They say that it takes 3 months to adjust to any significant life change and this week has taught us that this is true for cats too.
Shortly after my last posting, Crumble had a significant change in personality. Our sweet-natured quiet little kitty started to develop a number of defensive behaviours. Attempts to pet her were met with hissing and growling, something she had almost never done before (except in one quite hilarious kittenhood argument with her sister). She would swipe out with her remaining left front paw only to immediately lose her balance and face plant in frustration. She stopped sleeping next to her sister on the foot of the bed and would not go upstairs at all except to find the litter tray, and if house guests came by they were met with angry stares and warning growls. Worst of all when Andy tried to feed her one of her last pills (and she normally swallows these so easily) she bit straight through his thumb nail with an audible crack. He it turns out, is not as good at taking antibiotics as she is.
Concerned that defensive behaviours can be a sign of pain and injury we took her back to the vet where Bebe took another look to rule out any new nastiness. The conclusion after watching her hop about the surgery room, was that she was moving and adapting very well, so what we were watching her experience was either phantom limb pain or frustration, or perhaps a little of both.
On advice we reintroduced painkillers for a few more days and purchased a Pet Rescue room plug-in to install next to her now favoured beanbag. Some careful observation revealed that if she was experiencing pain it wasn’t the main issue. The other frustrating discovery was that she had returned from her brief sojourn at the vets with fleas. Being bitten cannot be fun or comfortable. Clearly she wanted to be left alone but there was I dropping stinky flea killer on the back of her neck and trying to comb out her fur daily. Plus washing all of the fabrics around the house every 2 or 3 days to destroy eggs and grubs … and thereby of course, also changing the smells of cat-warmed sleeping patches in the process. The fleas really were the final insult.
Crumble was right paw dominant. Using the litter tray, batting a toy, testing the water in her bowl, climbing – all of these were approached with the right paw first. We watched as the ghost leg would reach out the stump wave back and forth, before confused, she would switch legs to use her left struggling to hold her balance and visibly aggravated by the lack of expected outcome from the missing leg. The first steps were for us to take; we needed to learn how to read her better and not panic when she fell or run toward her when she growled to find out what was happening. We learnt slowly to approach her with caution, always announcing our presence before reaching out to touch her. We discovered that head petting only was acceptable, anything beyond her neck resulted in bared teeth and flattened dragon ears (but her shaved skin was so incredibly soft I found it hard not to stroke it!). Watching her jumps it was apparent that she would tilt upon landing and frequently bump on to the stump where she thought a foot would still be. We rewarded good behaviour and ignored defensive swipes and growls so as not to reinforce them. Desperate to get happy Crumble back we started to work out some small modifications to ease her recovery.
The cardboard box content of the sitting room has been increased (hooray for Christmas!), and one now lives on the sofa to give her a higher position from which to view the world (the cat tree being too impossible an object to climb just now). Another box lives behind the sofa, filled with brown paper to give her a softer landing spot than the tiled floor. Noticeably, us leaving the house at all has caused upset, and fortunately my husband is around most days which has definitely helped her to feel more safe and secure.
Happily, once the collar of shame came off her sister Apple rapidly returned to trying to give her sister licks and nose rubs. It was a heart-breaking first few weeks witnessing Crumble rejecting Apple’s affectionate advances and hiss her away. Apple has also needed a lot of love and cuddles to understand the changes that have occurred.
The good news is that this is all now starting to change. We have hit that magical 3-month transition mark and this last week has seen the return of the Crumble we know and love. For the last 6 nights she has returned to her old night time sleeping spot on my husband’s feet, nestled close to Apple. The routines of old are returning one by one. Crumble now once again wakes us up first thing to demand the creation of a duvet cave for her to climb into. She stands over our heads at 6am and gives the breakfast miaow. She shouts if the litter tray is not laid out as she likes and has recommenced house-patrols, checking the perimeter and leading me in to each room one by one before demanding a long set of *full body* strokes. This morning Apple and Crumble chased each other playing hide and seek throughout the house, thundering paws up and down the stairs. Such a happy noise.
I’ve seen just one set of bared teeth this week, and no hisses in a fortnight. She is noticeably stronger, rarely bashing the stump at all. There was a rather lovely 5 minutes yesterday where she sat behind my husband on the sofa, the stump waggling as though tapping him on the shoulder. She didn’t seem to notice that the paw is missing as he responded as though he had felt it too.
Mostly though she now plays again. Plays with us and her sister, purrs like a drill, chases the little red laser dot around the room and up walls unfazed by the missing forelimb. It’s only been a week of good behaviour, but we really do believe we have our Crumblybumkit back. 🙂 xx