Friday, March 15, 2013

The Toffee Mystery

Here's a mystery that's been bothering me for weeks. Read on, examine the photos, and tell me what you think. We adopted Toffee as a longhaired kitten on November 28. Here he is at the shelter:

He had a gorgeous, long, fluffy coat on our Christmas card photo, taken on December 8:

But now Toffee is a shorthaired kitten! The photo on the left was taken on December 9; the one on the right is from February 24:

What happened to his handsome ruff and plush coat? All that's left is his huge tail, some tufts between his toes, and fluff on the backs of his hind legs. His belly fur is fluffy but short. The fur around his neck is about a half-inch long.

He looks kind of odd as a shorthair with that humongous tail, as you can see:

When did it happen? I've been looking at photos, trying to figure it out. I think it happened shortly after all of his emergency room excitement in January. On New Year's Eve, he burned his paws jumping onto a hot stove burner. On January 4, he swallowed a length of hemp cord and a fabric toy that I'd stupidly left lying around. He was given a strong (horse) tranquilizer to help him throw it up.  Then he was given an antidote to the tranquilizer, which didn't work. The vets at our regular hospital think that the pain medication we'd given him earlier in the day for his burns caused a bad reaction — he stayed heavily sedated for 12 hours longer than expected. (Harris got the same treatment but the antidote worked fine for him.)

Anyway, Toffee's fur loss started shortly after all that. Here he is on January 2:

Here he is, already looking different, on January 8:

Here he is, quite shorthaired although his head still looks a bit fluffy, on January 15:

Now that I see the change in photos it seems dramatic, but I honestly didn't focus on it over the past couple of months except for a nagging suspicion that Toffee looked different. For weeks, all I really cared about was preventing him from injuring himself again. And he was perfectly healthy, active, and adorable, so I just figured we had somehow adopted a shorthaired cat with a fluffy tail. But we didn't:

Longhaired cat under Christmas tree.

Shorthaired cat with big tail.

About three weeks ago, I wrote about how seeing Toffee from the back reminded me of another cat I'd loved and lost decades ago, a tiny brown longhaired tiger named Truffalo. But I realize now that, except for his tail, Toffee doesn't remind me of Truffalo one bit. If you compare the tabby markings on his back in these and other photos, you can see how much they've changed, from blurry and soft to ticked and "tweedy" — sharply delineated in his very short fur.

We adore our Toffee however he looks; we'd love him if he were bald and toothless. But we'd kind of like our longhaired Toffee back since this appearance change doesn't seem quite normal. I have a few theories about where his long fur went, and I welcome hearing yours:

1. Toffee had a heavy winter coat as an outdoor stray. Then he was adopted and became an indoor cat, and so he shed it like mad about six weeks after arriving here. (However, Toffee never acted like an outdoor cat, he was perfectly at home with us and completely socialized from Day 1.)

2. Toffee gambled away his handsome coat, at cards or football betting, but was smart or lucky enough to hang onto his tail.

3. The trauma of burning his feet and/or the bad experience of the treatment after he swallowed the toy caused stress-induced hair loss.

4. A medication reaction: in addition to the horse tranquilizer he got in the ER, we had to give him 56 doses of a worming antibiotic over many weeks, plus an additional worming medication. We finally finished that in mid January, around the time he lost his fur.

5. Wendy had Toffee abducted by the calico mafia but then realized we'd nail her as the perp since she was the only one in the house who didn't adore him. She replaced him with a similar-looking cat, but not quite. (They get along fine now, and Wendy often does have a guilty look....)

I called the staff of our cat hospital to ask for their theories and I look forward to hearing what they think; I may hear back tomorrow. Thank you in advance for your help in solving the mystery. I'll keep you posted about what the doctors have to say.


  1. How very strange. I knew he had been looking different but I just assuming he was "growing up". I should know better though as I have a kitty about a year older and she has the same hair as "original Toffee" and she has kept the same coat. I would have to assume it's one of the medications but I will be interested to hear whatyou find out.

  2. I would talk to the vet - it doesn't make sense. A stress overload from his two traumatic events? A missing dietary nutrient? Very strange.


  3. I'm guessing it's number 3 or 4 because there's no doubt that Toffee looks very Maine Coony to my Maine-Coon-Mama eyes. (Although sometimes Norwegian Forest Cats can fool me.)

    I don't know if it will come back. I would certainly hope so. He's a very handsome fellow both longhaired and not, but there's just something about a fluffy kitty ...

  4. If I had to pick a theory, I'd go with your #1. But also, I've known some cats that had considerable baby fluff (with and without long guard hairs) whose mature coats were short and sleek. However, the tail usually follows suit. Toffee reminds me of a little boy with a mullet hair style....all business up front with a party in the back!
    I'm interested in hearing what the clinic folks have to say.

  5. My first thought was that, like puppies, he had 'blown out' his kitten coat like puppies do to their first coat. Maybe the meds had something to do with it, but I understand that young animals' coats often, but not always, differ from their adult coats. I hope you still keep him even if his coat doesn't come back in all fluffy and softly blurry. Harry would be upset to loose his friend.

  6. Thanks for your theories! I hadn't thought about diet as a possible cause; the other cats' coats are looking good, but Toffee's metabolism and dietary needs might be different. It's a very good question to ask my vet.

    We are keeping him no matter what. Another theory of mine is that he disguised himself as a shorthair because he heard us worry that his original owner (if he had one) can claim him from us any time up to a year after his adoption date. We'd move to Australia before we let that happen; I'll start telling him that frequently and hope he gets fuzzier as a result.

  7. Another thought that no one seems to have brought up - self barbering (or perhaps someone else barbering). Cats will sometimes obsessively groom, and even trim their own furs...he seems like a pretty relaxed dude, so I suspect this is not what is going on, but certainly something to keep an eye out for...either him overgrooming, or someone else doing him a "favor"...


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