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When a Skin Problem Turns Out to be a Litter Box Problem

May 6, 2012

With long hair, silky fur, pointy nose, big round eyes, the short, chewed belly fur marks this cat as a nervous wreck.

“Cat Losing Fur by the Base of the Tail”

When a cat doctor sees these words in the appointment book, she thinks, “flea allergy dermatitis.” 95% of the time, fleas are the cause of fur loss, scabs, and irritation at the end of the back where the cat’s tail starts.

So, when Princess showed up on the exam table, Doc Truli asked extra questions about fleas:

  • “Do you see fleas?” (answer is almost always  “no”)
  • “Do any of your other pets have fleas?” (“no” – veterinarian still believes fleas are likely, you just didn’t see them)
  • “Do any of your pets go outside at all?”  “no” – veterinarian still believes you probably don’t count the sun room as “outside”)
  • “Do you apply monthly flea preventative to each of your pets?” (“yes” – veterinarian wonders if you applied it right and if you used a reputable brand – and if you “stretch it” past a month.)
  • You show the veterinarian where you applied the great brand you buy regularly from her hospital and you have the computer record to prove it.
  • Then you mention you have the yard and house exterminated anyway, just in case. (Veterinarian starts to believe you know what you are talking about and you have a difficult, unusual problem in the rare 5% category of cats who are itchy at their tail base and do not have fleas.)
  • “Doctor, what is wrong with my cat??”

Six (6) Cat Household

Most of the time, hair loss down the hind legs and base of the tail indicates flea allergy dermatitis. Princess also had short, barbered fur on her belly. This often comes from over-licking the belly fur. It can be a nervous habit, like a child sucking their thumb.

“She’s our most nervous cat. We had a hard time catching her this morning. The other five cats are fine, but she’s antisocial,” said Princess’ concerned mom.

“Hold up!  Six cats? Six?! ” thought Doc Truli.  Cats are territorial creatures and they need to feel secure in their space to be relaxed and happy.  What are the odds a standard 2,000 square foot (or so) family home in America can comfortably accommodate six cats without special care taken to address their needs?

“How many litter boxes do you have?” asked Doc Truli.

“One,” said Princess’ mom. (I know what you are thinking- there should be a little box for each cat, then add an extra.  So six cats should have seven litter boxes.  Seven  Be real.  Doc Truli did not stop there and admonish Princess’ mom and give her the impossible task of sticking seven kitty dump stations in her family’s home.  That would be cruel and impractical to the humans.  Let’s be smart about this!)

The Most Important Questions

“Where is the litter pan?”

“In my master bathroom.”

“Is there one path to the litter box that other cats could be sitting in direct sight-line and staring at the path?”

“Yes, the five of them hang out around my bedroom door all day,” said Princess’ mom.

Doc Truli said, “I’m really surprised Princess uses that litter box at all.  It sounds like the others are bullying her with their stares.  It’s amazing she uses the litter box.”

Princess’ mom’s eyes went wide. “She urinates in my son’s room.  She’s always done that so I didn’t even think to bring it up.”

“That makes all the sense in the world.  Poor Princess,” said Doc Truli.

Doc gave Princess same anti-inflammatory medication to settle her skin sores.  Here’s the letter we received at the hospital the next day:

“Thank you so much for pointing us in the right direction.  I put a litter pan in another room for Princess and she used it right away.  I had no idea my little kitty had social anxiety all this time.  As I write this, she’s sleeping on my bed with the other cats.  She’s like a new cat, I can’t believe it!”


Princess licked her fur and caused sores because she wanted to use the litter pan.  The other cats stared her down and she felt too timid to go past the “kitty gauntlet” to use the pan.  She did not like urinating in the son’s room, but she felt she had no choice. Princess is the most inspiring case Doc Truli has solved in a long time.  Let us know if your cat has been helped in such a marvelous, simple way.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 6, 2012 3:08 pm

    Love this article … on a subject (subjects) I harp on a lot. Was very amused by the Dr’s thoughts regarding the kitty caretaker’s answers to flea issues… 😀 It would be so nice if litter box problems were so solvable by simply adding another litter box or boxes, but it sure is a place to start.

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