic feeders which is quite handy; you can click on the various columns (like capacity or type of pet food) and the list will sort itself out. This should give you some idea of what would be best for you.

You free feed on kibble. I have no problem with that but ask that you consider the method of delivery. I'll bet it is in a bowl and you get to crunch as you wish. Instead I'd like you to start using a treat ball. Try something like the Play n Treat (food puzzle) Ball by Go Cat Go! - just get a decent version of a treat ball either from your vet clinic or pet supply store. Since you are very food-motivated and curious, you will likely be able to get the hang of it, provided you start with the easy settings and work up. This will also help you get some badly-needed intellectual stimulation.

If it were me, I'd vote for being fed my wet food in the bedroom with an automatic feeder and my kibble via a treat ball. And if I got eager to participate in the kitchen when human food was being prepped, being lured into the bedroom to work on a food puzzle would work for me.

Dealing with Crush

I have no idea how the two of you were introduced but I fear that an improper introduction may be at fault. And I have no information on exactly how and when you stalk Crush (at particular times of the day? in particular places?) that might help me propose suitable solutions. You see, I don't know if you are stalking him as a form of aggression or as an invitation to play. And each of these requires a different approach.

So if you can give me more information, I can be more precise in my advice. In the meantime, read on for what I propose.

I suspect that at least part of the reason you stalk Crush has to do with boredom. Frankly an indoor life can be boring for a cat, especially one who is so attached to her purrson (a purrson who is not home 24/7). The remedy for boredom is environmental stimulation. In your case and in Crush's, the methods might differ.

If you are stalking Crush because you want to play fight with him, then intervention with a fishing-pole type toy would be ideal. Now I don't mean having a human just dangle the toy in your face but rather playing properly with you. Most humans don't know the rules for proper cat play and so I refer you to that entry I already mentioned, "Three Black Cats . . " to have a look at proper play technique as well as the explanation of suitable toys. (It's hardly been a week and the black cats tell me that their humans' play technique and their own level of interest has risen considerably.)

I would think that Crush could benefit from this sort of play, as well.

And at the very least, I'd hope that getting out the fishing pole could be used when you are wanting to pounce on Crush. To that end, it would be useful if both purrsons in your home were more familiar with cat signalling so they could tell what you and Crush are saying. Ask them to read the following:

Some books (try your local library): 
Know Your Cat: An Owner’s Guide to Cat Behavior (by Bruce Fogel).
Understanding Cat Behavior (by Roger Tabor).
100 Ways to Better Understand Your Cat (by Roger Tabor).

Entries from Amy Shojai's blog:

Once they've read that section, have them click on the other, related ones (meows, fur, eyes, tail).

Being a curious cat, stimulation for you would also include those food puzzles I mentioned (and the food treat ball), as well as the introduction of something new (like an empty cardboard box), a new mat in a different texture (like fake fur, or deep pile, or sheepskin, or plush) or something else to lie on (again in a different texture like fleece, or satin) or some new smells.

For smells example, if you like catnip then stuffing a small, zippered pillow case protector (usually fabric with a size-zipper) with soft material (like fleece or quilt batting) and some catnip is ideal. When it gets stale the contents can be emptied and refreshed. Some of us really like REAL (not fake) felt which is made from sheep's wool. It can be pricey but you would only need a small piece.

Issues in Your Relationship with The Room Mate

You know and well as I that this relationship is far from positive. And I'm concerned.

On the plus side, the room mate is obviously a cat lover because Crush is her cat. Yet this is one of  the reasons for issues between you (because you stalk Crush).

What really concerns me is the disciplinary measures she uses with you: stomping feet near your face and yelling, and drenching you with water suggest a level of frustration and anger . . . well, to tell you the truth, they make me shudder.

If the room mate believes that the measures she is using are good ones, then I would ask: So how is it working for you? Is Kitty doing what you want her to? Is she staying out of the kitchen when food is being prepared? Has she stopped following you around when her purrson isn't home? Has she stopped stalking Crush? I very well know the answer to these. It's "No!" - because cats respond better to praise and reward than they do to punishment.

The current measures are not working. Here's why:

1) Your mind doesn't work like hers (and you don't speak human languages) so you don't link the aspect(s) of your behaviour that drive her up the wall with receiving the punishment. In your mind, you get punished for no reason at all, at times you cannot predict. This is stressful and makes you mistrustful.

2) The foot stamp and yelling technique is highly aggressive and very threatening (consider the size difference between the two of you) and will either stress you out, terrify you or result in aggression on your part. From what you have written, I'm thinking terrified and mistrustful. But I wouldn't rule out aggression in the longer run.  I don't even want to think about this scenario because whatever happens, you are likely to lose.

3) Drenching (unless you are one of those rare cats who adores water) is excessive and cruel. It's the feline equivalent of a kid having his head repeatedly ducked into a bucket of water because he asked for a snack. Sorry, but the punishment doesn't fit the alleged crime. In your case, either one, short spray of water (NOT on the face) does it; or the method isn't appropriate for you. And right now given everything that is happening, I'm not a fan of the water spray method at all.  There are alternatives. I've listed some (with regard to food).

Now I can meow until my whiskers fall off about the proper use of a cat separator or an automatic feeder, but what also concerns me is the possibility that the issues between the room mate and yourself are proxies for an unresolved issue (or issues) between the room mate and Herself. Both purrsons need to have a frank discussion as room mates. And they need to get whatever else is bugging them out in the open and figure out how to resolve it. And this is not my territory and so I'll go no further on it.

Over-feeding When You Visit Herself's Folks

Some purrsons who have grandcats behave like this - just as they would with grandchildren. They believe it is their right to indulge them. And for some people, offering food is equivalent to love. For such people, having an equivalent to offer (like a really, low-calorie treat) or some toys and games, would be an acceptable substitute. If this is the case, try fresh cat GRASS (finely chopped) or small pieces of cantaloupe (which some of us adore).

In other cases, what is behind the whole thing is the relationship between the cat's purrson and her folks - meaning that they don't see her as an adult but rather as their child and thus believe they have the right to over-ride her wishes. Again, this is not my territory. I advise cats. Not humans.

While this is a long shot, it would be worth letting these well-intentioned people know the following:
each cat treat is the equivalent of giving one cookie to a child. I wonder if they would be prepared to give a grandchild a BAG of cookies several times a day?

Could they substitute cuddles, pets,  a grooming session or a game, instead? And if it MUST be kibble, then use the lowest calorie, highest fibre available (likely a dry food rather than something from a treat package). Or suggest they take each treat and break it into small pieces and feed them to you individually. Anything to reduce the amount received in this way would be of benefit.

I sure wish a solution was found because unfortunately in your case, these well-intentioned people are making your medical condition worse. As you re-gain weight, your sugar levels will rise. Soon insulin will be a requirement rather than an option. You will likely develop other medical conditions: joint problems (too much weight for your bones to bear), kidney problems (too much food for your body to process), skin problems (dander or rashes because you cannot properly groom), as a result. The fur on your hindquarters will mat because you will not be able to fully groom yourself because you will be too fat to reach. You will become even more sedentary and thus can become constipated. You will not be able to run or to jump more than a foot in height.

As For Fibre

You said your vet suggested increasing fibre to help you get a feeling of fullness more quickly. I'm not certain if your vet made specific recommendations.

I understand you are satisfied with the dry and wet food you are eating. So let's work with it, especially the wet component (which is your largest and is amenable to supplementation). You could try to increase its level of fibre by adding ground psyllium (available from health food stores). Get the smallest package (it lasts a LONG time). (Reading cats note: Any cat with a medical condition or allergies should consult a vet first, before proceeding.)

Start by adding just a pinch to your full can of wet food. Mix well and add some water to make it creamier, because the psyllium will absorb water. You can even make it the consistency of thick pudding, which adds some volume (which might help you feel full).

Over the course of two weeks, work up slowly from that pinch per can to 1/2 teaspoon per can. The reason for working up slowly (1 pinch which is about 1/8 tsp. for 3 - 4 days, to 1/4 tsp. for 3 - 4 days, to 1/4+a bit for 3 - 4 days, to 1/2 tsp.) is to ensure two things: 1) that you don't get any digestive upset, and 2) that your stools remain of decent size and consistency (not rock hard, not pellets, not pudding or softer). If either of these things happen, either lower the dose or stop altogether.

Alternatively, if you believe that the fibre content of your current food is already adequate, try adding some water to your canned food - again to the consistency of thick pudding or even a bit thinner. This increases the volume of your food and thus may help you feel fuller, faster.

Kitty, you have a challenging situation. There are some solutions to at least parts of your problem(s). Do give them a try and let me know how you are doing. And by the way, when you get into the garbage is it a search for food? or is it curiousity? because the solution could be different for each. And if you wish, tell me more about how you and Crush interact and I'll try to come up with ways to improve your relationship.

In any event, I'll keep you in my thoughts,