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Cat Self Mutilation

The first step in handling a case of this type is a thorough medical work up. Many "self-mutilation" cases are rooted in a dermatological or neurological medical basis. The veterinary medical tests indicated are:

1) Physical Exam, focusing on Dermatological and Neurological Systems. However, any chronic medical condition that might cause discomfort should be ruled out.
2) Blood Work, both to rule out current internal problems and pre-medication
(serology and CBC)
3) Urinalysis
4) Fecal Exam
5) Other tests as indicated by the physical exam might include: Skin Scraping; Fungal Culture; Impression Smear, etc.
6) Depending on severity, some cases require a surgical biopsy of the tissue.

If all tests have ruled out physical and medical causes, then turn to a a behavioral analysis.

Behavior Medication
There are several behavior medications for this condition. These should ONLY be used after a medical work up and as pre-prescription blood work in combination with a behavior modification program.

First choice (but most expensive) Fluoxetine 0.5-1.0 mg/kg Once daily
Second choice Clomipramine 0.5-1.5 mg/kg Once daily
Third choice (less expensive, least effective) Amitriptyline 5.0-10.0mg total per cat once daily OR 1-2 mg/kg once daily

If pilling is not possible, and you accept the possibility of rare side effects (e.g diabetes and tumors) then an effective alternative is one IM injection every 1-3 months of Depo-Provera Progesterone, 2-10 mg per cat.

Most vets do not carry these drugs but they can be prescribed by any vet through a compounding pharmacy. Only the vet who did the work-up can write the prescription since this requires a client-patient-doctor relationship. I suggest you bring this entire email with you to the veterinary visit for inclusion into the medical record.

Behavior Modification of Feline Self Mutilation
The behavior modification program revolves around eliminating sources of feline stress, counter conditioning and environmental enrichment.

Reducing Stress might include: Reducing the number of cats in household or separating ones with conflict into separate rooms.

Give no attention immediately before leaving or after coming home (treatment for possible separation anxiety component). After 10 minutes, give extra amounts of gentle, loving praise and affection.

Try leaving for short (1 min) periods of time, then gradually longer.  Praise and give food treats if no self mutilation has occurred. Work up to 10 min, 30 min and longer.

Do hand feed a portion of each meal, accompanied by gentle petting and handling. Groom daily with a brush if the cat likes it.  Increase exercise, like chase-the-string or feather-on-a-pole games.

Counter Conditioning is praising any positive interactions with you or other members of the house. Praise for any calm, non-licking time.

Environmental Enrichment includes: 

1) Rotating current toys, praise and reward any interest in any toy
2) Provide new toys regularly, and SPEND TIME playing with cat (both exercise AND environmental enrichment.)
3) Evaluate if he likes to watch an aquarium or cat entertainment video
4) Test him for interest in cat nip toys (50% of adult cats respond to catnip)
5) Provide a ceiling to floor cat climbing/scratching post, and praise any use
6) Provide him high hiding places (e.g. inside the climbing toy)

Please be aware these cases can get better, not change, or get worse based on implementation of a plan such as this.  Each of these outcomes means something, and has to be taken into consideration in the ongoing overall supervision of a case like this.

Observe changes, and report them to the veterinarian
and the behaviorist supervising the case.

Copyright 2001-Present - All Rights Reserved - Rolan Tripp, DVM and Susan Tripp, MS  | Animal Behavior Network & Affiliates