Warning: Graphic image of wound below.
It took us a few weeks to realise that Charlie has two personas. Inside the house, he is the most placid, affectionate and playful cat you could imagine. As soon as he heads through the cat flap though, he becomes ‘Brutus’, the cat who valiantly defends his little garden and with designs to expand his territory to include his neighbours’ garden. The problem is, that garden belongs to another Tabby who is equally as keen to defend his own patch and explore Brutus’s territory. During the first few weeks of the cats going outside, there were warning signs of the troubles ahead.
There was a minor disturbance at 6am one morning when Brutus met the Tabby on the street between our houses. Both families rushed out half-dressed to encourage their cats in different directions and my boyfriend and I resolved not to let him out that early again. Another time, one afternoon, my neighbour appeared with his collar and asked me to help her separate the two cats who were squaring up to each other in her back garden.
I raced round and saw first-hand how intent Charlie was on making my neighbour’s garden his own. He was standing tensely in the typical cat aggression pose with an arched back and a huge fluffy tail. I called his name but he didn’t acknowledge I was there. I slowly walked towards him, putting my arms out, wondering what was going to happen next; I didn’t know him well enough yet to trust that he wouldn’t hurt me. Other cats have scratched me in this scenario. As I got nearer to him, he still didn’t move or turn around. I closed my eyes in fear as I wrapped both arms under him and hoisted him off the ground. To my astonishment, he just flopped there happily. I opened my eyes and he was staring at me like “Oh, hi! I didn’t see you there”. My neighbour and I both had a little giggle as he happily let me carry him home.
Then one day, Brutus went too far. I walked in through the door and saw him looking ruffled, limping slightly and with a large bite wound to the neck but acting rather triumphant. I immediately messaged my neighbour (we had swapped numbers by this point). They had just returned too to find fur clumps all over their garden and their cat hidden terrified under some bushes in the garden. It took them several hours to coax their cat indoors and several days for the Tabby’s behaviour to return to normal. In fact, the next day I was part of the search party looking for him when he didn’t return home. I told my neighbour I would leave Charlie in for a while so their cat could settle. They had checked him over and he didn’t appear to have any physical injuries, but an encounter with Brutus had been enough to cause the cat a severe psychological episode.
At this point of time, I was wondering whether I would ever be able to let Charlie out again. Would our neighbours eventually get fed up and try to get Charlie a CASBO (cat anti-social behaviour order)? Do they even exist? I started doing some research into why Charlie was so interested in the other tabby and whether there were any ways to treat it. I found out that this is a very common problem in cats but that Charlie’s instincts to guard his territory may be even stronger because he was neutered so late in life. It was clear that the two cats were unlikely to ever become friends. My only hope was keeping Charlie out of their garden. I found a post on an internet forum where one owner said they soaked their neighbour’s cat with a water pistol and it eventually got the message not to come back. I explained the idea to my neighbours and even bought them the water pistol to soak my cat. I could tell they hated the idea of spraying Charlie but it was the only idea I had.
I also wondered whether I was wrong to feel so appalled by Charlie’s behaviour. There are probably large numbers of people in the world who may be blissfully unaware of their cat’s aggressive behaviour towards another cat or just don’t think it’s a problem. Maybe I was particularly sensitive towards it because my parents’ kitten was bullied terribly by another cat. We all absolutely love her to bits and even though she is now a grown up cat, she will always be that little kitten to us! When the aggressive behaviour started from a large male cat, my parents did not know what to do. They did not know who were the cat’s owners and he left our tortie so terrified that she wouldn’t leave our garden. She would also transfer her fear as aggression towards our family meaning we all got swiped and hissed at. Then one day, my parents noticed our tortie running up and down the street jubilantly as if all her dreams had come true. This was very unusual behaviour for her. My Mum didn’t know what to think until one of the neighbours a few doors down confessed to her that another cat that lived further along had been run over on the main road. After that, our tortie was like a different cat. I wondered what my neighbours were going through with their cat and realised we had a lot of thinking to do.
More immediately, there was the matter of Charlie’s wound to deal with. Now reader, definitely don’t do what we did here. Please learn from our mistake! We both noticed that Charlie was scratching his neck regularly and making it bleed. Our thought was that we should keep it clean and therefore put a cover on it. Cleaning is a good idea, and we bought some pet friendly anti-septic to help with this. Covering the wound up is a terrible idea and definitely the wrong thing to do.
In the immediate aftermath of the fight, I noticed that Charlie would not leave his neck wound alone. He would constantly be grooming himself and making it bleed. This gave me the idea that we needed to cover the wound up to give it chance to heal. A normal person would have then proceeded to buy their pet a bandage or cone to prevent scratching. I ended up buying Charlie a jumper! Not only did I get into a lot of trouble with my boyfriend, but when it arrived, I was disappointed to find that it was far too small for Charlie. In fact, it was so small it was the perfect size for Socks who then begrudgingly agreed to model the jumper for all our entertainment. Sadly, the jumper then became a loo roll cover before being mysteriously lost, a disappearance which my boyfriend still claims to have nothing to do with.
After the failure of the jumper, my boyfriend no longer trusted me to sort out the wound, so bought a set of bandages for Charlie. Once we had finished wrapping him up, he looked like the cat mummy. He disapproved of the bandages very much. The wound healed up well underneath though and we took them off when we noticed it was just a healthy looking scab.
The morning after we removed the bandages we went to look at Charlie’s hopefully healed neck. When we got down, the wound was back open and worse than ever. This was our first clue that it was infected, but we were still inexperienced cat owners at this point. We didn’t want to bother him with the bandages again so my boyfriend bought an inflatable collar that attached with Velcro around his neck and was supposed to prevent them being able to scratch. So Charlie was now padding about the house with what can only be described as a travel pillow around his neck, constantly looking like he was in the queue for the 6am flight to Ibiza. He detested it as much as the bandages! The pillow did do its job well until the day that Charlie escaped the house with neither of us noticing. All of a sudden I realised I hadn’t been followed or stared at for 30 minutes and started shouting for him. Luckily he appeared on the fence as I called him and, to my dismay, realised he had managed to ditch his pillow somewhere and was looking mightily pleased with himself. To this day, we haven’t seen that pillow again.
It was only after a discussion with a cattery owner that caused me to realise that Charlie’s wound could be infected if it wasn’t healing and needed to be uncovered and treated with antibiotics. I felt terrible for him and made a vet appointment within the next few hours. The vet confirmed everything the cattery owner had said. The vet shaved Charlie’s fur was shaved, his wound was dressed and then he was given a one week course of tablets. One week wasn’t enough, so we had to go back to the vet and have an injection that lasted two weeks. We also had to apply a steroid cream to the wound for two weeks. Charlie wasn’t a fan of that and we found out that he is faster than he looks each time we got it out the cupboard! The two trips cost around £120 – three times what we paid for Charlie to begin with, my boyfriend reminded me. At least we had now learned the valuable lesson of how to look after a bite wound.
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