I don’t think of my cat as my baby.
That’s not to say I don’t love the floof-demon a stupid amount or take my responsibility of his wellbeing seriously, I just don’t think of our relationship as parent-child. I don’t mind if other people think of their pets as their children or fur-babies or whathaveyou, but as he’s an adult cat and I’m not trying to raise him to be a functional member of society with an independent existence, for me, it just feels jarring. I tend to say he’s my eccentric housemate, but even that’s not quite right.
I think pet relationships are different. Not worse, not unimportant, still family, still people. But … different. It’s because pets are inherently a whole other species with different bodies and different brains and different goals.
Mostly, this just makes them seem even more amusing and loveable. However, there are downsides. The big, annoying thing is that it is impossible, and will always remain impossible no matter their age, to communicate complex information clearly.
I mean, sure, there are cat-human phrase-books, and that means I can know that if my cat twitches his tail he is in a MOOD and needs extra personal space, and I can know that slow blinks show love and trust and make sure to do it back to him. Meanwhile, he can learn that breakfast happens when humans wake up and the first thing that happens when humans wake up is the beside lights turn on, and therefore if he was to turn on our bedside lights it will send a very clear message that it’s time for breakfast.
But it’s difficult to convey much more than that. So, for example, he couldn’t tell me when he started having trouble peeing. I just had to notice.
And I couldn’t explain why he needed to get in the dreaded cage.
He had cystitis.
This wasn’t terrible on its own, but a potential outcome was for his urinary tract to get blocked. If that happened, he would need medical—probably surgical—help fast, or he would die.
Hearing that scared me.
Because that’s the other thing about inter-species friendships. Different animals live on wildly different timelines. I am aware that (unless something dramatic occurs and I die very early) I will have to deal with my cat’s death at some point. But he’s not even three years old yet. It shouldn’t be now. It never occurred to me it could be now.
I spent an anxious few days following him around, making sure I was picking up on any discomfit he tried to communicate, examining his litter for wet patches every time I heard him dig in it, and generally behaving like a stalker. He gave me some funny looks, but he didn’t get blocked. The only medical help he ended up needing was anti-inflammatory meds, a special diet, and some time. Although the vet also recommended that my partner and I up his water intake.
We tried. We really did. But explaining the importance of hydration is a bit too complex for blinks.
It’s not that our cat dislikes water. He loves water. He loves water a stupid amount. I have photographic evidence of him having a delightful time belly-deep in what was supposed to be my relaxing bath before he stole it. The problem is he likes water too much, because most of what he does with his water bowl is splash.
It was hilarious at first, but that’s because at first he hadn’t caused water-damage to any of the nearby furniture and we thought he would grow out of it. Now he is very much an adult cat, and he will not drink without splashing a glass-worth of water all over the floor.
Nevertheless, we were determined to follow the vet’s advice. I investigated and found that some cats splash because they prefer to drink from running water sources. We rushed out to buy him a water fountain, hoping he would drink more from it.
He did not.
I tried putting it on a tray so at least it wouldn’t splash all over the floor.
He splashed it out of the tray.
For the first week he had this fountain, I had to refill it almost every day. In all that time, I never saw him drink from it. Eventually, having almost given up on it, I unplugged fountain for an ironing emergency. Later that day…
Still, the fountain has not been a success. He does drink very occasionally, but it’s clear he sees it as his personal water park.
The most effective water-intake tactic so far has been to trick him with food. He loves and will never opt out of food (and honestly, hard same). The best trick is to mix a little extra water in with his wet-food dinners. He loves food so much he doesn’t care if it’s basically cold soup.
We’ve also been having communication issues at the other end of the water-cycle.
He’s never been a particularly neat cat. He’s one of the ones that kicks litter everywhere.
And while he doesn’t have accidents all over the house, his aim could use work.
Unable to just ask him to please not, we found a practical solution and got him a taller box. He doesn’t kick out as much litter and there was no way he could pee over the side.
Or so we thought.
Because since the cystitis episode…
At first, we assumed he was just peeing next to the box. I feel like this was a reasonable conclusion to jump to. We moved the box to cover that exact spot, but again, we kept finding pee just slightly to one side. We re-cleaned the problem area as thoroughly as possible. No effect on the prevalence of puddles. We tried all kinds of tricks and tips to re-train cats with litter problems. Nothing worked. And then one day I saw him digging in a very odd position.
Now, before continuing I want it on record that by this point my partner and I were frustrated by the constant pee-mopping, perplexed that nothing was working, worried our cat was sick or unhappy or both, and generally desperate to figure out the answer. We couldn’t just see what he was doing in his litter because he’s pee-shy and jumps away from the box if we show the slightest interest. We were in educated guess territory with no compass. Right?
Because I thought it was this configuration:
But that’s the thing about inter-species housemates, isn’t it? You’re living with a completely alien mind.
Not only can you not ask it what’s wrong, not only can you not explain how things should be done, but it’s reasons for doing stuff might be entirely strange to you. For example, the way he holes up in the tin cupboard whenever we open it. There’s no cat food in there. All the human-food is in tins and packets—not nibbly. He doesn’t do it to any other cupboard. And yet, whenever that cupboard door opens, he will hurricane across the house to leap inside.
Does that specific cupboard smell nice? Would he do it to any cupboard hypothetically but isn’t able to generalise the experience? Is it fun? Does he just enjoy our reactions? We might never know.
So we rolled with my outlandish guess about his peeing habits and wondered if it might be because we had changed litter brands. It was very similar to the old one, but it wasn’t exactly the same. Perhaps it felt different on his paws, and he wasn’t just trying to use the litter while touching it with as few feet as possible.
We got him his old litter and another new litter, and we put two boxes down so he could choose and we could see which he preferred…
We were out of ideas, so it was lucky that around that time, by complete fluke, we saw what was happening.
Our cat is not doing litter-box yoga. He starts out normally, then transitions into spray-mode and by the end he’s just standing upright with pee going horizontally right over the side of the box in a huge jet. It’s not the usual way cats mark things. He’s trying to pee normally into the litter and failing.
I was scared it was the cystitis again, or something worse, that he would get blocked and not be able to tell me something was wrong. That he would die too soon.
We got a pee sample and went back to the vet.
…. He’s fine. His spraying behaviour might have been established as a response to the discomfit of the cystitis, and it’s just a bad habit now. Unless we suspect it’s caused by significant anxiety (which does not seem to be the case), he doesn’t need meds. Since it’s only in his litter and he’s not trying to mark things, it’s probably not due to visiting cats bothering him. And as we can’t explain to him why it’s not awesome for us, there isn’t much we can do to stop him.
The solution is just an even taller litter box and puppy pads.
And mopping up a lot of pee.