Dear Dr. Fox:
We adopted our cat, Barcelona, from the humane society 10 years ago. Although initially cowering and shy, he has become a sweet, chatty member of the household. Once that happened, we attempted (about eight years ago) to bring a spayed female in to provide him with companionship.
Their start was rocky, but they got along fairly well after the first month or so. After that they became territorial about the litter box, and it became their battleground. Eventually their hissing and going to the bathroom throughout the house became intolerable, and we returned the sweet but feisty female to the Humane Society, knowing that since she was gorgeous and young, she'd soon be adopted.
Now we would like to try again to find a companion for Barcelona, thinking that perhaps now that he's older he might tolerate and get pleasure from a young cat. However, with our past experience and his current fussiness about his litter box (since his attack of and recovery from cystitis), we wonder if this plan would work. We'd appreciate your advice.
P.J.H., Silver Spring
One of the tricks in keeping the peace in a home where there are two or more cats is to make sure there are places where the cats can get out of each other's sight when they need "visual space."
This is especially critical for some cats around eating, sleeping and toilet areas. So putting up a small screen or panel between two or more litter boxes and food bowls can be of great help in avoiding feline conflict.
You must also constantly supervise the cats when they first come together, ideally keeping the new cat in a separate room for a few days (with brief periods of supervised interaction) so that they get used to each other's scents and sounds.
If possible, put a cat gymnasium or well-secured long tree branch in the corner of one room for one or both cats to be able to "go vertical." Cats often feel more secure when they are off the ground and able to look down on the world.
With patience and vigilance your success in bringing in a feline companion for Barcelona will surely be rewarded by a happier and healthier cat. Also, Barcelona might lose some weight chasing his new playmate through the house -- which, generally, is not a bad thing.
Dear Dr. Fox:
My 16-year-old cat has changed her routine since I retired a year ago. She now insists on being fed her wet food starting about 4 a.m. until I give up and get out of bed to feed her at 5 a.m. In days gone by, she would get up at the same time I did -- at 8 a.m.
I have tried to ignore her, but that only makes her meow even louder. Also, she's increased her exercise -- on my body -- now walking its entire perimeter in an attempt to wake me. If I don't respond, she'll put her face into mine and meow very loudly. (I try not to laugh -- but it is funny.)
Giving her dinner and a late snack has not stopped this behavior. Any suggestions, other than my going away for a few days?
N.H., Montgomery Village
Try feeding your cat a little dry food from a container or some moist food from a cooler, both of which you keep by your bedside. Put them in a heavy bowl that your cat can't push around on a mat beside your bed.
Then roll over and go back to sleep. Both cats and dogs, as they age, develop signs akin to human senile dementia, including insomnia, restlessness and anxiety. Your cat is no exception.
You should have a full physical done on your feline companion and have her thyroid activity evaluated. If she's physically sound but her early morning awakenings and hyperactivity get worse, you may want to put her on a light dose of Valium or similar medication right before bedtime.
Then, if the early-morning bedside feeding doesn't shut her up, you both might still get a good night's sleep.
Michael Fox, author of many books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him, in care of United Feature Syndicate, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
(c)2003, United Feature Syndicate