ON LIVING IN A HOME
WITH MULTIPLE ANIMALS
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Before you go getting any romantic ideas about how much fun it would be to have a house full of kitty cats, here's a little reality check, in the form of a cost chart for the four young, reasonably healthy cats we have in our household. This does not include initial costs (i.e., the $45 adoption fee and $40 discounted spay for Tink; the $100 blood tests and spay for Doodle; the $65 adoption fee for an already neutered Gord; the $100 blood tests and spay for Squeek; also doesn't include the microchip implant each animal has, at an estimated $70 a crack, including the registration fee with the AKC):
|Per cat||$250 per year|
|@ 4 cats||$1,000 per year|
|Per cat||$100 per year|
|@ 4 cats||$ 400 per year|
|Vet Visits***||$100 per year|
|@ 2 cats||$ 200 per year|
|@ 2 cats||$ 400 per year|
|$75 per year|
|@4 cats||$ 300 per year|
|TOTAL||$2,300 per year|
Please note that this does not include Max, but it
probably won't be ridiculous to figure another $500 per year for him. Because he was
already neutered, and because the shelter from which we adopted him runs primarily on
contributions and adoption fees, his adoption was steeper than either Tink's or Gord's --
$100. On his first vet visit, besides his shots, because he had serious diarrhea we
paid for a fecal smear to find out he had giardia and got a two-week supply of
Metronidazole (Flagyl). Fortunately, this was the problem and the medication worked.
I figure we were in for closer to $200 on Max, though, when all was said and done
and he'd been adopted, chipped, shot and treated for his parasite. Oh, yeah -- he
also started shedding tapeworms at about the two week point. But that was reasonably
inexpensive -- one dose of Droncit usually takes care of those.
Max's food is cheaper than the cats' food, ounce for ounce, and because Max is not an enormous dog -- he probably won't ever weigh much more than twenty pounds -- he doesn't eat an astonishing amount of it. But Max has to have a constant supply of chewy treats -- Booda velvet chips and sticks and Greenies are his favorites -- or he will chew shoes and underpants, socks, plastic bottle caps, toilet paper, paper towels ... and this only in three months. Max is a very inventive and ambitious dog.
What I'm getting at here is this: while it is rewarding, and makes us feel better about the world to have done the kindness of taking in five animals who didn't have homes, it is a considerable expense. We don't take them to a 'gourmet vet' -- it's a regular suburban vet, about average in price as compared to other vet clinics in town, and the animals like the people who care for them. They eat Iams foods (mostly because Iams is very kind to the shelter where Tony and I volunteer, and all four cats will eat it); they poop in Tidy Cats scoop litter, which isn't premium litter by any stretch of the imagination. As sanctimonious and paranoid as some people can afford to be about the food they feed their cats, or the litter their cats shit in, all four of our cats will (usually) use the litter we use and (always) eat the food we feed. Even considering all those things -- it's expensive to have this many animals and to care for them properly; give them balanced food and good veterinary care. It's not for the cheap, financially unstable or faint of heart to have this many animals in your house.
It is fun to study the dynamics, though. Something had damned well better be fun about it, right?
Tink was an imperious cat from the very start. She was the only cat for nearly two years, so of course she got her way as much as anybody who wasn't bringing home a paycheck in our family did -- which was to say, she was the boss of the cat department, and she ruled it with an iron claw.
Then, along came Doodle. Doodle subscribes to 'Manipulative Cat Weekly.' She could write a regular column on twisting the humans around the end of her tail -- she's a qualified expert. I have never been around a cat who could so quickly and effectively inspire guilt in me. Doodle knows where the buttons are, and she's quite good at pushing them. Even now, three additional animals down the road, Doodle still gets special protection for her meals (well, she's about even with Squeek, now, but as long as we don't 'throw her to the lions,' she doesn't care), still gets more sympathy than anybody else when the other animals horn in on her play time, and still gets to take me on "tours" of the house that usually consist of walking from window to window, staring out into the suburban dimness of the quiet street out front and the quiet yard out back, late in the evenings. After all this time, I still feel like if I could have picked one cat, of the four we have, to have been the only one -- it would be Doodle. Tony thinks it's a 'middle kid' thing, with me -- Doodle being the middle cat, now both by order of birth and by order of entry, I identify with her more. She never challenged the status quo, with Tink -- Tink was (and still is) the alpha cat. She's the oldest, the biggest and the strongest, and she's been here longer than the rest. Doodle has always seemed perfectly comfortable with this. She's not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, and she seems to know this, so letting Tink be the boss has never made her rebellious. The only thing that has, so far, has been the entry of the other two cats -- and at that, Doodle spent a few days each time in a huff, snarling at us when we tried to pet her, then shrugged and got over it once she realized she was still my favorite.
Gord appears to have been willing to settle on Tink's alpha cat status, too, but he sees 'gamma cat' (his official place in the chronological 'cats coming into the house' hierarchy, but as we know, those are mutable things) as a constantly evolving position -- or, as corporations will advertise, 'potential for advancement.' He often bullies both Tink and Doodle off perches, sofas and other places of rest -- usually catching them when they are sleeping, so they're too logy to mount a defense. But he will lower his head to Tink to be groomed, and it is not, as it is with Doodle, the prelude to a wrestling match -- it's a social sign that he defers to her, in the deepest sense, regardless of the fact he's the only (nominally) male cat in the household. He will allow Doodle to groom him, but he grooms her, too -- and most grooming sessions, regardless who starts them, wind up with the two of them tearing through the house, with Gord often twisting Doodle into a howling, hissing pretzel. It's not so much that he's hurting her, we don't think -- Doodle starts with the howling and hissing when he's cornered her, long before he lowers the boom. She resents the fact that he feels he can stalk her with impunity, and the knowledge that when he does, he will always pin her to the floor because he's bigger and stronger.
Squeek doesn't seem to care much about the cat hierarchy. Because she's small, and because we've already deferred the one truly good place for a small cat to eat to Doodle long ago, Squeek has been under a program of creative free-feeding. We have a TV tray set up near our computers in a corner of the family room. I keep a small container of dry kibble there. When Squeek jumps up on the TV tray and talks to me, I give her a small handful of kibble. Most of the time, she eats it. This works reasonably well, because it's within shoving distance -- if any of the bigger cats (which is to say Gord and Tink, since Doodle is generally satisfied with the quantity of food she gets) even attempts to horn in while Squeek is there, s/he is pushed back to the floor. If food is there and either of the enormous, furry lump cats jumps up, I just gather the food up and put it back in the container. If Doodle jumps up while there's food there -- which isn't really all that common -- I take about half of it back, because unlike Tink and Gord, Doodle isn't overweight and is active enough she probably won't ever be. If she gets a little extra kibble now and then, it won't hurt her, and she won't associate Squeek with being deprived of food (a good thing, since Doodle tends to be jealous). Doodle never jumps up on the table when Squeek is on it, eating. She pretty much ignores Squeek unless Squeek makes overtures to her. Squeek has so much fun trying to twist Gord's head off, she doesn't bother with Tink or Doodle much; she seems to realize the greatest magnanimity in any of the cats belongs to Gord, at least where she is concerned. Of course, Squeek doesn't care if she's the 'gamma cat' or the 'delta cat' or the 'omega cat' as long as she gets to eat when she wants and has bags to kill.
Another entertaining sort of game we play is 'kibble hockey,' which consists of one of us flipping single chunks of cat kibble across a light-colored surface (the family room rug, the tiles in the kitchen) so that Squeek can 'kill' them and eat them. She's the strangest little beast I ever saw about food. After batting a piece of kibble around, often she will pick it up in a cupped paw and lift it to her mouth. I have heard of cats doing this, but Squeek is the first I've had who did it. She will not, no matter how hungry she is, simply pick up kibble out of a bowl or off a plate -- it must be on the floor. If we give it to her in a bowl, she will sit and pick out each individual piece, bat it around on the floor, pick it up and eat it. If delivered on a plate, usually she manages to step on the plate, scattering the food all over the floor, before she will eat it. This is, to say the least, inconvenient in a house with two enormous lump cats -- while Tink and Gord will not go out of their way to intimidate Squeek away from her food, they will step in and eat everything that's not in her mouth.
I have yet to come up with a better way than free-feeding her at my elbow, on a table, so I can just shove the furry Michelin twins down if they try to get at it. As little angst as Doodle seems to have over Squeek, I can't think it wouldn't inspire a bout of hissing if we tried to feed Squeek anywhere near her, and besides, Doodle is happy to eat on the bar between the kitchen and dining room -- a spar out from the wall that's only about 18" wide. This would trouble Squeek, because she wouldn't be able to knock the food out on the surface to eat it without knocking it to the kitchen floor (and feeding the Weight Watcher cats, in the process), and besides, the bar is the same color as the kibble (so she wouldn't be able to stalk it very well). Any suggestions?
Tink fears and abhors Max, alternately. She fears him enough that she never comes within six inches of him, physically. She will, on occasion, track him down somewhere in the house to hiss and spit at him for a minute or so, then she will go back to kipping somewhere warm or shitting on the floor three inches from the entry to the litter box in the downstairs bathroom, like she often does. She cannot 'alpha' him, and Max isn't the alpha dog in the house -- I am. Tony is, too. We are the big dogs. Max doesn't give a tinker's damn what the cats think, as long as they aren't biting his nose or eating his food, though he can be a little jealous if Gord and Doodle decide they want attention, especially if they want to sit in our laps.
An interesting aside to this -- cats don't see humans as part of their hierarchy in the household like dogs do, at least in general. I've heard Maine Coon cats are a little more hierarchical in the dog sense than regular 'moggy' cats, and there may be other purebred cats, or cats that have accustomed themselves to more herd-oriented situations, but in general, cats are more freestyle about such things. Doodle is the only cat here I think would be lonely if there weren't any other cats -- Tink was okay before the other cats came, and Gord -- other than his wrestling matches -- doesn't seem unduly stressed by the presence of the other animals, but neither would he be unduly stressed by being the only one. After all, the two things he likes best -- laps and food -- would be his alone, if he were the only one. As I've noted, Squeek doesn't seem to care about the hierarchy or chronology of other cats in the house, as long as nobody oppresses her too often or too thoroughly. As much as Doodle protests when Gord pins her to the carpet, she also asks both him and Tink for grooming, which is, again, a social thing -- her way of saying 'you guys are here, and I acknowledge you.'
Squeek, too, will submit to grooming, though at this point, the only one I've seen groom her was Gord. In fact, while it's clear he's not the alpha cat, Gord is the only one I've seen groom all the other cats -- Tink ignores Squeek, Doodle hasn't yet quite accepted her (though she doesn't beat up on her), and seldom does Tink submit to any grooming from anybody. Gord even keeps trying to get Max to groom him, though I think Max is a little baffled by this. To Gord, everybody in the house (and perhaps the whole world) is the same kind of mammal he is (though there is some doubt that he thinks he's a cat, or perceives anybody else as one, since he acts so much like Max), and he wants them/us all to love him. Gord even 'grooms' us, if we take the liberty of interpreting his hand-licking as a grooming response. He's just a big, happy Buddha cat who occasionally feels compelled to test his street chops on Doodle and Squeek (who usually, in all fairness, both ask for it).
Doodle seems calmly ambivalent about Max, and the feeling appears to be mutual. They're both curious, and occasionally she and Max will have a mutual sniff, but mostly they ignore each other. There doesn't seem to be any significant uneasiness between them -- Max is a little nervous about all the cats but Squeek, but only Tink seems to inspire anything close to either fear or anger in him.
Gord and Max make for an interesting pair. Oddly enough, the two of them are nearest in temperament and demeanor -- which is to say, Gord is more doglike than he is like the other three cats. This disturbs him not in the least, nor does it seem to bother Max all that much. During the day, when I'm home and Max is out of his crate, Gord will sleep in it. We have learned that we can't leave food in the crate unless Max is in it, though, because Gord will figure out a way to eat it if at all possible. If Max is there, he will growl at Gord over the food, which puts Gord off; when Max is not there, he doesn't care about the food, so Gord and Squeek get together and pool their two brain cells to figure out how to dump the food out of the bowl, then pull individual pieces of it out. Squeek, apparently, mostly does it to have something to bat around the floor until Gord eats it.
Squeek seems convinced that Max is a very complex cat toy. Unlike Gord, whose body she abuses as mercilessly as he will allow (and it's pretty merciless, let me tell you, when you consider Gord weighs thirteen pounds and can literally wrestle himself out of either Tony's or my arms at will, and Squeek still doesn't weigh seven pounds yet), Squeek doesn't actually jump on Max. She likes to bat at him, though -- she plays 'death from above.' As far as I can tell, she doesn't unsheath her claws for this operation -- she bats at him like a toy or a piece of wadded paper. Because Max is some part Spitz, his tail is fluffy and curls up over his back. This is Squeek's favorite part of the toy, because if Max is standing near a chair, Squeek can sit on the edge of the chair and play with his tail to her heart's content, especially if Max is groveling for food or attention from the humans. If Max crawls into the hovel at the bottom of one of the cat towers, Squeek will perch above the entry hole and bat at his nose and ears. Usually, Max doesn't respond; occasionally, he will 'herd' Squeek around by pushing her with his nose. We haven't seen him open his mouth or put his teeth on any part of her, so far, but there was a little clinch one night that, while Squeek didn't protest, made us nervous -- Max was standing over her and she was on her back -- so we called Max off. Since then, he's been a little less cavalier about fighting back. With the coat he's got on him, unless Squeek is batting around his eyes, I doubt she could do him any damage, anyway -- better if he's a little cautious.
Not only that, but if Max gets it into his head that physically dominating the cats is a good idea, because we let him do it to Squeek, who very likely can't do him any damage yet at her size ... he may try it on one of the three grown cats. I'd hate to have to explain to the veterinarian how our little Spitz mix ended up with his intestines wrapped around his muzzle, but I'm convinced Tink could skin a German Shepherd between barks, Gord could skin a human if he felt he had sufficient provocation, and even Doodle can do some serious damage, both to us or the other cats, if she feels threatened -- because unlike the other cats in this house, Doodle will bite the crap out of anything that restrains her against her survival instincts and hang on until the threat passes, and while she has the face of an overgrown tortoiseshell kitten she's got the jaws of a pit bulldog. Heck with explaining to the vet how Max's intestines got wrapped around his head -- we'd be having an eight-pound tortie surgically removed from Max's body cavity, if he ever picked on Doodle and scared her badly enough.
So, in other words, keeping Max from doing anything more physically threatening than pursuing the cats through the house or shoving them off the windowsills is for his own good -- we didn't bring him in here to be lunch for the cats, no matter how much Tink wishes it were so. We think she's of the opinion that Max was brought here to be fattened up for her dining pleasure, in other words. She would, she has made it clear, have some of that -- Philly style, except she wouldn't mind if we held the onions and peppers. Got to watch her girlish figure and all.
Hey -- a girl can dream, can't she?