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The Vine: December 16, 2015

Submitted by on December 16, 2015 – 12:38 PM20 Comments


I'm writing to you with yet another cat question as I know you've introduced new cats into your house at different times over the years.

(Longtime reader, and my husband the Cat Person owes you for convincing me to give cats a try in the first place.)

My husband and I adopted a pair of adult cats 11 years ago, and one of them passed away last month after a short, aggressive illness. It was, of course, the cat that chose me for his human, and I miss him so, so much. He was a great cat even if he did weird things like chew on my hair while I was asleep and lick rice cereal a/k/a library paste off the kids' high chair trays. While I'm sure other cats are wonderful in their own ways, I know there is not going to be another Cranky McBiterson. The other cat decided the day he moved in that my husband was his personal servant and seeks me out only when his preferred person is unavailable or I have something he'd like a bite of.

Left up to me alone, I'm not sure that I am ready for another cat. I think my husband will defer to whatever I want (though he is the Cat Person in our house, would be happy to have more of them, and thinks the remaining cat is lonely). While our elementary-school-aged kids have asked repeatedly about getting another cat, they're really not that into the one(s) we have/had, perhaps because the cats are older than they are and have always been Mom and Dad's pets and not theirs. (And years of "Don't pull the cat's tail/back the cat into a corner/shriek at the cat/lick the cat [yes, I know the cat licks himself, but that doesn't mean you can, too]/touch the cat while he's eating/etc.") It's the surviving cat that I worry about.

Which brings me to my actual question, which relates to companionship for our now-only cat, who is essentially Pinky without The Brain. (This cat always struck me as having a number of things in common with Little Joe, though he prefers Peeps to yogurt.) He is 12 years old, still active/playful, very sociable, and, being half-Siamese, chatty and freakin' LOUD. He is also, after gorging himself on the veritable buffet we put out for the sick cat to entice him to eat, fat. Really fat. We have no idea if he realizes his brother is gone, and, while he has been much more clingy than he used to be, we are not enduring mournful caterwauling at night. He's not any more destructive (than usual, thank goodness for replaceable Ikea sofa covers) and is behaving as normally as he ever has.

He is alone in he house for at least 8 hours 3-4 days a week. I get the sense that most cats are solitary, territorial creatures who may tolerate the presence of certain other cats, but this one seems to be part dog and enjoy company and attention. (I mean, he waits until someone is watching to dramatically throw himself on the floor and play dead, for god's sake, he wants attention.) And, after pointedly ignoring them for the past 8 years, he has even deigned to start acknowledging that our children exist because our younger one will pet, play with, and pay attention to him. We recently went away for a weekend, and the friend who always cat-sits for us mentioned that he seemed lonely and spent nearly a half-hour playing and being petted before turning to the food she put down.

So, how does one know when a pet "needs" a friend, given that, despite his Mabel-level conversational skills and volume, Pinky doesn't speak English? And, if we were to reach a point we would consider adding a second cat, how do you find another cat that can happily coexist with a weird, half-Siamese/half-dachshund hybrid that literally NARF!s when he plays and did not, after a decade of having his tail bitten on a semi-daily basis, know not to rub under the other cat's chin when food was on the line? I don't think we're kitten people, but is an adult cat going to put up with Pinky's nonsense? I assume that they also do not speak English and can't be interviewed for the position.

At least when I tell the human kids to "use their words" I understand what comes out of their mouths

Dear Human,

If you think he's lonely, he's probably lonely. It's sometimes a little harder to tell with a Siamese what's loneliness or plaintive "get me a friend" chatter and what's…just them sometimes acting kind of…simple? No offense, Siamese owners, but Hobey had an Abyssinian part and an intelligent part and those parts did not touch each other, so yeah.

Pinky's probably fine; if Little Joe hadn't come along, Hobey would have been fine too. Mabel would have been fine without Pearl. ("Um, NO KIDDING." – Mabel. "…Fwee?" – Pearl, hopefully.) But I think it's nice for a cat to have another creature in the house like him, even if they don't particularly like each other or really hang out, which has been the case with all the various cat-figurations in my…well, I was going to say "my adult life," but the cat pairs I grew up with barely tolerated each other.

I wouldn't necessarily go kitten. You're not home quite enough, I think, and while it sounds like your kids are old enough not to terrorize a tiny creature, it's sometimes better to skip the whole "this isn't tiny and cute anymore" portion of the program. But you're lucky because, in my experience, it's easier to get a reigning male cat to accept another cat than it is a reigning female. After a year and a half, Mabel and Pearl still hate each other; Pearl would like to sleep with us, but Mabel is Not Having That No Sirree, so Pearl spends many nights in the doorway of the bedroom, in a loaf shape, looking hopeful. I didn't have this problem with the Hobe and Joe — Hobey didn't like it, exactly, but he made room — and when Mabel came along, same thing. Joe tried to set boundaries a couple times, but Princess Micro was like "whatever Fats" and stepped right over him. I'm sure someone has had a good experience with an incumbent girl cat not giving a new arrival the business, but I find it's less likely.

So, maybe browse the local shelters or see if your vet knows about anyone looking to adopt out a grown kitty, or Google "Siamese rescue" — it sounds like a lot, but maybe you want to get another bonded pair so you don't have to send me this same letter again in 3-4 years. Not to be morbid, but…you know.

But you don't have to decide today, and if you do decide Pinky will just have to make do with evening companionship and the occasional looped DVD of mice and bees, well, he'll make do.

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  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Our current boos were literally from the same litter, adopted at the same time, and grew up together, and the "MY HEATER SPOT MINE" thing is still a daily–thing, so it's not like cats will be as the lion and the lamb no matter what the circumstances of the meeting.

    But shelters (good ones, anyway) can be very informative and helpful as to which of their feline guests needs what circumstances, so if you have one in town, it may be a good idea to contact them and describe yourresident alien in a cat suit and see if they have any similar ETs looking for exactly your setup.

  • Paula says:

    Here's my TL/DR comment: We have a one-year-old Siamese, Albert, who was definitely lonely. (All adult household plus one indifferent rescue Greyhound.) I heard about a breeder who was looking for a home for a six-year-old female Siamese who was no longer going to be profitable for her and so the cat was going to a shelter. (Do NOT get me started on THAT.) We adopted Miss Non-Profit as a potential buddy for Albert. It has been roughly six months since Phyllis came to live with us and she is still timid and skittish around humans and outright rude to Albert. (I now suspect her breeding years were not terribly kind to her, and she doesn't know what to do with her current good fortune and status as beloved pet/family member; See: Started On That, Don't Get Me). Albert wants to be friends, Phyllis hisses, spits, and runs away. Possibly Phyllis only sees Albert as a potential mate and all her previous experiences with males resulted in pregnancies and kittens who now never write or call, etc.

    Where WAS I going with this?

    I have resolved to only adopt older/senior rescues going forward but I now know they can come with baggage. I guess that was what I was saying: We wanted a pal for Albert; Phyllis hates his guts. There. That's my whole story in one sentence. Geez, I need an editor.

  • cayenne says:

    Beyond the biology/gender issue, I think it depends on the circumstances the remaining cat has experienced that can determine whether they accept a new housemate.

    My late monster had been rescued from an abusive household (acid scars on her face… sometimes I really hate people), and came to me after a short but traumatic stay with a friend who already had two cats who absolutely Did Not Like The Interloper Dammit, and she wouldn't defend herself against their attacks. When Priscilla arrived at my place, she had a tendency to peek around corners because her most recent experience had been to be ambushed by the other cats; it took months for her to lose that habit.

    After she finally got settled, some of her behaviours suggested that she might be lonely in the daytime (she would park herself on me as soon as I walked in and sat down, then not let me get up for hours), but after discussing it with the vet, I decided not to bring in a potential challenger or bully, and figured she would do best as the spoiled Only Cat of the house. And she did just fine, for fourteen years.

    tl,dr: Every Cat Is Different (sung to tune of "Every Sperm Is Sacred").

  • Jess says:

    I was in a similar situation after my late cat died. She was never properly socialized to either humans (besides me) or cats (I did not realize this was even a possibility until after she died), so she and my other cat weren't exactly friendly. Even so, Betty got fat and seemed sort of at a loss when she was an only cat.

    About six months after my first cat died, I adopted an adult Siamese mix who turned up at work. It took about six months for her to settle in, but now the two cats are friends. They play, they groom each other (a bonus! Betty has stopped looming over me as I sleep and scraping my eyebrows with her tongue since she's found someone who actually enjoys that), and they are at the moment snuggled up together on the couch. Adopting a second adult female cat worked for us, but Betty probably would have been fine as an only cat, too.

  • Karen says:

    We were adopted by an adult boy cat, and decided that he was lonely, so we got ANOTHER adult boy cat. A year later, the two monsters can tolerate each other, but there is still hissing, wrestling, and tufts of hair being removed. They don't ever draw blood, and I don't think either of them is ever HURT, but we aren't going to get a snuggly pile of kitties.

  • bluesabriel says:

    I would definitely second the point re: gender. I have a sibling pair about the age of Pinky. The boy is neurotic, needy, wants to be with us all the time, and desperately tries to play with his sister, who will have none of it. Ever. She's a very sweet little cat, but she's definitely the more stand-offish and only really enjoyed games of chase and wrestling when she was a kitten. Ditto to the relationship between the cats and the almost-three-year-old human interloper. While both of them pretended she didn't exist for the first year or so of her life, the boy has slowly come around and will rub up on her, etc, while the girl . . . continues to pretend she doesn't exist. Unless she has a fever of 102 and is curled up under a fleece blanket, in which case, yay, a soft heater!

    That's a long way of saying, based on my experience and stories from others, neutered males tend to me sweeter and more accepting, while neutered females can be a bit on the bitchy side. I would consider adopting a male buddy and talking about the shelter about personality.

  • ferretrick says:

    I don't have much on the acclimating cats front-never introduced a new arrival to exisiting cats. But I do want to say, if you aren't already, work on McBiterson's (love it) diet. Understand about needing to put out anything a sick one will eat, but that's over now. And you do NOT want to deal with a diabetic cat (or dog). Trust me on this one.

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    After my beloved Number One cat, a gorgeous, blind Snowshoe, passed away, and I realized Number Two didn't have much time (she was elderly), I thought Number Three, who was young and healthy, would need a companion. So I adopted Number Four.

    It turned out Number Three disagreed with the "companion" concept. He would have loved to have been an only cat, and was deeply displeased with the appearance of Number Four. (Number Four was an incredibly special cat who came from an abusive home. Sadly I only had him a year before a mystery illness took him, but he will always have a special place in my heart. FYI, I spent a fortune at the vet's trying to find out what was wrong, but there was nothing they could do.)

    As it happened, a week after I brought Number Four home, Number Five appeared by way of a neighbor. (He was a kitten put out by someone in the neighborhood, found by my cat-loving, rescuing neighbor, I was going to adopt him out… he's five now.)

    Number Two passed away after a long life, Number Four passed away after a short illness, Number Six was adopted as a companion to Number Five…

    Confused yet? Well, all this time later, I learned the following:

    1. Number Three would have loved to be an only cat.
    2. Number Five and Number Six get along great for the most part, but either would have been fine as an only cat.
    3. I should have gotten a dog.

    I love my furry boys, but good lord. They're very adaptable, and don't necessarily need what we think they do. However, check into local rescue groups – sometimes you can foster to adopt, and see how the new one gets along with the current one.

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    Also, I wanted to add – it's so nice to read stories by other posters above who adopted rescues who had behavioral issues because of abuse, but didn't give up on them. I was raised with the idea that when you take an animal, you take it for life. Good to see others out there who feel the same way. :)

  • Wehaf says:

    If your husband is the Cat Person, are you the Dog Person? And if so, is getting a dog an option? I know a lot of people who have found that, contrary to stereotypes, cats and dogs can get along really well. A chill older dog might be just what your Siamese/Dachsund mix doesn't know he's hoping for. I don't have any direct experience with this, but I imagine that your local shelter can give you guidance, if you want to explore the canine possibilities.

  • Meagen says:

    Some shelters will allow you to foster prior to adoption to see if the animals get along well. That's what I did when I was looking for a companion for my young lady cat. I thought she might enjoy having other young cats around, so I fostered some cats around her age. That did NOT work. So I went for a fully grown adult male the second time around. They don't get along perfectly, but they get along and I wound up with another adult cat in my life. So see if you can find a shelter that is willing to let you foster before you adopt. It will save you a lot of grief.

  • cayenne says:

    @Mingles' Mommy – I completely agree about the "adopt the cat, it's yours for life" idea, and that should include "for better or for worse" statements. Honestly, it might be tempting sometimes, but people don't all get rid of their kids because the kids have problems – they try to work through them. So why immediately give up a pet? Aren't they family, too?

    For me, the peeking around doorways was the least of my monster's behavioural problems relating to the abuse. It took a long time for her to settle in, more than a year, as if she was expecting things to go south and didn't want to get her hopes up. Once she finally accepted that her situation was permanent – and safe – she was very possessive of me: followed me everywhere, cried at the door when I left for work and scolded me when I came home, and was very clingy, always sitting on me, grooming me, or touching me in some way. No one except me was allowed to touch her face – the vet once got clawed bloody when he tried, so checkups were tricky. Though never hostile to strangers, she did not like humans other than me, with the exception of my late great-uncle Harry, with whom she had a mutual adoration society. There were frequent food gulping/barfing events all her life. She had litter box issues for months after her arrival, and I was expecting that, so it wasn't a total nightmare (unlike the end of her life, when she developed vicious IBS and: yikes). Other than the occasional game of chase-the-ribbons, she didn't like to play – no toys ever engaged her.

    In a way, she was really lucky she was dealing with a newbie cat mom who didn't know any better and figured this was just the way it went, rather than get impatient and give up; I'm glad, because I would've missed out on a wonderful, sweet, affectionate cat.

  • Susan says:

    I will second the idea that dogs and cats can get along really well. We had a German Shepard/Australian Shepard mix that started feeding a kitten that lived in the canyon behind our house. He would let her in the garage and then bring out some dog food for her.

    When my dad left on a business trip he told us not to let the cat into the house. We stopped for a litterbox on the way home from dropping him at the airport.

    Dusty(dog) and Slurpy(cat) got along great for the next 15 years. Slurpy was a small cat, 7.5lbs, and loved having an enforcer to keep all other cats out of her territory and keep coyotes away from our fence.

    It was fun to watch Dusty chase her and when she got done playing she would just sit down. Poor dog practically flipped over trying to stop.

    I will say neither was excited when we got a new puppy when they were 15 and 14. Slurpy would hide, then meow until the puppy came looking and she would take a swipe with all her claws out.

  • Pinky's Mom says:

    Hi, all, I am the one who wrote the above letter to Sars, so I thought I'd provide an update.

    About a month after I wrote to Sars, we got a year-old, male foster cat. (We are big fans of fostering — Pinky and Scratchy were a "bonded pair" we fostered before adopting. In their case "bonded" meant Pinky loved Scratchy, and Scratchy had not yet killed Pinky.) So, the foster cat was wonderful… with everyone except Pinky. He was, we'll call it "aggressively playful" with old Pinks, and it was just too much. We thought they'd reached a detente and could co-exist, but then, one day, my husband forgot to put the foster cat up before he went to work and came home to found Pinky in a pool of pee and unable to move his hind legs. Best we have determined, we think he was running from the foster cat to hid under our bed and either hit the doorframe or fell back-first off the bed. Anyway, that was a 2-day kitty ICU stay, a very expensive MRI, and a diagnosis of a spinal contusion. Pinky spent about 3 weeks confined to a large dog cage and pretty much had to relearn how to walk with his back legs. He is on the mend and can walk again, but we have built stairs out of plastic shoe boxes to the couch and bed as his jumping is still not great and his control of his back feet is a work in progress. He is otherwise very healthy, according to the plethora of veterinary specialists we have seen. I weep to think about how much we have spent at the vet this year between Scratchy's terminal illness and Pinky's accident — probably more than the routine and dental care they'd received in the previous decade we'd had them combined.

    We did realize, though, that we enjoyed fostering. We currently have a bonded pair of 18-month old males. They were raised in the kitten room at the rescue, and they love other cats. Pinky still side-eyes them but has tolerated them thus far. I don't know if we'll keep them permanently, but we at least have them in a home rather than a pet store adoption center or a vet's boarding facility.

    Also, to respond to some of the comments — we did cut Pinky's food back after Scratchy McB. passed away. Pinky got up over 16 lbs. a few years ago, and the vet had already warned us about the risks of kitty obesity, so we were on that and got him back down to a healthy weight quickly. He has lost weight as a result of his injury as well. Second, I am not a dog person at all. As Sars noted re kittens, we aren't at home enough for a higher-needs animal — I have a demanding job plus commute, and we have kid school- and activity-related stuff all the time. My husband also actively dislikes dogs.

  • Sharon says:

    Some cats are solo acts; others can tolerate another cat. Sounds like Pinky is OK on his own, but would probably like some feline companionship.

    I agree with the other posters who have said the shelter / rescue organization typically will know if a cat needs to be solo or can tolerate other cats, dogs, children, etc.

    I have a male / female pair (litter mates) that I adopted about 8 years ago. They get along with each other just fine, but the female cat would literally lose her shit when a feral came near the window. So… when my tenants left an adorable black cat behind when they moved out earlier this year, I figured I would take her in temporarily until I could re-home her.

    My existing male cat fell absolutely in LOVE with the new little girl and the feeling seems to be mutual. She has totally energized him and it's been great for both of them. Existing female cat… not so much. We are at the point where the ladies tolerate each other, but at least there are no claws drawn or anything. The two ladies cannot be on the bed together and they certainly won't snuggle like the male cat does with both of them (hehe, what a scoundrel!) but they are not aggressive with each other.

    Anyway, give it a shot and see what happens. Worst case, the rescue organization or shelter will take the new one back.

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    @Pinky's Mom – So sorry to hear about poor Pinky. I have friends who foster and they've had to deal with some issues when a younger, more playful cat comes in and drives the older cats crazy. I hope he's on the mend. I feel your pain – my biggest expenses in life have been vet bills.

    I think it's wonderful that you're fostering. Here's hoping you find a new permanent friend for Pinky (who ultimately may decide that being a solo cat is a very, very good thing, especially after his recent experience).

  • OneoftheJanes says:

    I'm surprised, given the cat love around here, that I haven't yet seen a reference to, especially the blog. She writes extensively about how to add a new cat in several posts that are gathered under this tag:

    I will never be able to reach the depth of her commitment, but her observations are really shrewd and thoughtful.

  • Another Karen says:

    My parents went through this with their cat. He was the kitten we kept from the litter, and his mom (naturally) died when he still had a few years ahead of him. He'd always had company, and was naturally very affectionate. They tried getting a kitten for "company", but poor ol' Senior Resident Cat did not like that at ALL. Our other cat had always called the shots, so he had NO idea how to be in charge or keep a snot-nosed youngster in line. Nor did he want to learn. Nary an alpha bone in his body, Senior Resident Cat was stuck in Oh God Is That Kid Still Here mode. He resented the kitten's exuberant presence, even though a couple swats on the snoot would have settled things. After a while, my parents gave Kitten to a friend of theirs. Senior Resident Cat spent his remaining golden years solo.

    TL;DR: Sometimes the surviving cat doesn't want to be in charge. Or handle change. Or do much besides vacuum up kibble.

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    @cayenne – sounds like she was a special girl. RE: the vet – one of my boys is feisty but fairly mellow unless you try to make him do something he doesn't want to do (have his claws – VERY GENTLY AND CAREFULLY – clipped; move when you're trying to make the bed; be touched by a non-family member).

    I warned the vet before our last check-up that they'd need gloves. 10 minutes into the visit, all hell broke loose and you better believe they got the gloves out.

    He got over the visit… I'm not sure they did. (LOL)

  • Christy says:

    I volunteer at Fearless Kitty Rescue in AZ. The one thing I love about this rescue is, if something happens or the cat doesn't work out, we gladly take them back into the rescue.

    That being said, I adopted sibling (female/male) black cats 7 years ago. They love each other but also play and he stalks her which ends up with lots of hissing and piles of hair. Then, I went in on a Sunday to get our new nursery ready and fell in love with an all white kitten.

    He's been here 6 months (he was born in April) and they tolerate and play with each other but it's on the terms of the older two. Now that he's almost as big as the adult male it's gotten a little more aggressive. Both males like to stick their noses in her rear which drives me insane.

    I must admit, most of our returns are because they need to be solo cats. We love them all for as long as they are with us!!! Good luck!!

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