When our columnist’s routine changes, one of her cats starts behaving in an unusual way.
When mums talk of feeling guilty about leaving their kids behind while they go to work, I don’t say anything but I know exactly how they feel because Guido is having some separation qualms too.
Ever since Guido moved in with us three years ago, I have worked from home. But since the end of September, I’ve been interning at a women’s NGO as part of my Masters in Counselling degree. It means I’m away two days a week, and Guido is taking it personally.
The first two days, he wasn’t too fussed, thinking I just had some extra meetings. But when I disappeared again a week later, and a week after that, Guido began to complain.
Cats are loving, intelligent creatures but they are not human. You can sit a furry down and have a chat, saying, “I love you and I’ll always love you,” and they’ll get it, but if you add, “and this is temporary, promise,” they don’t understand. All your pet knows is that you’re doing something different and they hate the new status quo.
Frankly, I expected Target to be the problem because he’s the nervy one but he’s quite happy to sleep for those two days in my office chair as long as he can be with me for the rest of the week. Guido is younger, which may be why he’s not taking this completely in his stride.
As it is, Guido doesn’t pee in protest, nor does he give the cold shoulder to show he’s unhappy. Instead, Guido has become extra cuddly.
When I come back, he’s waiting for me, purring loudly and running over to see me.
I swing him up, give him kisses – and then he protests because he’s not the type of person who likes to be manhandled.
What our fuzzle-face wants is to stand on the sofa while I rub his ears and then he rolls over on his back while I stroke his tummy. As Guido eats out regularly with at least two neighbours, there’s tonnes of furry undercarriage to pet so this takes us quite a while.
At this point, I have to pop off down the road because I’m cat-sitting. I feed the neighbour’s fuzzies, pet them a little and then come home again. This takes 20 minutes to half an hour. Afterwards, Guido supervises while I change clothes.
What has struck me as odd is that Guido paws my discarded clothes, and runs his fangs over the material. Guido is one of those cats who kneads when he’s happy, so at first I thought he was doing his baby kitten act. However, I quickly notice this is different because he doesn’t lie down completely and he doesn’t suck the edges of the material. He rolls over my stuff, spreading fur all over it.
I only realised this week that I’ve seen this before. Guido has a routine with the other human of the house. Every morning, man and cat get dressed together. Guido supervises the choosing of the shirt, the careful selecting of the tie and most importantly, the socks.
For the last job, Guido hops into the sock drawer, purring and pawing at the stack of cotton and shedding a fine layer of ginger fur over everything. We’ve always laughed at it because Guido delights in this routine and his purrs reverberate around the room like the roar of a perfectly contented house tiger.
We’ve joked that Guido is putting his mark on his man, just in case there are other cats out there waiting to snag his property. But when I was watching Guido furring up my clothes the other evening, it got me thinking: Does he maybe think that I’m off seeing other cats? After all, the cat-sitting coincided with the time that Guido realised I’m off every week.
To a cat, smell is everything, and I must come home scented with a different office, different people and now also different cats. Three of the cats I’m looking after are indoor cats whom Guido has never met.
Now I’m curious: Is Guido jealous?
To be honest, I don’t know and I’m not sure if there is any way to find out for sure what he’s thinking but, from his behaviour, I know my fuzzy is unsettled, and that worries me.
One good thing I’ve noticed that he is much closer to Target. The two are playing a lot and the other night they actually shared a bowl of biscuits rather than take turns. It’s nice to see Target being big brother and I know Guido appreciates it.
I’m doing more, too. I’m getting up an hour earlier every day, and both the cats and I sit on the sofa and have a cuddle fest. Also, I don’t visit the other kitties until the other human comes home. These are small things but I’m hoping these subtleties make a difference.
Although the internship is temporary and we will soon be back to our usual arrangements, I think we will have an enduring reminder of this time. Instead of getting up and throwing myself directly into the business of work, I now start the day by having coffee and a chat with the fuzzies. I’m thoroughly enjoying this change and I think we should make this permanent.
There’s nothing nicer than starting the day with a cat’s purr and, from Guido’s and Target’s happy faces, they’re all for it too.
THE SCENT OF TROUBLE
Cats have ways of telling you they're not happy
Cats are highly social animals and they are usually fond of routine. If you change something – like paint your walls, have a house guest or switch to a new office routine – your pet may take this in his or her stride, or it may become upset.
Cats have many ways of showing that they are unhappy.
When Au, our former senior kitty, was still alive, he’d show his displeasure by turning his back on us. He’d sit bolt upright in the living room, but with his back rigidly to us. This is so common that it is called “the back of disrespect” in cat-lover communities.
Some cats vocalise, expressing their frustration by yowling. Our cat friend Maneki in Cambodia is currently doing this to her mum, and she’s loud enough to be heard a mile away.
Other cats take a scatelogical approach: they “miss” their litter box, leaving their “business” on the floor, or they’ll pee somewhere. My mum’s cat Annie does this. If there are visitors who aren’t direct family, she pees on my mum’s bathroom rug.
Cats can also pull out their own fur, become aggressive or exhibit other unusual behaviour.
The worst thing you can do is scold. Your pet is upset because he or she is frightened by the change. If you add to the pressure by yelling (or worse, hitting), you will only make matters worse.
In most cases, time will heal, and you can help by spending more time with your pet.
In extreme cases, consult your vet. For cats who begin to hurt themselves by pulling out their fur, you may want to talk to your vet about anti-anxiety medication.