Every so often I come to a home to help a pet and end up wanting to help the human. Last week I visited an elderly woman in her 80’s living in a small, albeit hip, Hollywood apartment. She was very hard of hearing and had poor vision, but was able to get around. I walk through the door and nearly had projectile vomit from the smell. The cat Tootles, was walled off behind a flimsy sliding door to the kitchen. There was literally feces everywhere. There was evidence that the cat had chronic diarrhea and was defecating under a counter, behind furniture and every other corner. I stepped around it and took a history. The woman was self-educated in holistic medicine and had self-prescribed a multitude of supplements that she takes along with a battery of pet products. Her diet consisted of different “natural” pet foods including Wellness. I have seen diarrhea in cats on Wellness alone, but there were so many things going into the poor skinny cat’s body it was hard to determine the cause.

I had to repeatedly exit the apartment to breathe and collect my wits. Part of me wanted to run and not come back. The other tenants seemed to know all about the crazy old cat lady but just accepted her. They must’ve remodeled the place around her. She claimed there was new carpet, but it still should be ripped out and replaced. The most confounding thing was the difficulty communicating with her. I had to shout into her ear. She was not stupid or even very senile. She was adamant about givng the cat supplements and assumed the problem was behavioral. She had a bevy of litterpans, some of which appeared to be aluminum pans (usually distateful to cats) and very little litter. She had stretched handle grocery plastic bags as litter liners. Not too comfortable. I finally got her to agree to run some tests on the cat who had rotten teeth, a poor coat and was underweight. Below is the actual letter I had to snail mail her (no email of course)

Dear Ms. Edwards (name changed):
The lab tests for Tootles (name changed) are in. The only abnormalities are an increase in muscle enzyme. The source is either the heart, the skeletal muscles or the stomach. It is possible there is heart disease. Further tests would be needed to determine this. She was negative for cat viruses and parasites. As far as her constant diarrhea and inappropriate defecation: I am very concerned that the multiple supplements you are giving are causing diarrhea. The food or any treats may also be causing chronic diarrhea. In any case my assessment of the cat is there is a chronic wasting disease or malnutrition. Here rear teeth are rotten and need extraction. This makes it difficult to eat. In addition, the manner in which you keep the cat box with plastic bags tightly lining the pan makes them unattractive and uncomfortable to cats. Small wonder she is pooping everywhere else.

I hope you can read, or have this read to you and understand up to this point. My recommendations to you are as follows:

I am very concerned about your living conditions. They are currently unhealthy and dangerous to your health and to your cat. In the interest of both of your health and safety, I recommend:
Board Tootles at the hospital and have her teeth extracted and given a controlled meal. If further diagnostics are warranted, it can be discussed. You yourself should temporarily stay at a hotel for a few days while your home is cleaned, disinfected with the possibility of installing a hard floor. Pergo is sturdy and relatively inexpensive.

Stop all supplements given to the cat. They are not helping and may be hurting, especially the high dose of vitamin C you’ve been giving. Digestive enzymes are not needed for unless there is a diagnosis determined by a veterinarian of pancreatic insufficiency.

The cat should be on a single type of food that is easily digested. Once the place is clean and the cat has recovered from the dental work and has shown normal stools, she can return to the home. First, she should have a large litter box filled with clumping litter. The liners are unnecessary and may hinder the cat’s desire to use the box. Get a plastic litter box. The aluminum pans are not well tolerated by cats. In fact we use aluminum foil as a deterrent for cat. Place the one litterbox in a quiet area (not the bathroom) perhaps in her “safe” area in which she has been defecating.

I am very sorry for the sad situation that you and Tootles find yourselves. I hope we can help. Please let us know.

Dr. Steve Weinberg
911 VETS Home Pet Medical

PS. I was able to speak to her about the letter and found her to be in complete denial and that the cat is improving. She wants to keep giving supplements and doesn’t think the pans are a problem. My next step is to contact Social Services. Extremely frustrating situation that demonstrates again that the clinic veterinarian is handicapped by the inability to witness the living situation of the pet and owner and is probably fooled by the information given. But the housecall vet must get personally involved to help the pet and owner.