I’ve always been a cat person; always loved their mysterious stare and independent ways. And generally throughout my life in one way or another, cats have always been near me. So, it was no surprise when I turned around on a walk one day, to see a small grey and white stray with strange yellow eyes following me and my small dog, Kai. I was instantly in love.
Never mind she was covered in fleas and clearly what my husband referred to as a “dumpster” kitty- one of the many strays that littered our apartment complex and survived eating garbage. It was obvious she was sweet, dog friendly, and desperate to live with us. I wanted to scoop her up right then and there but, I knew it was less than fair to increase our household without at least mentioning it to Matt. For the time being, all I could do was set out some food and water near the spot where I’d met her and pray she didn’t get eaten by coyotes.
I’ll admit Matt wasn’t thrilled at the idea of bringing a new animal into our already crowded two bedroom apartment but, as with most of my desires, he eventually caved. He gave his blessing that if I saw the cat again I could keep her.
I was overjoyed at the idea of a new pet. Night and day whenever I walked Kai I searched for the cat. The only problem was I didn’t see her again. Not a hiss, not a whisper. And so I supposed she’d wondered off or, fingers crossed, had been invited into another home.
And then one night I came home from work to find that same cat sitting right outside my apartment door. I couldn’t believe it! Our apartment complex is a big place. It’s about 15 minutes from the perimeter of Atlanta. Of all the units, in all the apartments, in the entire world, she stood outside of mine!
First order of business, make Matt give the cat a bath. Second, send Matt to Walmart for a litter box and gratuitous amounts of cat toys. Third, calm Matt down when the cat pees on his side of the bed….
And finally, decide cat’s name should be Josephine but, lovingly call her Jojo.
The first couple of months we had Jojo weren’t perfect. She was a little high stress and she did pee on things now and again but she was also incredibly affectionate. What surprised me the most was her great love and curiosity for our Shih Tzu, Kai. She was constantly with us. She didn’t wander off into other parts of our home the way I’d seen cats do in the past. If Kai and I sat on the couch and watched TV, Jo sat with us. If Matt and I sat at the kitchen table she laid at my feet right beside Kai. The only time we were ever apart was at night. Kai was allowed to sleep in the bed with us but, Jo stayed in the living room.
The vet said she was probably about six months old and besides needing to gain a little weight, was completely healthy. That was fantastic news! And so life went on…we were a happy family.
Then one day I noticed Jo was missing a small patch of fur on the side of her leg. At first I didn’t think too much of the missing fur. Jo wasn’t acting strange. She didn’t appear sick in any sense of the word. Quite the contrary, she was full of energy and always playing.
A few days went by and more fur was missing. Another week and her back legs were almost completely bare. I knew she was doing it to herself but, I didn’t know when and I most certainly didn’t know why. And of course, like any loving fur mother, I sort of freaked out a bit. I made an appointment right away with our vet and began scouring the internet for an explanation.
Most pet owners cited fleas as the culprit but, Jo had been flea free for some time. I did find a few articles here and there which claimed the phenomena could be caused by stress. These summaries were vague to say the least and in any case how could Jo be stressed? She had everything she could possibly want.
The vet told me it was probably allergies. They gave Jo a steroid shot which was obviously painful and said hopefully whatever she was allergic to was seasonal and would go away soon.
For about a month Jojo seemed better. Her fur appeared to be growing back, slowly. But then after about thirty days, the steroid shot wore off and we were right back where we started. Again I took her to the vet, again another shot. Now I understand that medicine is a general thing. The vet seemed convinced that Jo was having an allergic reaction to something. Whether it was a flea bite, or pollen, or some other offender they couldn’t say. Finally the prognosis was this: steroid shots every thirty days and kidney testing every six months to make sure the steroids weren’t doing more harm than good. All this for the rest of her kitty life.
I couldn’t believe it! The steroids were painful for Jo and potentially seriously harmful. Not to mention, costly. How could someone order this kind of treatment without even knowing for sure what the problem was? To be honest, I was pissed! This was not an acceptable solution.
Again, I researched on my own looking for answers. One fact I learned, fur pulling isn’t particularly dangerous for cats. The danger comes if the cat gets and infection or pulls enough fur in one spot to cause and open wound. I supposed the risk of infection was better than kidney failure due to steroid injections. I kept a watchful eye on Jojo’s skin.
Next, I learned that when a cat grooms herself it’s not just about cleanliness, it’s about comfort. It’s the kitty equivalent of a big bowl of ice cream. That concept really struck me. If it wasn’t fleas and it wasn’t an allergy, then why did Jo need to comfort herself to the point that she ripped out her own fur?
Was there anything that had happened? Anything that could be bothering her? And then it hit me. It was so obvious I don’t know how I missed it. The reason I never saw Jo pull out her fur was because she was doing it at night. And she was doing it at night because that’s when Matt, myself, and Kai went to bed, shut the door and left her in the living room alone. It was the only time she wasn’t with us. So, that night I opened the door.
It was rough at first. Cats are definitely nocturnal. Jo walked all over me in the night. She would get on my bed side table and meow in my face. Sometimes she would simply lay on my chest and purr. It drove us all crazy. But when I would wake up in the morning I would find her asleep in the bed with us. And miracle of miracles after a few weeks Jo’s fur was growing back. It took a couple of months for all the fur to come in completely but, it did.
Animals are so like humans sometimes…it blows my mind. It’s important to think of their psychological health in addition to their physical well-being. I wrote this article so that if anyone sees their cat pulling out his or her fur they’ll consider what could be stressing them out before they consider long term steroid use.
Written by Jamie Barnes
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