Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
Two weeks ago my wife and I adopted a very sweet mostly blind kitty named Sally from a local shelter. I’ve been reading up on caring for blind cats, both before and after we brought her home. She’s getting slowly acclimated to our apartment and will even jump up on our futon and couch sometimes, sitting near us and purring while we pet her.
For a few days when we first brought her home, my wife and I slept on our futon so she could sleep with us at night. Our bed is on a high frame that we didn’t think she could jump up on. Like many older blind cats, she howls at night, sometimes fairly consistently through the night. When we were sleeping on the futon, I would call out to her and she’d jump up and sleep with us and stop howling.
Now that we’ve moved back into our bedroom, she seems to be feeling very anxious and the howling is getting pretty bad. Last night I gave her a Happy Traveler treat before bed, which has valerian root and chamomile and is supposed to work as a relaxant, but it seemed to have no effect. We’ve tried leaving a light on for her so she can use what little sight she has, but that doesn’t seem to work well either.
I tried bringing her into our bedroom last night after hours of howling, and she immediately jumped down off the bed both times and fled, only to start howling again. Another problem is that she hates being picked up, we believe due to her blindness (she can’t tell how high up she is and panics). When we took her to the vet, she sulked for a few days afterward, seemingly very shaken from being picked up by us and the vet. Last night was also traumatic for her. I used a blanket and gently wrapped her up before picking her up and taking her into our bedroom, but she still seemed freaked out. We’ve tried making a step at the foot of our bed for her to jump up, and despite using treats and gentle encouragement to get her to jump up on the step as she does the futon, she’s not even attempting to do it.
I really want this kitty to be a part of our family, but I also need to be able to sleep. I’m a very light sleeper, yet I can hear her yowling all night even when I’m wearing ear plugs. Between her howling and being uncomfortable with being picked up, she seems anxious and hesitant to trust us. We can’t sleep on the futon forever, but I want to find a way to make her more comfortable at night. Any suggestions?
Siouxsie: Well, Jules, we do have some recommendations for you. First and most important is that you’ll need to let Sally explore your home at her pace. She needs to find out where things are and how to navigate her new digs.
Thomas: We wrote a post a couple of weeks ago with some tips on how to help a blind cat find her way around, so you might want to check that out if you haven’t already.
Bella: We know your heart was in the right place when you picked Sally up and brought her into your room, but for a blind cat, that can be terribly disorienting. When you put her on the floor, she had no way of knowing where she was and how she could get back to the places in your home that she’s familiar with.
Siouxsie: Instead of picking her up and bringing her to a new room, we’d recommend that you call to her from where you are and allow her to find her way there. That way, she’ll learn her way around and she won’t feel so terrified if you bring her into your room.
Thomas: There are some things you can do to decrease her general stress level, and this may have an effect on the yowling. First of all, we’d recommend using some Feliway plug-ins.
Bella: Feliway is really nice! Mama says it has pheromones in it that are just like our calm-happy-kitty pheromones.
Siouxsie: Although Feliway is marketed as a tool for reducing fighting and inappropriate urination, it’s quite helpful for any kinds of stress that cause kitties to feel unsafe.
Thomas: Bach Rescue Remedy is another good tool for relieving stress and the fear and emotional shock that come from trauma.
Bella: And trust me, if you’re a blind kitty who has found yourself in an entirely new home — no matter how awesome that new home is — that’s going to be even more stressful than it would be for a sighted cat.
Siouxsie: There’s one more thing we really think you should do. If Sally hasn’t had a blood panel recently, she should have one.
Thomas: We know going to the vet is stressful, and even more so for her, but there are certain illnesses that can lead to excessive vocalization.
Bella: You didn’t mention how old Sally is, but hyperthyroidism, a disease fairly common in older cats, often causes extra meowing. But it’s a very treatable condition, and if she is hyperthyroid and gets the right medicine, it could drastically reduce the amount of meowing and howling in the night.
Siouxsie: Your vet may also be able to help by giving her some medicine that could reduce her anxiety.
Thomas: Give her some extra comfortable spots like a heated cat bed or a space where she can curl up and feel protected from invaders, such as an enclosed cave-type bed.
Bella: Also, try increasing her confidence with some interactive play. There are lots of wand toys that make noises, and she’ll be able to follow the toys because of that. Take her general health and energy level into account when you decide how vigorously to play with her.
Siouxsie: Jules, we hope this helps you and your wife. We’re very grateful that you’ve chosen to adopt a special-needs cat, and we hope that with some time, patience, and stress reduction techniques, you’ll be able to get a good night’s sleep before too long.