Remember Abby, our nearly 18-year-old year old, grumpy, arthritic cat? Well, she’s now on Valium. She’s been on it since the day after Thanksgiving, and luckily for all of us (especially her), it seem to be working. Which is good, because without it, she’d have been dead by December 8, 2012. That was the date we decided to have her put down unless her litter box problems resolved themselves.
Back in September, she started pooping outside the litter box. At first, we didn’t think too much of it, because ever since I’ve had her, she’s been prone to occasionally making her displeasure known by going outside the litter box. However, after a week or so, she also started peeing outside the litter box. By the time I finally took her to the vet, it was happening every day.
After a LOT of bickering and talking and arguing and crying, I agreed to put her down if the issue was behavioral or old-age-related. She’d only get a reprieve if it was a urinary infection.
It was, thank God. (Probably the only time I’ve wished for her to be sick.) She had a staph infection. The vet prescribed a two-week dose of antibiotics and recommended moving a litter box to the current location of her infractions, and gradually moving it back to the desired location.
This was less than ideal since that meant we now had a litter box in our tiny dining room, and the litter boxes are usually located in a nice, quiet, out-of-the-way corner in the basement.
But it was Abby, and she’s my baby and I’ve had her for 16 years, so we did it.
Only she kept using the dining room floor.
We tried EVERYTHING: a new litter box, new types of litter, adding a litter box, trying the supposed best litter in the world (Cat Attract), using a Feliway plug-in, catnip, playing Enya while burning incense (I was desperate at that point and was trying to mimic the calming atmosphere of my first apartment from 1996), etc.
The problem was, she’d use the litter boxes correctly 5-6 times a day, and then use the dining room floor during the night. I was afraid it had become permanently behavioral.
I was Googling like a mad woman. Did she see a cat outside and decide to claim her territory? Just in case, we installed some vertical blinds. Was her arthritis making it too difficult to step into the litter box? Well, let’s use a box lid as a litter box instead! Could she have dementia? Well, nothing we could do there.
Or was there?
At her 2-week checkup, the vet recommended keeping her on the antibiotic for another 2 weeks to ensure the infection was gone for good. Jason and I went around and around, and decided that she had until December 8th to get it right (this would give us a month to turn things around).
Completely desperate (at this point, I had started taking as many photos and videos of her as I could, usually sobbing as I did so), I read that Valium is sometimes used to treat cats that have “inappropriate elimination problems.” Bingo. Then, I read that it’s also used to treat anxious cats. One of the symptoms listed was excessive pacing.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned it here before, but Abby paces. A lot. She does endless laps around our dining room table. If you try to pet her during this process, she meows angrily at you, like you’ve interrupted some important ritual. She also sometimes caterwauls relentlessly at night, and even worse, during the day. It doesn’t matter if she’s just eaten or drank, she’ll whine and whine and whine, and it’s the most annoying, skull-piercing sound in the world. After a particularly horrible night’s sleep, I remember standing in the shower while Abby sat right next to the water faucet I had turned on expressly to shut her up, listening to her utter that throat-deep mrrrrrrrrrrowwwwwww! until I snapped and shouted at the top of my lungs, “OHMYGOD, ABBY! SHUT UUUUUUUUUP!” (Not my proudest moment, by far.)
I called the vet, told him my thoughts, and he agreed to call in a prescription for Valium. It was surprisingly cheap ($11 vs. the $64 the antibiotic cost me). Jason picked it up and we started Abby on a small, twice-a-day dose the day after Thanksgiving.
I kept careful track of her behavior on a calendar. It took only three days to see a change. From then on, she’s only had about 4 accidents; otherwise, she’s been using the litter boxes downstairs successfully. (No more dining room litter box, thank God!)
Her infection is officially gone, so she’s no longer on the antibiotic, but she still has a shelf dedicated to her needs in our medicine cabinet: pain gel to help with the arthritis, Miralax to reduce constipation, and the Valium.
Valium is also an appetite stimulant. This has been a godsend. Before, when you’d pick Abby up, she felt like nothing, like she had already disappeared. She was bony and full of sharp angles, and you always felt like you were hurting her. She needed to be coerced into eating her food, and you couldn’t refill the water bowls until she was completely finished eating, or else she would ignore her food to get a drink.
Now, she eats 4 times a day. She still sometimes has to be tricked to eat. (I add water to her food to mask the bitter taste of the Valium, and then top it off with some dry kernels of Sunny’s food, which is apparently much more delicious.) At her first appointment back in October, she weighed 5 lbs. Two weeks later, she weighed 5.7. When I pick her up today, she feels pudgy and fuzzy and thankfully, hefty.
But the best part? The most incredible, Christmas-miracle part? She’s turned back into her snuggly, cuddly, younger self.
As she got older, we chalked up her grumpiness to being old, or hating Shorty, or being in pain from the arthritis, etc. She’d hiss whenever Shorty came near, she wouldn’t sit in my lap if Shorty or Sunny were around, and she’d only sleep next to me on the bed for short periods of time. She had stopped playing with toys years ago, and even stopped using her paws to clean herself (due to the arthritis, we figured).
And yesterday, Jason got video of Sunny giving Abby a bath – for two solid minutes. Abby has never tolerated Sunny’s presence for that long in her entire life, I guarantee it.
I cannot get over the cuddliness. She sleeps next to me ALL NIGHT (and I have the aching bones to gladly show for it). She’s back to grooming herself. The day she played with a toy brought me to tears because I haven’t seen her do that IN YEARS. She doesn’t care about Shorty or Sunny being in her space anymore. In fact, she wedges herself right next to them: