Q: My cat will be fast asleep, then she wakes up suddenly and flies out of the spot she was in and acts very terrified. Is she having night terrors?
Dr. Nichol: Your cat may be having a sleep disturbance but we don’t want tunnel vision. Her terror, as she is jerked out of a restful slumber, tells us that her brain is reacting with intense emotion but the real issue may be somewhere else in her body.
Pain can come from almost anywhere. Cats with allergies may be startled by an intense itch. Whether deeply asleep or just sitting quietly they can suddenly bolt from the room as though shot from cannon. A stab of pain from an arthritic joint or an abdominal cramp may be jolting your kitty out of an otherwise gentle cat nap. This isn’t peaceful; she needs to feel safe.
The history of your kitty’s physical functions is important in finding the real problem. Can she jump as high, as often and as effortlessly as she did while taking middle school ballet? Is she as active as she was in her prime or has she become a bit of a slug? Does she overgroom – licking her coat excessively? Is she missing hair anywhere? Does she vomit or have soft or loose stools?
Any problem, behavioral or otherwise, deserves a good exam that includes evaluation of the joints, a palpation and a listen with a stethoscope to a cat’s abdomen, as well as a thorough look at the skin. This might include a microscopic check of skin flakes and scrapings. A blood profile will assure us that internal organ function is up to speed.
Night terrors really could be rattling your kitty. Watch her for other reactions like startling with noises or fear of indoor or outdoor creatures. If your cat’s health is just ducky in all departments we can help her get the healthy rest she needs with an oral medication like melatonin or lorazepam. She needs to feel better fast, so it’s OK to treat her symptoms, just as long as we do leave nothing to chance in finding the cause.
Dr. Jeff Nichol, a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist, provides consultations in-person and by telephone and Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.