This week, we’ve called on our favorite expert pet owners to answer your questions about the unruly critters in your life. Faux Paws is Slate’s pet advice column. Submit questions here.
Dear Faux Paws,
I got married two years ago to a wonderful man, but he hates my cat and I’m not sure what to do. He is allergic but refuses to take allergy medicine because he doesn’t like to take pills. He began dating me knowing I had a cat (actually, two then). He often lets the cat out, ignores him to the point that the cat is terrified by him (he runs out of any room my husband walks through), and complains about him weekly.
I’m upset because my husband is so indifferent to this cat that I love very much. The cat is very affectionate and I’ve always been a pet person. My husband has three adult children and I have none, but when I try to explain that my pets are my family he gets upset and says I cannot compare pets to children. I often ask if he would be OK if I was so indifferent toward his kids, but he gets very upset. Anyhow, he’s suggested I keep the cat separate from the rooms he goes into, but the home is mine (pre-marriage) and I don’t want to lock him up. I’m frustrated and not sure what to do. He loved this cat as a kitten, I’ve gotten him on very expensive allergy-free cat food (which seems to be working), and I really love my cat. I love my husband but feel very frustrated because he makes me feel like I have to choose between him and my cat. Do you have any advice?
—Cat-astrophe With My Husband
Dear Cat-astrophe With My Husband
There is a lot going on here, so let me break it down: Your husband and cat had a good relationship when the cat was a kitten, but now they don’t. Allergies are in play, but they do not sound like the root cause of your husband’s issues with your cat. You say that it’s your husband’s indifference to your cat that is upsetting you, but you also say that he wants to keep the cat out of any rooms in your house that he is spending time in; that’s not indifference, that’s rejection.
But I’m still struggling to understand just why things have gotten so bad. And you might be too. You need to ask your husband straight up what his problem is. Given your history—you had not one but two cats when you got together!—he needs to be your partner in coming up with a solution that works for everyone, including your cat. If he says it’s the allergies, then set a time frame to see how much the food helps and construct next steps, together, from there. I don’t blame him for not wanting to mainline Claritin, but there may be other mitigating factors a veterinarian could suggest that would help. And perhaps the cat can stay out of your bedroom, or your husband’s office, if he has one. Cutting down on the spread of dander can really help. So can a lot of vacuuming.
However, I am concerned that the complaints about the cat are a stand-in for something else. If having a sit-down to talk through your options isn’t constructive, you might consider couples counseling. That might sound extreme! But, finding someone who could help you tackle this particular problem in a specific time frame could be very helpful. You don’t have to go forever. But a third party will be able to sort out what is really going on.
The last thing: I also recommend pulling back from comparing your love for your pets to your husband’s for his kids. I’ve got three cats and one kid and while yes, I love them all very, very much, it’s not an apples to apples comparison (at least to someone with children). I would hazard to say that this comparison has irked your husband, leading to even more resistance and hostility to your cat. I love how much you love your little furball, but you can keep the relativism to yourself.
Living in a Zoopolis
Check out Slate’s Hi-Phi Nation podcast for this week’s episode on what it would look like to give animals full legal rights.
Dear Faux Paws,
I have one cat. He is the best. We have a good thing going and he seems relatively happy. I feed him good food. I’m home a lot because I work from home mostly. He has a roof deck he can go out on from which he can watch birds. But he’s got a lot of love to give, so sometimes I think I could make his life even better if I get him a buddy. He grew up with another cat around, so it makes me think he misses it. He also sometimes has anxiety when I am away, but I always make sure to have someone check on him once a day. Part of me thinks it would be a lot of fun to see him play with another cat, but another part of me just doesn’t want to scoop twice as much poop and buy twice as much food, and so on. But I love him a lot and want him to have the best life he can. It seems like everyone should be able to be around other creatures of their species. When I think about what I really want, I can’t seem to figure out what it is. I feel totally ambivalent. What should I do?
—Don’t Want to be a Crazy Cat Lady
Dear Don’t Want to be a Crazy Cat Lady,
If you think two cats make you a crazy cat lady, then I am certifiable! But seriously: It sounds like your cat has an awesome life as is. You need to make a decision about adopting a second cat for yourself, not based on what you think your cat might be missing. On top of the extra poop and food, you can’t guarantee that a second cat will even be buddies with yours. My daughter’s cat Zoe, who unfortunately died a few years ago, was a super sweet cat who followed us around like a puppy, played, and was super chill. When we adopted our second cat, Mr. Spots, she was a huge jerk who hissed at him and basically forced him to live under my bed for two years. We had no way of knowing they’d have bad chemistry! On the flip side, we’ve got another cat, Sunny, who is friends with everyone. So my point is: You never know how cats are going to react to one another, so you better make sure you are adopting another cat for you, not for your furbaby.
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Dear Faux Paws,
We have two brother cats (Beans and Buttons) who are fun, affectionate, and great to have around, with one massive exception: Beans completely refuses to use the litter box. We have tried everything: litter that attracts cats, scooping daily (sometimes twice), multiple boxes, quiet/private space for them, and we’ve even taken him to the vet to see if there’s anything wrong, but there isn’t. Buttons uses the litter boxes just fine, and the two cats are great together.
The real problem is that this has completely destroyed one of the rooms in our house. The carpet is massively discolored, even though we try to clean them on a regular basis. The paint on the baseboards is blistered from the ammonia. We will be replacing the flooring in that room (once interest rates go down), and that will almost certainly involve replacing the floorboards underneath. But until then, this is having a major impact on my mental health, because while the rest of our house is reasonably tidy, it still feels like living in squalor. Our house usually does not smell like cat pee but it’s the most disgusting situation.
The huge worry that is incapacitating me is that we spend a few thousand to get the flooring (we’re aiming at a super durable waterproof laminate of some sort) and baseboards replaced, only to have the problem start over again. I’m honestly at a loss. Getting rid of Beans is out of the question. For one, he’s part of a bonded pair, and more importantly, he is otherwise adored, particularly by our 11-year-old, who has raised these cats since she was 6 and they were kittens. I miss having people over. I hate that I have to deftly maneuver around playdates to either have our daughter go to her friend’s house, or we meet them somewhere fun that isn’t our house. I hate that my daughter can’t have sleepovers here. I’m miserable, I’m frozen with indecision, and unable to figure out a plan forward because of worry about this being the way it is.
Dear Litter Quitter,
First and most important: You are awesome for not abandoning Beans. People abandon cats for much less. Your commitment is really moving!
That said, you cannot continue to live this way. With luck, you have 10-15 more years with these two. I am curious if Beans has never, ever used a litter box, or if something might have triggered this behavior? I’m going to assume, from the way you’ve laid this out, that he has always been this way. Given the extreme situation you are in, I reached out for some expertise from Eva Prokop, who runs the Brooklyn cat rescue/adoption organization Whiskers-a-GoGo and has lived with more cats (and their problems) than I can count.
It sounds like you’ve tried every litter trick out there, but Eva suggested one more: sprinkling actual soil on top of litter. (I would suggest an empty planter filled with soil—I have one cat who would prefer to pee in my umbrella tree if I’d let him—but you would have to swap out the soil constantly, so it’s not a great long-term solution.)
You’ll likely have to take more extreme action, too. “Once the floor is smelly and soaked through, Beans will continue using it as a litter box, they are lucky his brother doesn’t follow suit,” Eva wrote to me. She suggested considering putting Beans in a cage with a litter box, either short-term (i.e, he sorts out his litter situation and you can set him free) or long-term (he stops peeing and pooping on your floor and your kids can take him out to play).
I know that a cage may sound barbaric, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, I had to cage all three of my cats when they had ringworm. It was an adjustment for my older cat, and he didn’t love it, but it was OK. My two kittens didn’t mind at all, and actually, it was key to one of them learning to use the litter box at almost a year old. (She was a stealth pooper before and it was a nightmare.) There are some pretty cool, sizable solutions out there that are made of easy-to-clean material. It might be hard to imagine curtailing Beans’ freedom, but it might also be critical to imagining your own.
Dear Faux Paws,
My parents are in their late-70s and live two states away from me. They have three semi-feral cats who started coming to their house for food as kittens. My parents were able to capture and spay/neuter them, but as the cats have grown, they have become larger and more skittish. My parents let the cats sleep inside overnight regularly. I have told my folks the cats need to be vaccinated, for their own safety and the safety of my parents. The cats have fleas and who knows what else. My dad recently had a debilitating skin infection requiring hospitalization and no one could find the source of the bacteria (I suspect the cats). My folks say they are physically unable to capture the cats to take them to the vet and that it’s none of my business. It is a huge source of stress and tension any time the subject comes up. Not to mention the number of songbirds these cats kill every year! What do I do? How can I get my helpless parents to see how important this is?
Dear Impending Cat-astrophe,
Part of me wants to tell you to just leave it to your parents to deal with but, as I mentioned in my previous note, I adopted kittens with ringworm and it spread to me, my kid, and my boyfriend and was really unpleasant if not dangerous. So, I think you have a legitimate concern for your parents here. The cats need to be fully checked out, vaccinated, dipped, and whatever else if they are going in and out of your parents’ home. I would suggest contacting a local trap-and-rescue organization and explaining your situation. Folks who volunteer with those groups are expert cat trappers and I bet that, given your goal is getting the cats to the vet, not to a shelter, they would help you out.
Dear Faux Paws,
Our cat (5 years old) is super mean. When it’s just my husband and me in our house she is OK (although we have our fair share of scratches) but to other people that come into our house, she’s awful. She hisses, tries to bite and scratch, and runs to attack if we don’t stop her. We want to have kids soon and we’re worried about how she will act toward a baby. Is there anything we can do to tame the beast?
—Scratched and Afraid
Dear Scratched and Afraid,
I hate hearing these stories, but a cat that scratches and bites is hard enough to deal with as an adult, and should not be around babies and small kids. Generally, my feeling is if you have adopted and committed to a cat they are yours no matter what. That said, there are times when people (or pets) may be in actual danger, or the anxiety and misery that comes with a scary (and scared) cat is just more than we can bear.
First, talk to your vet to make sure that there isn’t an underlying issue causing her agitation and aggression. If that’s all clear, you could consider a cage solution (see letter above) or isolating the cat in one room—but that’s really just to remove the danger element more than a long-term solution. Consulting a cat behaviorist is also an option (and it doesn’t have to be Jackson Galaxy, although watching some old episodes of “My Cat From Hell” might make you feel less alone in your struggle). Ask your vet for a referral.
A last resort would be looking for a new home for your cat, a calm place without children, with a patient owner who understands full-stop who they are taking in. I had a friend in a very similar situation. Her cat, Mama, was already sensitive and standoffish; when children were added to the mix it was not liveable. She was able to find a friend of a friend who was excited to take in Mama. They’ve been living happily ever since. Putting out a feeler on Instagram, or to a network of people you trust, would be the first step.
What I cannot endorse is surrendering your cat to a shelter. So please don’t do that. I really hope you can stop being scratched and afraid, and that your cat can find some calm, too.
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