The Feline Water Cycle

3 panels. First panel: I am sitting in front of a window, typing on my laptop. My cat is sleeping on the couch arm. Outside the window, another cat runs across a road. Second panel: the cat thunks up against the window and meows at my cat, who wakes up. Third panel: my cat and the other cat start meowing loudly to each other. I put on headphones.

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.

cat turns on beside light in the middle of the night. Cartoon people flail in eye-searing horror

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.

I am on the phone holding a card that says "local vet". In the background there is a cat in a littler box looking like it is in pain. A voice from the phone says "Yeah, that's bad in cats. Can you bring him in right now?"

And I couldn’t explain why he needed to get in the dreaded cage.

I am trying to get my cat into a cage, but he is climbing my face. I am yelling "LET ME HELP YOU"

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.  

cat makes little splash in water bowl

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.

cat makes big splash in water bowl

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.

Cat makes really big splash in fountain

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.

Cat making ridiculously big splash so water goes all over the floor.

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…

3 panels. In first panel, cat is meowing at me from behind an unplugged fountain. In second panel, I plug the fountain in. In the third panel, the cat looks at me. Leads into next image ...
3 panels. First panel, cat splashes the water. Second panel, time has passed. I am reading a book as the cat continues to splash on the other side of the room. Third panel, more time has passed. There is water all over the floor. I look up to see the cat lapping from the fountain.

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.

Problem solved!

Sort of.

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.

Everywhere.

EVERYWHERE.

Cat in litter. Litter has been kicked all over the floor and creates the word "everywhere"

 And while he doesn’t have accidents all over the house, his aim could use work.

Cat sitting in litter box and peeing over the edge onto the floor.

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…

Me and my cat face each other in front of a litter box. There is a puddle of pee right next to the box. I am not amused.

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?

Good.

Because I thought it was this configuration:

Cat is on forelegs in litter, but it's backlegs are on the edge of the (quite high) box, and it is peeing on the ground.

Look.

I know.

Ridiculous.

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.

Why?

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…

Me and my cat face each other in front of two litter boxes. They butt up against each other, and yet somehow there is pee on the floor between them. I am incredulous and very unimpressed.

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.

And …

…. 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.

3 panels. First panel, I am sitting in front of a window. My cat is on the arm of the couch. I say "You're lucky you're cute". Outside the window a different cat is running across a road. Second panel: same scene. Cat boops my nose. I look unamused. Outside the window a car goes past. Third panel. Same scene. Outside the window worried people are converging. I notice. Leads into next image ...
A series of panels. Three small panels show: the couch without me sitting in it, the front door opening, me shocked. Final large panel shows: people gathered around something. A women puts a cloth over something, a cat tail is poking out. She says "It would have been quick". Leads into next image...
3 panels. First panel: I am back inside, looking at my cat. Outside the window, the people walk away. Second panel: my cat steps onto my lap and I say "Your friend is dead." Third panel: the cat curls up and purs loudly in my lap.

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33 thoughts on “The Feline Water Cycle

  1. I don’t do cats, so I am glad of your finely illustrated tales of the efforts, and frustrations, involved with cat ownership (possibly ‘stewardship’ in reality) to reinforce my correctness on this point.

    Dogs are, of course, entirely easy and have no such complications to them. Except mine doesn’t seem to like clean water out of bowls either, preferring dirty puddles at the side of the road or muddy pools in the forests, with ensuing vets bills for clearing some sort of horrific water-borne infection and admonishment for not being careful enough with her.

    But her hopping up on my lap, obscuring my view of my laptop screen and stopping me typing to demand some attention is still a good enough reason for me to forget the complications of life fore a bit and see how simple it should be really.

  2. Your cartoons are brilliant. Thank you for them.

    On the cat side, coming from several decades of experience with cats, one question: do you have the water and the food in entirely separate places, far away from each other? Sometimes that helps.

  3. This is all too familiar a stressful situation, but the illustrations made it absolutely hilarious. I had a very sweet boy who used to contort his body to hang his business outside the litter box entrance and then pee or poop with wild abandon. It was funny the first time I saw him do it. As you know – the first time is always funny. ;)

  4. Only you can bring a story about cat peeing problems to life like you do with those illustrations. I know it must be frustrating but I was laughing the whole time, sorry. I hope your cat can get back to a more “regular” routine soon.

    1. We tried one early on (and it was originally part of the story but it seemed repetitive when I was editing so I cut it). He did use it, but there were three issues. 1) he still kicked quite a bit of litter straight out the opening. 2) sometimes he peed with his rear hanging out the opening. 3) when he peed inside but against it’s wall, it trickled down and out the join between the base and the cover pieces. It was slightly better than a low, uncovered box, but in the end, a tall box was much more effective (and probably a bit nicer for him, as I imagine a covered box is a bit like a porta-potty).

      1. Oy. Cats. My kitty disappeared on Sunday and I was heartbroken by the time she showed up again on Wednesday… With a broken tail. I suspect dogs but really don’t know for sure what happened. So now she hates all of us, getting her to the vet was a nightmare, and I’m in the mode of “how badly do you need this stupid tail anyway?” I love my animals but sometimes they are hard work!

      2. Well, she’s loaded up with pain meds, and she actually seems content in the Great Dane sized crate I’ve set up for her in our bedroom. So she’s no longer cussing me out every time I walk past her. But if she’s to regain the use of her tail rather than having it amputated she has a long recovery ahead of her, and I know she will be deeply displeased that she has to spend it indoors.

    1. Oh gosh! Thank you so much!

      … okay so here’s the thing. I have a long standing policy of not doing these awards. They work very poorly with my usual format. I’m sorry. But I do really, really appreciate being nominated, and I always try to answer the questions on the nomination posts. I’m not sure I can add illustrations to comments on other people’s blog-posts, though. I’ll look into it? And then comics take time. I’ll definitely end up answering the questions at least!

      1. Totally understand! I can imagine that to do comics for that would eat up a big portion of your time. I was just being selfish. :) The real point was to recognize you as the awesome person you are! If you want to just answer the questions I’d love to read the answers.

  5. What a terrific read! Thank you for this. I’ve had 3 cats and each of them had completely different personalities. I wish I’d had things to read such as your post to let me know that my cats’ strange behavior was completely normal. Our latest cat is truly special-needs (that is not a joke; she truly is), but she is sweet and we love her and we’ve adapted our expectations of her to be more accepting and understanding of her un-cat-like behaviors. It’s a win-win.

    Thanks again for sharing your tales with us all.

    1. It’s amazing how different pets can be (although, not really, when you think about how different humans can be). I thought I knew what I was getting into with our cat because my family had a cat when I was growing up. They even looked similar. But nope. Totally different personalities. I’ve really loved working out his quirks and finding a rhythm with him.

      1. I agree! We tend to expect dogs to all act alike or all cats to act alike, but they are all individuals. It certainly makes owning a pet like spinning a roulette wheel! One never really knows what one is getting into until they’ve had the pet for months or years.

  6. My friends who have cats keep telling me to get a cat (I don’t have pets currently) but it’s stories like this (especially getting unceremoniously woken up early in the morning) that make me not so sure 😅
    I mean, I like other people’s cats but I like sleeping in on weekends. I also like not cleaning up cat piss.
    Hope your feline friend/housemate/ whatever you call it stays healthy!

  7. This had me laughing so much! As for the drinking… try putting something he used to like drinking, on the tip of your finger and let him lick. It’ll take a long time, but might be worth it. I’m allergic to cats, but have done this from time to time (when I shouldn’t have been anywhere near them, but as I adore the nutty creatures….)

  8. My Kit likes to drink stagnant water from outside 🤦‍♀️ When he broke his leg and was cage bound, Mum started buying him cat soup so that he would get more fluid. Now he has a soup and a main course for breakfast. I’m fairly certain he’s a hobit. He’s small, fury, has multiple breakfasts and I did rescue him from Isenguard (my university is thought to be the inspo).

      1. Well there’s some debate over if its isenguard or mordor. Basically we have the world’s tallest free-standing clock tower and it has an illuminated face, so some recon it’s the eye of sauron. But I’ve seen both written down.

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