Mystery readers/savvy cat owners will probably identify the culprit in this whodunnit, but I was completely clueless about what was wrong with my adopted tabby cat Cricket.
She had been like that when I adopted her back in 2001…missing hair from the side of her face, her tummy, and even bald patches on her legs and tail. She’d been at the shelter for a while, and I felt so bad for her while working adoptions at PetSmart that I adopted her myself. At home, she would chase escaped crickets (I had a pair of leopard geckos) and made this adorable chirping meow when she caught one. So I christened her Cricket.
I figured that I could just feed Cricket some good food and give her some TLC and time and her hair would grow back. Well, that was a complete red herring. She continued to pull her hair out. (Not to mention the ten tons of hairballs all over the house!)
I tried everything I knew how to do in my Jackson Galaxy-esque file box—nothing worked. I mean, the cats even got the same purified water I drank. On top of the hideaways and cat towers and separate feeding dishes and the right mathematical ratio of litter boxes per cat and cat toys I rotated out and lots of play time with cat wands, I even tried a period of alone time where I gave Cricket an extended period of solitary bliss. There weren’t even any problems with interacting with the other cats and animals—at least not while I was home, but I wanted to try everything to help Cricket adjust.
The only behavioral issue that I noticed is that she developed some dependency/neurotic traits towards me. She had to be everywhere I was. And, she would get more stressed when I moved things around for cleaning. So, I figured that she was undergoing separation anxiety and/or had other anxiety issues and was pulling her hair out as a result.
But, to be on the safe side, I took her to my vet to see if there was an underlying medical cause. That’s when things got really mystifying. I felt like I was in a house of mirrors in trying to deal with veterinarians (plural) and pet stores.
- Urinary tract infection was ruled out. Mange was ruled out.
- Course of steroid shots was recommended. I consented. Her skin condition worsened after each shot, and her skin got red and inflamed. I discontinued the shots.
- I bought pet licking deterrent natural pepper spray, but when it wore off, she was right back to licking. Then one day I forgot to wash my hands after using it and I rubbed my eye (probably to dislodge cat hairs!) and I got pissed off and tossed it in the garbage.
- Among lots of other second (and third, and fourth…you get the idea) opinions from conventional vets, I took her to a homeopathic vet, who recommended pet-safe calendula ointment. Which Cricket promptly began licking it all off, and then continued on to pull her hair out after the cream application. (I don’t know why I didn’t get a pet cone.)
- The homeopathic vet also said to try a blend of Bach’s flower remedies—Crab Apple and some other flavours. This didn’t do a damn thing for Cricket. Except make her run for the hills every time I came near her with the dropper. I can’t imagine why—they’re like 40% alcohol (brandy) per bottle—happy hour for cats, right?
- Then a friend set me up with their psychic friend to come over and “read” Cricket. Skeptical, you betcha, but it was free, so I agreed. Said psychic told me some creepy stuff about Cricket which freaked me out, skepticism aside. She didn’t really have any suggestions about how to resolve the situation, so I gave her a cup of tea, then kindly thanked her and shooed her out the door.
- Three years or so later, conventional vet #164 (slight exaggeration) said the only thing to do with her was to give her heavy-duty tranquilizers (the cat equivalent of Valium) to get her to stop pulling her hair out. I said I would think about it, and took my poor half-hairless baby home. I just couldn’t bring myself to put her on tranquilizers.
At this point, I was just about at my wit’s end with her. I mean, here I was, animal rescuer extraordinaire, and Cricket looked like a hard-luck street cat with terrible mange. As a last resort, I decided to try yet another homeopathic-type vet that was fairly new to the area. This vet asked me what I was feeding Cricket. I told them the name of the fancy, expensive-as-heck dry cat food I was feeding my cats. He was like “Does it have chicken and grain in it?” The Chaos Fairy aka ignorant pet owner says, “No, why?” “Because cats can be allergic to grain, chicken and/or fish.” “Uh, really?” I stammered. The vet said to try an elimination diet and gave me a list of foods and a schedule to transition Cricket into trying.
I tried Wellness Core Chicken and Grain-Free dry food (now, I feed her wet, given her age and health). And it worked. She stopped pulling out her hair. Queen Cricket’s now about 18-20 years old, and completely spoiled. And still neurotically dependent. But she still has her fur, and her sucker mom.
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