Dear Prudence

Help! My Boyfriend’s Cat Is Ruining My Life.

In We’re Prudence, Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. The answer is available only for Slate Plus members.

A pair of feet and a cat.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Every Thursday on Twitter @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:

Dear Prudence,

I really, really hate my boyfriend’s cat. We’ve been dating for about eight months now, and he’s overall a great guy. But about three months ago, he decided to adopt a cat, and even asked me, though I admit I was more hesitant. Although I don’t live with him, we spend most nights together.

Cut to three months later, and I can’t stand what I got myself into. The cat howls constantly 24 hours a day, always for food, and my boyfriend in turn obliges. Even the vet was concerned the cat was too heavy at his last check-in, but my boyfriend refuses to acknowledge it. In the meantime, I’m getting very little sleep (my boyfriend wears earplugs at night when I’m around because he’s the lighter sleeper, but insists someone has to be able to hear the cat). The cat is also extremely aggressive, often drawing blood when he “plays,” and I just really don’t want to be around him. My boyfriend has also said things like, “this is the first time he’s had true love” and if I don’t love the cat, I clearly just don’t love him. This isn’t true, but I don’t have a lot of patience left for a creature that wants to hurt me and that I can’t live with long-term.

— Not Cool With the Cat

Dear Not Cool,

I asked for help with this question because my gut reaction was that you are living in hell with a man who isn’t reasonable and doesn’t care about your feelings. The idea of occasionally being attacked … excuse me, played with … in a way that draws blood while also being deprived of sleep was just too much for me. I didn’t see any hope for the relationship.

But a small voice in my head said, “You’re not a cat person, though.” It’s true, I’m not. And I’m sort of aware, based on things I’ve read on the internet, that those who are cat people have a different level of tolerance for being scratched up (and woken up at night, having their belongings peed on, etc.) than I would ever imagine. So, in an effort to be fair to you, your boyfriend, and this innocent animal, I asked for some other perspectives.

There were in fact a couple of people who thought you were an unreasonable cat-hater who didn’t deserve to be around this pet, and said your boyfriend should break up with you. I just can’t get on board with that. I think if you started a relationship not living in fear of having blood drawn by an animal’s claws, it’s reasonable to expect to continue living that lifestyle.

But the replies did open my eyes to the fact that there’s hope for the cat. It sounds like its behavior isn’t totally out of the ordinary, and with some combination of a consultation with a vet, training, and different feeding techniques (and possibly the keto diet?), there’s a real chance that it could improve:

“Try feeding the cat raw meat or shrimp. He may be eating a dry mix that doesn’t nourish him. There is a lot of bad cat food for sale, including the expensive stuff. #KetoCat” —@DinahMillerTX

“I think there are a lot of bigger problems here but I second the suggestion of an automatic feeder. You can program them for lots of *small* feedings and it really helps w/ a needy cat.” — @Kat_Maybird

“My cat was overweight and always needy for food. The first thing I did was make sure she gains trust in that there will always be food for her, but not by getting up every time she asked.

Get an automated feeder and set it for small amounts multiple times a day and night.” —@BerrakBiz

Of course, none of this works unless your boyfriend participates:

“My cat was aggressive and vocal when I first got her because she came from an abusive situation. Does the cat have toys? Are his nails clipped? But honestly, if the boyfriend isn’t acknowledging that there’s a problem, then the behavior won’t change.” —@BerrakBiz

“The cat and boyfriend clearly both need behavioral adjustments. Maybe look into training for them both. The boyfriend to handle and stop his enabling habits. The cat needs to not be aggressive or demanding food.” —@Tangledcopse

So it’s definitely worth sharing these tips with your boyfriend and hoping he makes an effort to be a good cat parent, but I have to say I’m not super hopeful about his ability to treat the animal well or—and this is the key part—to treat you well. There was resounding agreement that this situation has revealed some things about him that won’t be fixed with an automatic feeder—he’s being irresponsible, insensitive, and selfish. The way he’s dealing with a pet doesn’t bode well for his ability to be an engaged parent, if that’s something that’s in your future. And the fact that he expects you to be the one to lose sleep while he wears earplugs is especially unforgivable.

“If the BF isn’t actively discussing the cat situation with the GF and also working WITH her to help the cat adjust, IMAGINE WHAT HE MIGHT BE LIKE AS A PARENT.” —@nerdette

“She should thank the cat for showing her what an awful parent this guy would be.” —@sarahmanyzz

“the earplugs bit, whew. DUMP HIM” —@ClaraJeffery

“The cat is a distraction. You’ve learned your boyfriend will avoid difficult decisions, has no follow-through, and cares more about his feelings than your needs. Regardless of the outcome with the cat, figure out if this kind of person deserves to be in your life.” —@CleverWhatever

“He decided that he needs sleep but you don’t? And that his cat should remain unhappy? This man does not care about the health and well-being of you or the cat; please dispose of him immediately.” —@ChandrasPlate

“She gotta run asap. First, sounds like he likes the cat bc it can’t call him on his bs, like his GF. Second, I’d bet this isn’t the only issue where he’s dismissive of her humanity (and reality) in order to maintain his entertainment or world view.” —@Ngongang

“Look, I’m Team Cat in all situations, but wearing earplugs and forcing the girlfriend to deal with the yowling cat in the dead of night? Willfully sacrificing her sleep instead of inconveniencing your own? That’s some bullshit, right there.” — @babsvan

“Honestly, wearing earplugs when she’s over because he’s a light sleeper but insisting “someone has to be able to hear the cat” is not a great sign if they ever intend to procreate. The boyfriend seems to be a bigger problem than the cat here.” — @Cmgreen86

“Cat person: Dump him.” —@sesmith

As always, I have to acknowledge that it’s easier for us to tell you to break up with someone we don’t know than it is for you to break up with someone you love. I’m sure he has some good qualities that weren’t mentioned in the letter. So, if you do want to stay together for now, take @AlyssaFranke’s advice and disengage from cat care completely: “It’s time to put the burden for managing the cat’s behavioral issues back on the boyfriend. Earplugs in & practice saying ‘I’m sorry, that sounds like something you need to take care of.’ And respond to all guilt tripping with ‘I love you, but I can’t care for your cat for you.’”

Hopefully once you’re getting some sleep and have freed up some mental space, you can focus on the real issue: You deserve a better boyfriend.

Classic Prudie

I live in a close-knit neighborhood. In October, my neighbor’s 16-year-old daughter ran over my family’s beloved cat. She was driving irresponsibly and texting, and she was horrified by what she’d done. I have tried not hating her, and I’ve tried telling myself that there’s always a risk that a cat allowed outdoors will be hit by a car. But I’m angry, and the best thing for me now is to keep my distance from the girl and her family. The parents won’t back off, though. Their daughter is traumatized, and they want me to comfort her. I don’t have that in me. I think this girl is lucky she didn’t strike and kill a person. Is it awful of me to not want to alleviate her emotional turmoil by speaking kindly to her?