Living with my Wife's Cats
May 1, 2012 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Please help me find a reasonable way to handle being an unwilling co-owner of two cats

Hi there,

I'm not sure whether this should be in 'human relations' or 'pets'... It could really fit into both. I've been following this thread with interest as it is very close to my inquiry (but from the other side of the argument, and without the nastiness and some of the other details.) and it's prompted me to finally ask for a little perspective for my own situation.

So, the backstory should come first. My wife and I used to live on an acreage where we had these two cats. On the acreaqe they were strictly outside cats but were always very friendly. A little over a year and half ago we sold the acreage and moved into the city. The incoming new owners of the acreage had large, aggressive dogs and we worried about the safety of the cats because they were used to our dog who tolerates them. Long story short, we decided to try having them as inside cats at our new house in town. I have never been a "cat person" and have never lived with them before but felt a responsibility for them so I agreed to give it an honest try.

Almost immediately, I found that I HATE living with cats. To be clear, I don't mind them as individual creatures. But living with them is driving me crazy. They are strictly indoor cats, as neither my wife or I believe having outdoor cats in the city is fair to anybody, all outside cats do is shit in the neighbours garden. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to discourage them from destroying furniture and curtains with their claws we had them declawed so no matter what we feel on the issue they can't be outdoor cats anymore anyways.

In the first little while, I communicated many times that I was very unhappy living with them and would really like to find them a home that is a little more suitable for them. Unfortunately (for me), my wife has fallen in love with these animals and everytime something came up, like a destroyed piece of furniture, me going down the basement to find all my ski-clothes stunk like cat shit, etc. She would either cry and dodge the issue, which made me feel like an ass for bringing it up or say "Let me try X solution before we get rid of them." ... None of the solutions seem to work and if I don't frequently mention the issue she tends to just ignore it, which makes me (and her) feel like I'm continuously bitching.

Things that are not a big deal to her are enormous obstacles for me. For example, I am VERY sensitive to the smell of cats (I suspect I'm mildly allergic) and they LOVE sitting in our living room looking out the window. The problem for me is I often find the smell so overpowering I can't sit in the living room, which has the nicest furniture in the house and it drives me crazy that I can't enjoy the nicest room of my own house because of them. She doesn't notice the smell at all.

Anyways, I don't want to go into a big rant about things I Hate about cats... it's enough to say that we both feel strongly about the issue and it leads to at least monthly arguments. The cats are 6 years old now, if they were ancient I would probably suck it up and wait them out, but at 6 there's the possibility that they might live for another 14 years. I don't know if I can handle 14 more years of them. If she "Came" with cats when I met her, I would accept that I had made the choice to marry a cat person. However, the initial agreement was to "Try" them as indoor cats and see how it goes.

I feel like I've given them (the cats) a fair chance, but my wife wants to keep them and keep trying to find a way for all of us to live together. I really don't know how to handle this without being a jerk. I kind of feel like if something I did or had caused this much stress for her I would take action to fix it rather than let it cause this much grief between us; That said, they make her happy and I don't want to make her unhappy. So, I don't think it would be right for me to flat out say "get rid of the damn cats" but I don't think it's fair to me to be stuck with them for the next decade and a half. I really don't know how to move forward with this situation.

Any perspectives, thoughts, comments and/or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for reading
posted by Beacon Inbound to Human Relations (79 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Cleaning lady to deal on a defined basis with the overall house smell you can smell but the wife cant? After a professional carpet and upholstery cleaning.

Screen door on the basement? Define no-cat zones, basement, your office, bedroom?

If these aren't enough, it may be that all "tryings" are exhausted.
posted by tilde at 1:14 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is there a way to divide up space in the house with a toddler gate, keeping cats in one part of the house that gives you some space?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:16 PM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's not the cats. Ask your wife what she had in mind when you agreed to "try" the cats. What does the word "try" mean to her?
posted by rhizome at 1:16 PM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Cat smells get to me sometime; I am enjoying liberal uses of Febreze Air Effects- Pet Odor Eliminator.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:16 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of those outdoor cat cages with a passage into the house. Cats will spend 90% time out there in good weather. An ionic air cleaner thing and a silent extractor fan installed in your living room so that air circulates. And store stuff in rubbermaids so the cats can't get it.

I am also not a fan of indoor cats but have had to live with them on occasion.
posted by fshgrl at 1:17 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

You agreed to "try" and gave it a fair shot. It didn't work out. Your wife is being unreasonable. (And I'm an animal lover.)
posted by small_ruminant at 1:20 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

If your cats are being properly cared for, there should be NO SMELL. Someone should be cleaning the litter twice a day.
posted by millipede at 1:20 PM on May 1, 2012 [17 favorites]

I feel your pain. When my wife moved out two years ago, she refused to take the three cats she got and that were hers. I am quite fond of them, but I can no longer keep them. I came to tell you that even if you agree to get rid of them, finding a no kill shelter that will take a 6 year old (adult) pair of cats will be immensely difficult. I have been trying for three months now and am at a point where I am strongly considering giving them up to a shelter without the no kill policy. I was refused by three shelters today.

My point is that it may be easier to learn to live with these cats than to give them away.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:25 PM on May 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think there was definitely a miscommunication in what "trying" the cats would entail. Can you talk a little more about what was said at that time?

City apartments and cats are difficult-especially because they are small, and it's difficult to keep the litter in a room that people don't go into.

It is also incredibly difficult to turn outdoor country cats into indoor city cats. They quite simply haven't been trained in a lot of the ways that people generally expect indoor cats to behave. Honestly, I don't think that you did give the cats a fair chance-you expected them to radically alter their behaviors in a relatively short period of time, and when they didn't, you had them permanently altered in a way that makes them completely unsuitable for outdoor activity.

This means it would also be incredibly difficult to rehome them. You can't just give them to someone else who has an outdoors area and let them be indoor/outdoor cats. And if you give them to someone else who's looking for indoor cats, they are going to have the exact same set of problems-you'd just be passing your problems on to someone else. The destructive nature of cooped-up used-to-the-outdoors cats is not going to magically go away without a lot of work.

I have a lot of sympathy for you-I think you got suckered into a bad situation-but I think you did (albeit accidentally) take steps that mean it's going to be a lot longer than you'd like.

The responsible thing to do at this point would be to attempt to train them not to do the specific behaviors that you (and probably most people) would dislike. Then, at that point, either see if you can deal with the new and improved kitties, or try to find them a new home.
posted by corb at 1:30 PM on May 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

If your cats are being properly cared for, there should be NO SMELL.

That's not true. There is a difference between a cat smell and their litterbox smell.
posted by jacalata at 1:32 PM on May 1, 2012 [10 favorites]

She would either cry and dodge the issue, which made me feel like an ass for bringing it up or say "Let me try X solution before we get rid of them."

This statement stood out to me. It almost seems like your wife actually isn't trying anything, which may be understandable because to her the cats aren't a problem. However, are you also involved in any of the X solutions or is your wife the only one who is to implement anything? Are you involved in their care at all (such as feeding, cleaning the litter box, playing with them, or trying to give cats a bath), or are they purely your wife's responsibility?

The reason I ask is because if your wife is the one doing everything, she may not feel like you've given the cats a fair chance at all, and thus her dodging the issue. There may be other underlying problems, but determining her perspective may pave the way towards a mutually beneficial solution.
posted by CancerMan at 1:33 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I should add, I have two rescue cats that came from being stray outdoors cats. They are now indoors cats, and they initially destroyed our entire apartment. They climbed on the table while we were eating. They climbed on top of us whenever we sat or lay down, even (and occasionally especially) during intimate moments. It was worse than children could ever be. Last night, for example, I found one cat literally knocking a pile of books off a shelf onto the other cat who was sitting below the shelf.

We acquired a squirt bottle. It is not a miracle drug. It has not turned our kitties into well behaved kitties. They still romp through the house, fight with each other all over it, chew up pairs of headphones, and otherwise act like adorable monsters. But it has helped us set boundaries-places where cats will not go.

Could you create a room in your house where the cats won't be, maybe, if you are as sensitive to the cats as it seems?
posted by corb at 1:34 PM on May 1, 2012

What is the smell? "Cat" smell is not an odor, unless they are unable to clean themselves or unable to defecate in the litter box. You should have two litter boxes, at the very least, and they should be cleaned twice a day.

Why are they allowed in the basement at all? If it's a live-in basement and not a storage basement, then put an extra litter box down there too. There should be at least a litter box per cat, and ideally one per floor in your house. We have a cat and two litter boxes, for example.

Also, there is a difference between the cats smelling bad, to you, and you being allergic. An allergy is not noticing a bad smell. If you are allergic, or suspect that you are allergic, go get an allergy test at the doctor's office. If you are allergic, either re-discuss the issue with your wife or take medication.

None of your complaints sound insurmountable, to me. I'd be more sympathetic if they were aggressive or had behavioral problems, but "they smell bad to me" is not exactly, in my opinion, a good reason in the face of your wife's love for the cats. Brush them, clean their litter boxes more than you think you should, block off the living room. IMO, and this is harsh I understand, your chance to find them a new home was before you had them declawed to save your curtains.
posted by lydhre at 1:39 PM on May 1, 2012 [17 favorites]

What is the smell? "Cat" smell is not an odor, unless they are unable to clean themselves or unable to defecate in the litter box.

My nose disagrees with this assertion.
posted by tilde at 1:45 PM on May 1, 2012 [10 favorites]

Re: the smell

Start using baking soda when you vacuum: sprinkle it on the carpets, let it hang out for a while, and then vacuum it up. It'll cut down on the smell and incidentally on roaches, fleas, and ants.

Re: Cat free zones

Seconding a screen door for the basement. That's what we do for my husband's art room.

Re: Cats being cats

Yeah, the book shelf thing is just a thing. That is, in my experience, how cats are.

Re: Allergies

If you think you're allergic, go to an allergist, and until then take Claritin or Allerclear. If you get diagnosed as definitely allergic to cats, go from there. But right now, it could be dust or mites (which the baking soda vacuuming will cut down on too).
posted by spunweb at 1:47 PM on May 1, 2012

I can smell cats if I'm close to them. Fortunately, I love the smell of cat. (Unless it's been sitting under the house or someplace smelly.)
posted by small_ruminant at 1:48 PM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

In reference to the smell, this might be just a function of the two cats themselves.

We had two cats up until recently, and like you, I am sensitive to the smells they make. One of our cats was the slobbiest slob that ever slobbed, it was just her way. Since her passing, the household has gone from smelly with little "surprises" in odd locations, to pristine. But while she was living, I was at my wit's end trying to find solutions to the smells that didn't involve me scrubbing everything in sight with bleach.

If you aren't directly involved in trying to find solutions (not doubting that you are, but your question doesn't make it clear), then I'd recommend doing that first. Like others have said, there are ways to sequester parts of the apartment to keep out the cats. Scooping the litter box a *lot* and sweeping or vaccuming every day around and under the furniture will become important (those are two of the biggest drivers of a house smelling like cats, in my experience). Get one of those odor neutralizers - I have one near the cat pans in the basement, and it has made a world of difference to the smell. You may have to think quite outside the box (forgive the pun) in order to come up with a solution everyone with stick to.
posted by LN at 1:49 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think your wife is being reasonable. You have "tried" keeping them as indoor cats, and it doesn't seem to be working. She doesn't seem willing to calmly discuss the issue. Perhaps it's time to look for another home for them.
posted by barnoley at 1:50 PM on May 1, 2012

You tried. It didn't work. Nothing on God's green earth will make a house with cats in it not stink of them, and living in a house with animals you are allergic to is a living hell. I'm sorry you've had to suffer like this; I know exactly what you are going through. It drives me crazy to read the assertions that cats don't smell. They do. They stink, and no matter how clean they are or how often their indoor box of shit and piss is changed out, your home will reek of them. Putting up gates and creating cat-free zones won't help in the end, because all it will do is corral you into living in those areas only.

This is your home and it is entirely unreasonable to be expected to live with animals that make your life miserable. Find them a new home, and be sure to involve your wife. She loves the cats and she deserves to be involved in their relocation. Just remember that her love for cats shouldn't trump your perfectly reasonable desire to not live in a home that makes your life worse rather than better.

It is not fair to you that your wife should have cats to make her happy when they actively make you unhappy.
posted by Sternmeyer at 1:51 PM on May 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

an allergy to cats isn't being bothered by their smell. it's sneezing and itchy nose and watery eyes. you should either get diagnosed or start calling it something else, because if you were my partner i'd probably roll my eyes and say "it's not a tumor" (the thing we say to each other when the other is coming up with imaginary medical problems when it's really something like gas).
posted by nadawi at 1:56 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't expect so many answers so quickly.

The cats have actually adapted amazingly well to living inside the house, it's me that's not adapting. They use the litterbox, they don't spray, etc. It's not that they are BAD cats... it's just the little things that make them cats that really get under my skin. Things like the cat smell (as pointed out, not litterbox smell), hair on EVERYTHING, jumping on counters, and crossing all the boundaries that we set for them.

I do keep them out of my office and out of the upstairs. Litter is cleaned twice a day, there's a box for each cat in the furnace room (basement) which works quite well in the winter as the furnace sends all the foul air up the chimney, not so efficient in the summer when the furnace doesn't run. There is zero chance of me agreeing to a litterbox on the main-floor as that would mean kitchen, or living room.

As for the initial agreement to try, we agreed that we couldn't leave the cats at the acreage and would take them with us to see if they worked out. If they didn't work out, we would try to place them in a home where they would be properly cared for and loved. We didn't set a timeline, or really go into great detail as to what constituted "not working out". It was sort of a last minute "shit, what do we do with these cats" kind of thing.

Thanks for all the answers so far... ideally I would like to find them a home, as many of you have suggested. However, I don't want to be heavy handed and unilaterally say "we're getting rid of them NOW". In any case, if we're not willing to give them to a shelter finding a proper home for them will be a long process so I will definitely be trying some of the stuff like baking soda in the carpet before vacuuming and the ionic air filter.

I do mean to go in and see a doctor about the allergy, it is an itchy nose and watery eyes and that feeling that I'm always about to sneeze. It's the worst when the sun is coming into that room and it warms right up.
posted by Beacon Inbound at 1:58 PM on May 1, 2012

fshgrl: "An ionic air cleaner thing"

Sidebar: Ionic air cleaners don't work, actually pollute the air with ozone that can harm your health, especially if you have asthma or other respiratory issues, and actually gave me migraines in a friend's house who had one. Get a traditional HEPA air filter if you want to clean the air. (Sources: USA Today, Achoo Allergy, our very own Ask Metafilter.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:03 PM on May 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

> You agreed to "try" and gave it a fair shot. It didn't work out. Your wife is being unreasonable.

This is unfair. The wife loves the cats; of course she is resisting giving them up. It's a difficult situation that will require serious compromise on someone's part, and there's no point defaulting to the standard "I'll pick a side and tell them they're right and the other person is wrong" attitude.
posted by languagehat at 2:08 PM on May 1, 2012 [7 favorites]

When were they last seen by a vet? I'm very sensitive to most smells (and I'm mildly allergic to cats) but I've never noticed a "cat" smell in the homes of anyone I know that owns a cat or on any of the cats I've had contact with. Maybe its just your cats or maybe its one of those smells that only people with a certain gene can smell but there's no harm in having them seen by a vet and talking to him/her about the smell because there are various medical issues that could be causing your cats to smell bad.
You could also look into the feline specific deodorisers - keeping their litter boxes in a confined space isn't great but you may be able to minimise the impact on other items kept in the basement.

If you are allergic to the cats though, you can take anti-histamines in the short term but its not a long term solution, the cats will have to go.
posted by missmagenta at 2:10 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Re: cat "smell," try feeding them higher quality high-protein, low-carb food. Also consider a probiotic supplement. My latest shelter cat came to me very stinky until I changed her diet & got her guts right with probiotics. The difference is like night & day.

Wipe their coats with a baby wipe daily. That will also cut down any allergens that they're responsible for.

It sounds like you don't interact with them much. Try playing with them. You might find yourself enjoying your time with them a bit more.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:10 PM on May 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

Ugh so it sounds like you do have allergies. Can you wife vacuum the cat areas for you and them turn on the an air filter - preferably a HEPA one like IndigoRain mentioned.
Also then you should probably clean the vacuum filter or bag before using it in the other areas of the house.

They do make wipes that are supposed to help with smell / dander. Maybe your wife could try these on the kitties.
posted by oneear at 2:12 PM on May 1, 2012

Expensive food may help with the cat smell, if you've been feeding them cheap grocery-store brands. I know my cats' fur got much smoother and sleeker (it had been kind of tacky, almost greasy) when I switched to Science Diet. No more visible flakes of skin (i.e. dander), either.
posted by chowflap at 2:26 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

[Please just be helpful in your comments, everyone knows this is a difficult situation, no one needs more snark.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:33 PM on May 1, 2012

I agree with the food comments. We feed our two cats Wellness canned food, and maybe my nose is bad, but I can only smell them when I stick it RIGHT up in their fur. (Which I do, because I'm strange.) Friends who feed their cats less quality dry food (Purina, 9 Lives, etc) have cats that don't feel or smell nearly as cuddly. Also, could someone (maybe your wife) brush them with a furminator? That would help with the shedding all over the house, and less fur means less smell, in general. I brush mine about once a week onto the carpet because the hair is less likely to fly away. Then, we just vacuum everything up.
posted by marylucycraft at 2:39 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

The food change is a good point, though I would go with more high-protein than Science Diet. If you go to a high-quality food pet store they can give you some options, and there are a number of good ones in different price ranges. You want to look for grain-free stuff, low number of byproducts, high in protein. Ideally all wet food. One of my cats came from the street and the other from a shelter. Any smelliness disappeared within a week or two of the food change, maximal changes seen with a good month or two of quality food. One caveat: while you're transitioning there may be a period of time where there will be bad farting and poops. Did not last beyond a week for my cats.
posted by schroedinger at 2:46 PM on May 1, 2012

I agree with languagehat. If my husband decided he no longer wanted my cat, who I genuinely love, it would be a huge, huge deal.

I also disagree that cats have a default smell or body odor. I have a very sensitive nose and just stuck mine on my cat's back and took a big sniff. He smells . . . like nothing. If he puts his face right next to mine, his breath smells like cat food. We feed him a protein-rich, all wet diet.

However, I think it's much more common for cats to spray sight unseen. And I'm curious if this is really happening more than you think it is, especially since you said they're still destroying furniture when they have no claws. Also the comments about your ski clothes smelling like cat shit. I suspect kitties aren't entirely happy with their litter box situation. You might try new litter, better ventilation, something like that.

All that said, yes, cats are a responsibility and they shed and hack up hairballs and and all of that. But . . . well, people make messes too. I've had to clean up my husband's vomit more than once, as he has mine. Toilets need scrubbing. And human bodies have significant odors. It's part of being a living thing, of being a mammal. And your expectations for other mammals sound . . . well, a little unreasonable.

I wonder if you'd be willing to work first on empathy here. I know it's not what you want to hear, especially based on what you're marking as best answers, but would you be willing to take on the responsibility of feeding them, or brushing them with a curry comb every night once your allergies are being treated, or teaching them simple tricks? (There are videos on youtube). It sounds a little bit like you've just failed to bond with them. I would try again, operating from the assumption that opening your heart to these creatures--who your wife loves dearly, from your own account--would be a good thing and a positive thing.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:47 PM on May 1, 2012 [12 favorites]

Oh, and re: allergies, my boyfriend has mild cat allergies and takes Zyrtec when he's in my apartment, which is, admittedly, not as vacuumed as it could be. Works like a charm. My landlady owns two cats and takes Zyrtec, works for her too.
posted by schroedinger at 2:51 PM on May 1, 2012

It's not entirely impossible to train or strongly encourage cats. Ours stopped jumping on counters several years ago, although now at 12 she's really too old and pudgy to be that interested in it at this point. Simply laying sheets of aluminum foil on a surface should keep cats off it. As they age, your cats should get less and less crazy and active. "NO" with a discouraging pointy finger, combined with "Yay, good kitty!!" for good behavior, goes a long way. You don't just bring the cats in the house, turn them loose and hope for the best.

In all fairness, I'm an animal lover, and my sympathies are generally with the pets and the people who want to keep them, but I AM sorry you're in this situation, which sounds unfair to everyone unless you can all come up with some better coping strategies. Have you done much research into cat behavior and so on? Who's in charge of vacuuming? (nevertheless, yeah, hair everywhere.) Do you have lint rollers aplenty?

Our litterbox is in the kitchen, and it honestly doesn't seem to smell, as far as I can tell after living there and being used to it. I clean it faithfully every day (unless drunk, when I do it the next morning) and have been known to cover up naked "surprises" in between cleanings. Even one additional box in a secluded corner of the kitchen could help a bit.

My cat smells dusty. :-)

Wishing you all good luck.
posted by Occula at 2:52 PM on May 1, 2012

For all those who say 'cats don't have a smell, I just smelled mine' - you sound like smokers in denial. You live with it, you don't notice it, the rest of us do.
posted by jacalata at 3:17 PM on May 1, 2012 [11 favorites]

If the cats love to hang out in the living room where it's a problem for you, I wonder if making them a more attractive perch, with a view, somewhere else would lure them away from the nice furniture.

I'll second trying Claritin for a couple of weeks and see if it helps with your allergy.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:19 PM on May 1, 2012

We feed them Orijen cat food, which is supposed to be very high protein and very good quality, grain free and all that (We pay an arm and a leg for it so I hope it's good quality!)

I don't really expect them not to stink, I know that's part of what animals do. It just feels like a really crummy situation; if I am a real hard-ass about the cats and the associated issues then I'm the jerk, But I hate that there's prime areas of my house that are defacto off limits to me and I don't think that's fair to me.

If I insist that she gets rid of them she'll resent me, if this continues as it has been I'll resent her. It really feels like a damned if I do, damned if I don't kind of thing.
posted by Beacon Inbound at 3:21 PM on May 1, 2012

Re: allergies; you may find it helpful to search in AskMeFi for past threads on dealing with allergies while visiting a cat household. There was one recent one with some really good suggestions about alleviating the problem areas. And yes, that really does sound like allergies. I'm mildly allergic to all cats and SUPER ALLERGIC to some cats, and I've no idea what the difference is, but it's incredibly frustrating all the time and not really something to just deal with. I actually like cats, and I've cat-sat willingly for friends, but there's no way I could ever live with cats on a regular basis, because I would grow to hate them for every sniffly, eye-watering morning. Allegra-D is over the counter now and I doubt it would hurt you to try some different OTC allergy meds. It is better to take them for at least a few days to see if they work; I have to take mine at least a week before allergy season really starts for it to be effective.

Are the cats allowed in your bedroom? If they are, can that be off-limits all the time? If that's not possible, see if you can get some old sheets or a heavy coverlet that they cannot hide under to cover up all of the bed linens, so that you're not sleeping on cuddly cat dander. Take the coverlet off when you're going to bed and store it somewhere away from your face. The Hairpin also has a great Clean Person Column, who frequently touches upon cat and other pet problems. There's this article, and several more, if you poke in the archives. The comments often have other solutions and suggestions.
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:23 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

If I insist that she gets rid of them she'll resent me, if this continues as it has been I'll resent her. It really feels like a damned if I do, damned if I don't kind of thing.

Can I ask what you've done to try to bond with the cats on an emotional level?

For all those who say 'cats don't have a smell, I just smelled mine' - you sound like smokers in denial. You live with it, you don't notice it, the rest of us do.

Again, stuck my face in the cat's fur. I appreciate that you're sure about this, but I still would argue that a well-fed, groomed cat whose litter box is kept clean shouldn't smell. Oh, and I've found that litter makes a huge difference, too. Clay litter stinks and tends to stink up a cat's fur. We use wheat-based litters. It makes a huge difference.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:28 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can I ask what you've done to try to bond with the cats on an emotional level?

I do occasionally play with them, pet them, fork out treats, etc. I make the effort because it makes my wife happy, and it's not like they are these horrible devil spawn animals that I have a burning hatred for.
posted by Beacon Inbound at 3:41 PM on May 1, 2012

I love visiting with cats and yet it's unlikely I will ever willingly share a home with them again, having done so for quite a bit of my life (never by choice.) It stinks, literally. I feel your pain. I'm still kind of mad about the damage other peoples' darling creatures have done to my stuff.

I suggest you make a list of the helpful suggestions from this thread and then talk to your wife. Tell her (during a calm period, preferably in neutral no-cats-in-the-building territory) how you feel about this situation ("I feel sad, and like I'm locked out of the best parts of my own house, when the cats are using the living room to relax;" "I feel stressed out and overwhelmed when I smell evidence of cats on my ski gear,") and outline what changes you're interested in attempting over the next set period of time (I'd say 6 months.) Promise to give it a real effort - explain how you intend to contribute, how you'd like her to contribute, and how you'll keep her apprised of your progress as a family on this issue. I'd go with weekly "where we stand on the cat thing" meetings, but biweekly works, too.

And if things still stink after you've made this good-faith effort, over this reasonably lengthy period, agree you will have in hand a specific strategic plan for alternative solutions - namely, getting the cats out of your household. By strategic plan I mean that you'll spend X number of weeks reaching out to the community (fliers, emails, Facebook posts, etc.) and then Y number of weeks going through the ASPCA/no-kill shelters, and so on. By "agree that you will have in hand" I mean that you will make the plan in question now.

This must be a completely fuzz-free negotiation, or in twelve months you will be saying "Dear AskMe, my wife and I agreed to "try and get rid of our cats" but we didn't really specify what that means and I'm starting to suspect I'm going to be living with these cats for the rest of their natural lives..." I strongly recommend you write stuff out on a piece of notebook paper and stick it on the fridge (or somewhere else that's visible during the day.) Call it the "Safe, Sane and Healthy Beacon Inbound & Cat Plan." Perhaps make it color-coded, with cute drawings in the margins.

Oh: and you didn't ask, but, this is TOTALLY an OK thing to bring up with a marriage/family counselor. Negotiations over stuff that neither party seems to be comfortable with addressing, or where past negotiations have been full of fail, is a perfect thing to take to someone who specializes in helping people communicate and address their needs in a healthy, loving and respectful way.

If she cries while talking in a neutral spot on a calm day, BTW, I really must insist that you get outside help with this series of conversations. That is very seriously not appropriate behavior when discussing solving a very practical problem in a marriage. Even if you really, really like cats. Either you're triggering this by behavior that exceeds reasonable tolerance levels, or her tolerance level is unreasonable.
posted by SMPA at 3:58 PM on May 1, 2012 [8 favorites]

I do occasionally play with them, pet them, fork out treats, etc. I make the effort because it makes my wife happy, and it's not like they are these horrible devil spawn animals that I have a burning hatred for.

That helps. It wasn't clear at all from your question whether that was the case or not.

Well, my suggestion as someone who is, essentially, your wife, and who would, indeed, cry, avoid the subject, and think you were a jerk if you tried to take my cat away from me (whether it's right or not!), here are my suggestions:

First, I think you need to make an appointment to go to the doctor and get the allergy question addressed pronto. The sunlight thing you're talking about sounds like a photic sneeze reflex and might not have anything to do with allergies at all; you might be allergic to dust or mites or tree pollen or a whole host of other things. Even if you are allergic to cats, you should be able to find out how severe this is and whether it's something you can manage with either prescription medications or OTC medications. Were I your wife, I'd want to see you make a good faith effort to address this rather than just self-diagnosis.

If the allergy issue can be addressed, once it is, I think it might be a good idea to take the cat issue off the table for a set period of time and really make a good-faith effort to bond with the cats yourself. That means, as I suggested upthread, taking on brushing or feeding duties (nothing to make you feel loved by a cat then to be the one that feeds it), training it, and being open to, say, sitting in the living room with them rather than just avoiding the space because they're there. Were I your wife, I'd see the whole living room issue as a self-fulfilling prophesy. You're convinced that they smell, and are gross, and so you never actually sit next to them and get used to what may or may not be normal cat smell (and again, wheat litter! It's brilliant for getting that acidic cat littery smell off of them). I'd imagine that it would be a relief to your wife, too, to both see you making that effort and to know that she has a month or whatever not to worry about you making an issue out of it.

Again, the emphasis should be on empathy. Not just sympathy--you're tolerating the cats because your wife loves them--but an attempt to understand how she feels and an attempt at recognizing the good in the animals and the possible benefits you yourself can reap from cat ownership.

At the end of that month, after making an honest, good-faith effort, I think it's fine to revisit the issue. But, were I your wife, I'd be a lot more willing to talk if I saw you really trying. I know it sucks to have to go above and beyond in a situation like this. But, well, she loves the animals. Loves them! I think the reality is that you're going to have to really step up, and try to move beyond tolerance to an active attempt at good, loving, affectionate pet ownership before giving up on the animals completely if you don't want your wife to hate you for awhile.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:59 PM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Since you're in this "damned if I do, damned if I don't kind of thing" it seems like the best course forward would be to brainstorm some ways that would make living with them more tolerable for you. You say in the question "if I don't frequently mention the issue she tends to just ignore it." Have you ever had a conversation with her about the cats when neither of you was upset?

I think you need to have a conversation with your wife about this and both of you, together (together is important) will implement those changes. It might help to frame the conversation in terms of " I know the cats make you really happy and that you love them, but I need your help figuring out how to make this more tolerable for me too. I came up with some ideas, can we please try these together? I know this may mean I'm asking you to make some compromises. This is important for my happiness."

This may mean that vacuuming the living room furniture twice a week, and you take a least one of those vacuuming shifts. What about the outdoor cage/run idea mentioned above? What about adding a third litter box downstairs? Can you figure out a venting system for the basement when it's summer? Do messes outside the boxes get cleaned up with enzymatic cleaners like Nature's Miracle so that the cats don't go there again?

Go ahead and insist that the cats not be allowed on counters and places that you eat. (I love cats but I don't tolerate this.) You can train cats not to do this if both of you are policing it and consistent. (Oh god, you will have to be sooo consistent!) Also utilize things like aluminum foil, smells they don't like, spray bottles and yelling.

And if you have allergies, you have to do something about that. Probably there will need to be more vacuuming, dusting and washing of bedding. (Better yet, keep the cats out of the bedroom.) Get tested to see if you really are allergic to cats or if you're allergic to dust mites etc. Try out some allergy medicines.

On preview, what SMPA and PhoB said!
posted by purple_bird at 4:05 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I appreciate that you're sure about this, but I still would argue that a well-fed, groomed cat whose litter box is kept clean shouldn't smell.

I'm not saying they smell bad. Ours smells like some sort of combination of... idk, wool and hay? It's nice. But it's a smell. Unless it's been sitting in something (usually the oregano, but sometimes something icky, in which case it smells like that.)

Likely I can smell it because I only live with it half time. The other half of the time I live someplace with only humans in it.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:12 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm having a hard time getting a sense of whether you're extremely smell-sensitive to the point that you literally can't be in the same room as them, or whether that's just the concrete thing you can point out, but is not really the root cause. What do you do at other people's houses that have pets? Is it so bad that you avoid them too?

Others have responded about the allergies, so I won't tackle that.

The immediate question that comes to mind, assuming that the smell-sensitivity is really the core issue, is what exactly smells? Is it the cats themselves? both of them? one of them? the furniture? the carpet? the litterbox wafting from the furnace room? It'll be a lot easier to figure out what to do if the smell problem is less.. ephemeral. Maybe one of the chairs really seems to soak up the smell, or maybe when there's a breeze outside and the window is open it blows directly in your face when you're sitting in your favorite chair. "They smell" is really too vague to give useful advice. Could you figure out exactly what smells and update?
posted by zug at 4:16 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, I can see that. I guess my cat smells mildly of . . . corn? It's like the mildest version of a hamster smell. But only around the back of his head, if I inhale deeply (which I have just done again, getting a noseful of cat hair. Wee!).

But it's definitely not a room-avoiding type of odor, and that's where I think OP probably seems a bit unreasonable to his wife. It's definitely not strong enough to be distinguishable the moment one walks into a room, and that's where I can't help but to arch my eyebrow skeptically.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:18 PM on May 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Regarding cats that smell:

I have two pairs of cats. One pair (brother and sister) don't smell like anything. The other pair (brothers) both smell like cedar. Weird, yes, but some cats do smell.
posted by deborah at 4:18 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think a lot of cats do have a faint odor if you hold your nose up to their fur, but I'm also skeptical that you'd be able to smell one from across the room.
posted by timsneezed at 4:21 PM on May 1, 2012

Do you still have the dog? Does the dog smell bother you?

Re allergies: there are the obvious things like pollen, dust, mites, pets but there might be other things like mold or some other substance in your home that could cause this symptoms.
posted by travelwithcats at 4:24 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

My cats smell like fabric softener, but then they like to play around the dryer. As someone who literally gags in the presence of dog smell count me among those baffled by the idea that the average, healthy cat stinks.

One thing I did forget though is that you may want the cats checked for anal gland issues. That can be a factor in stinkiness.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 4:37 PM on May 1, 2012

I had a friend that used to say having two dogs was hell; one dog was one to many; and having no dog wasn't enough.

What about a compromise that might help both of you? Find a home for ONE cat and keep ONE. Cats don't mind being only children--many prefer it. Even though they can occasionally be all cute and cuddly together, many times cats that have been raised outside have issues with being confined to a small territory with another cat. Two cats are twice as destructive as one, and the one alone sometimes settles down and quits being as bad about tearing things apart.

Cats scratch for several reasons--one being to sharpen their claws, another is to establish territory by leaving their scent on the scratch post. Cats are equipped with scent glands on their paw pads, cheeks, and anal glands, and will scratch, rub and scoot to declare ownership. If they both like being in the living room, you could be noticing their attempts to odoriferously claim their favorite spot.

Find a home for one cat. Buy a Roomba and a self-cleaning litter box, use spray bottles and shaken cans full of pennies to keep the remaining cat off the counters. Take the cat in to be bathed and groomed every other month. Grooming is one of the biggest factors in keeping down pet hair, and I can guarantee that NO pet owner ever grooms their animal enough. Look at the difference between a pet and a show animal--THAT'S grooming.

Is there a porch or a place outside you could have an outdoor cat enclosure for the summer, either bought or homemade? That way the cat could be outdoors part of the time during the day, and it might cut down on indoor litter box use.

You might find that one cat is enough cat.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:52 PM on May 1, 2012

> If she cries while talking in a neutral spot on a calm day, BTW, I really must insist that you get outside help with this series of conversations. That is very seriously not appropriate behavior when discussing solving a very practical problem in a marriage.

That's ridiculous. Like some other commenters, you seem to be looking at this from the point of view of someone who has no emotional connection with animals and can't imagine how anyone else could have such a connection. If my wife had to discuss getting rid of our cats, she'd probably cry, and such a discussion would be pretty hard on me too. Do you seriously think getting rid of a beloved companion is nothing but "a very practical problem"?
posted by languagehat at 4:59 PM on May 1, 2012 [22 favorites]

Re: food

My cat used to stink like her cat food (only fermented with spit, ew!) because duh, she licks herself and the cat food is on her tongue. Now she eats this LID and it's really helped a lot.
posted by spunweb at 5:51 PM on May 1, 2012

And if things still stink after you've made this good-faith effort, over this reasonably lengthy period, agree you will have in hand a specific strategic plan for alternative solutions - namely, getting the cats out of your household. By strategic plan I mean that you'll spend X number of weeks reaching out to the community (fliers, emails, Facebook posts, etc.) and then Y number of weeks going through the ASPCA/no-kill shelters, and so on. By "agree that you will have in hand" I mean that you will make the plan in question now.

This has the seeds of a really good idea, but is actually a really bad idea. My fiance and I have cats. If he came to me and said something like that, I'm not saying I'd be looking for a new fiance, but it would be very, very rough in our house-because coming to me with a statement like that would be inherently and obviously selfish.

That is not a compromise. That's you saying: "I'm going to get my way eventually, no matter what you feel. I'll be nice and try to throw you a bone, but if I'm not happy, you are GOING to be sad." That is in no way a negotiation.

A better plan would be: "I will give this plan X months to make a really good-faith effort. After X months, we are going to sit down and have a conversation about the cats that does not end until we have reasonable next steps. We are not going to avoid that conversation."

Because really: what is your plan if she is not in fact willing to give up the cats? It is one thing to say that they're just cats and she promised and so on and so forth, but it's obvious she has an emotional bond with them, and they've been living with you for a year and a half. It could just as easily be said that they're just cats and you should learn to live with them. One of the things I've found in relationships is that it is less useful to say: "You promised this six months ago, now do it" and more useful to say, "Let's work together on solutions." Because your endgoal is a happy marriage, right, not just a temporary solution to this one problem?

In terms of cats having a smell: they do, but cat owners can't smell it after a bit. I say this as a cat owner. When I first got the cats into the house, I was surprised that my house started to smell like cat-I hadn't remembered cats being stinky. But a week or so later, I was pleasantly surprised that there was no smell. This is entirely in my head.

A few commentators have suggested "these rooms are cat free", but it sounds like you have a fairly large house. What about, "These floors are cat free?" Or even, "These floors are cat free from the hours of X to Y" If you have a large basement where their litter is, then it sounds maybe not unreasonable to say, keep the cats there at night, for example. Add some bedding. Would this help at all? This way you get what you want (a cat-free zone) and she also gets what she wants (not to have to get rid of the cats)
posted by corb at 6:07 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

First I just want to affirm that the cat-smell thing is not in your head. I think this might just be one of those scents that are perceived differently by different people and some people can't smell them at all. And on top of it if you live with a cat every day it is even harder to smell. Some people need to stick their nose into a cat's fur in order to smell it. That same exact smell? I smell it the instant I walk into the house. Sometimes I smell it from outside the door. The strongest smell is on fabrics that a cat often lays on like a sofa, carpet or bed. But I digress. It seems like having them in the living room is one of the things that is upsetting you the most. I would say, try keeping them completely out of the living room and see if that gets you any closer to a scenario you can live with. I think it would be completely reasonable for you to ask that.
posted by cairdeas at 6:48 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

corb: My only issue is that there was already an agreement that this is a "try it out and see if it works" situation. The status quo was disrupted by the introduction of the cats; the current arrangements don't work, and the cats not staying inside this home is the logical consequence of that fact.

Honestly, I suspect quite strongly that if the parties had worked to reach a clear understanding of what "try it" actually meant, back in the beginning, the cats would have retained their claws and would have a new and happy home (with no owners considering themselves "unwilling") already. The fact that the OP is still trying to figure out how to live with the cats is fairly remarkable - he's making quite a bit more of an effort than the original agreement, as described, would seem to imply.
posted by SMPA at 6:50 PM on May 1, 2012

Are the cats allowed in your bedroom? If they are, can that be off-limits all the time?

Re: allergies, this is excellent advice. (They'll complain at night when you start, and you may have to hold your wife back from letting them in, but it will get better, especially if they have another good nighttime roost/nest.) I'm allergic and doing this with our cat makes it so much better. Plus you have another cat-free space to store thing you don't want them to get into.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:05 PM on May 1, 2012

I just popped in here to second marylucycraft's recommendation of the Furminator, if you're willing to try some more practical solutions for living with the cats. The Furminator is advertised as a "de-shedding tool" for pulling out loose fur, essentially, but I think it's got to comb out a lot of dander at the same time, given the way the tines rake against the cats' skin. Would your wife be willing to furminate the cats once or twice a week? (I corral my cats in the bathroom one at a time for this process, and it's easy to sweep up the balls of fur from the hard surfaces in there. A vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter would probably do an even better job of cleaning up post-furmination.) That should cut down on the cat hair being left on the furniture and hopefully the dander, too.
posted by Orinda at 8:36 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a really tough situation. It sounds like you and your wife are both being reasonable, but you're just in a hard spot.

One idea - since the cat litterboxes are in the basement, what if the cats were restricted to the basement floor only? This, of course, would only work if it were a finished basement so your wife could go downstairs and hang out with them - but it might work quite well. If it's not a finished basement now, it might even be worth the financial investment of finishing it. Your wife has a place in your house to hang out with the cats; the cats have somewhere safe to be (and they can keep each other company); you have a mostly cat-free house.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:14 PM on May 1, 2012

a statement like that would be inherently and obviously selfish.

It's also inherently and obviously selfish for his wife to want to keep cats that are deeply bothersome to her husband, and without seeming willing to compromise on the issue herself. It seems like a no-win situation but her happiness should not come at the expense of his.

I'm another person who can smell the presence of a cat in a home the instant I walk through the doorway. The only (only!) two houses I've ever been in with cats that did not have that instant and immediate smell were both kept immaculately clean, swept/mopped religiously, and had a large amount of hardwood and other non-carpeted flooring. Every other cat-owning house I've been in has had that cat smell, and it's not the smell of the litter box, although the that can compound it.
posted by 6550 at 9:47 PM on May 1, 2012

The only (only!) two houses I've ever been in with cats that did not have that instant and immediate smell were both kept immaculately clean, swept/mopped religiously, and had a large amount of hardwood and other non-carpeted flooring.

When 6550 posted this a lightbulb from the past went on in my brain. One of my cat-owning childhood friends lived in a house that always smelled wonderful. Thinking back on it now, that house had NO carpeting, and not much fabric-covered seating. It was also very well-kept at all times with no clutter, and very well ventilated overall. Maybe getting rid of carpeting and cat-lounged-on fabrics would go a ways to reducing the cat smell?
posted by cairdeas at 9:55 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe getting rid of carpeting and cat-lounged-on fabrics would go a ways to reducing the cat smell?

That's a good idea. I think leather (or vinyl) sofas and chairs that don't have many cushions or spaces to collect dander would help. Here's a few examples: one, two, three. Carpets and upholstery fabrics are basically impossible to fully remove dust/dander and other allergens and smells from, so anything with a surface that can be wiped clean with a damp cloth will probably help.

Yeah, refurnishing your house and putting down new floors (apologies if you already have non-carpeted floors) isn't going to be cheap. But it may go a long way towards alleviating what bothers you and creating a real compromise. Especially if you can get your wife on board with very frequent cleaning, like daily sweeping of floors, weekly mopping and dusting.
posted by 6550 at 10:14 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

How about your wife furminates the cats and then wipes them down with a scented anti-allergy wipe? They sell these wipes at pet shops. Or rubs an Ecover dryer sheet over them when they come into the living room - would that help with the smell? Some cats (one of mine) don't mind being bathed (although most hate it). Could your wife try bathing the cats once or twice a week to see if they'd tolerate it? If the smell is from their sweat I think these ideas would help. If it's from their breath then not so much.

Definitely get a Roomba if you guys can afford one and run it every day. A citrus smell (cats hate citrus fruit) can help keep the cats off places where you don't want them like your couch.

I also think it would be fair to have a "time share" with the cats. You get a certain amount of time in the lounge with the door closed and the cats not allowed in.

As someone with cats who I love as an admittedly irrational substitute for having children, I can understand your wife's reluctance and crying and almost inability to stand the idea of giving them up. I feel for you but I hope you'll keep trying to find ways to make living with the cats more bearable for you. It sounds like you're doing a stand-up job of this, but hopefully there's more you and your wife can do to compromise rather then getting rid of them.
posted by hazyjane at 10:45 PM on May 1, 2012

Just a datapoint: I'm allergic to cats but they also give me asthma, and although the OTC meds did the trick with allergy symptoms, the asthma just got worse and worse the longer I lived with our kitty. This is relevant only in that maybe the OTC meds will help you be able to share the space with the cats, and maybe you won't notice the smell as much if it's not associated with acute misery? (Costco sells loratidine for about $25 for a year's supply, a bit more if you get the stuff that's compounded with a decongestant.)
Hard flooring and impermeable upholstery definitely help with my allergies, and they do trap fewer odors.
posted by gingerest at 12:52 AM on May 2, 2012

Definitely get a true HEPA air purifier. Not "HEPA-type" but actual HEPA. Get a big, strong one, and maybe get two -- one in your living room, one in the litter box room, and ban them from your bedroom. They help a ton. Don't get one with ionization, or if you do, make sure you can use it without turning the ionization on. The one linked here also has a carbon filter, which really helps with odors.

These anti-allergen dust sprays also work. You should get your allergies checked to see if it's mainly dust, pollen, mites, or if it's really the cat.

Cats can also be washed to minimize the allergens. This "Grooming Emollient" would be a good place to start. Your wife can put a towel on her lap, dampen a cloth with this emollient, and wipe the cats down. I don't have cat allergies but a friend swears by this. This spray apparently works too.

It seems weird, but these little odor eliminator gel things actually work too. They're cheap enough that you can put one in every room, or every area of a large room.

To conclude:
1) Allergies tested
2) Fantastic HEPA air purifier, preferably one with a charcoal filter for odors. Buy a few if possible.
3) Wipe down cat with dander reducer
4) Place odor eliminator gels around house. Buy a case at a time, so you can replace frequently.
5) Make your bedroom a no-cat zone, end of story.
posted by barnone at 8:47 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks a TON for all the helpful suggestions.

Cats have been banned from the upstairs and my office from day one. They sneak up when we're gone/asleep but the dog keeps them downstairs when he notices them trying to come up and I keep my office closed when I'm not in it.

Living room has hardwood with an area rug. The cats spend most of their time in the living room because it has a largeish bay window that faces south. We put an ottoman by the window so the dog could lie there and people-watch... we have pet blankets that go on the furniture in that room and the smell (and suspected allergic reaction) is vastly improved every time we rotate the blankets (not often enough). They probably spend most of their time in that room. The open layout of the house makes it impossible to keep them out of the living room. The only way we can limit them in many of the common spaces is to lock them in the basement. As much as that idea appeals to me, the basement has no windows at all and I don't think it would be a very kind thing to do to them.

I think a LOT of my resentment/frustration stems from what I feel is my wife's unenthusiastic response to these issues. For example, the other morning we were having coffee and she wanted to sit in the living room. We go in, and the smell hits me like a brick wall so I say "I can't have coffee in here, lets go back to the kitchen" her response: "I don't smell anything" and she sits down and starts having her coffee. So, I shrug my shoulders and go sit in my office with my coffee and surf the net. Later she complains that I was rude by not sitting with her. I also feel (maybe unfairly) that a lot of the onus should be on her to take the initiative and minimize the impact. Not saying I don't think I should help out and contribute to the solution, but I think back to when I was a smoker. She HATED the smell of cigarettes, so I smoked outside a lot and did as much as I could to minimize the smell for her. I would never have thought to say "Honey, if the smell of cigarettes bothers you so much you should empty the ashtrays more often". Maybe it's unreasonable of me to expect the same effort from her.

After sleeping on it, I'm going to make the allergy test a priority. If it turns out that I am allergic to the cats, I think I will insist on rehoming them. Since they mean so much to her I am willing to do what I can to help with the smell, but I don't think I'm willing to sacrifice my health, or perpetually medicate myself for them. In the meantime I'll work with her to implement the solutions and ideas proposed so far. If I'm not allergic I think I'll propose that we try out these new solutions, work hard at it, and revisit the keeping the cats issue after six months.
posted by Beacon Inbound at 11:26 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

On your update, I wonder if there isn't some mutual passive-aggressive power play going on that's centered around the cats. Your reaction sounds like someone who is fed up to here with any and all cat issues and now default to "I'm not dealing with this crap". Some of your phrasing definitely carries that tone ("Maybe it's unreasonable of me to expect the same effort from her.")

Your wife's reaction to your complaint sounds like the reaction of someone who is fed up with hearing about the cats and maybe secretly thinks you're exaggerating things. Her lack of empathy makes you even less tolerant of the cats, where your increasing lack of tolerance makes her even more sure of your exaggeration and even less empathetic, leading to a vicious cycle with the cats in between.

Have you guys had an open, calm, communication about these feelings, one done outside of an argument? Not about the practicalities of dealing with the cats, but about how each of you feel the other person is handling the situation?
posted by schroedinger at 11:39 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

are you sure the smell isn't the dog? and if you're allergic to the cats, do you realize you might also be allergic to the dog? will you be rehoming all the animals, or just the ones you don't like? you might want to consider that if you put your foot down and demand she rehomes her beloved animals, she might just rehome with them.
posted by nadawi at 11:58 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

On your update, I wonder if there isn't some mutual passive-aggressive power play going on that's centered around the cats. Your reaction sounds like someone who is fed up to here with any and all cat issues and now default to "I'm not dealing with this crap". Some of your phrasing definitely carries that tone ("Maybe it's unreasonable of me to expect the same effort from her.")

Your wife's reaction to your complaint sounds like the reaction of someone who is fed up with hearing about the cats and maybe secretly thinks you're exaggerating things. Her lack of empathy makes you even less tolerant of the cats, where your increasing lack of tolerance makes her even more sure of your exaggeration and even less empathetic, leading to a vicious cycle with the cats in between.

Entirely possible, it does feel like a rather vicious circle sometimes. It's why I decided to post in Human relations rather than pets. I'd love to find a way out of the circle.

are you sure the smell isn't the dog?

Positive it's not the dog. We've had him as an indoor pet for eleven years now and have never had an issue. The allergies (if that's what they are) started in the new house when the cats came inside.
posted by Beacon Inbound at 12:14 PM on May 2, 2012

I would also resent it if my spouse wouldn't switch rooms with me when I expressed my discomfort over being in a certain room. Even more so if they later said that I was being rude.

I suspect that, ultimately, this isn't about the cats. It's about how you and your wife communicate with each other. I've heard you express concern for her and her well being, but I haven't heard you state (or tell stories that indirectly reveal) that you feel like your wife validates and cares about your feelings. Do you also feel that way?

I wonder if your wife is scared to do so. If perhaps she feels like if she acknowledges how you feel, she'll be forced to give up her beloved animals.

I really think (and here I'm echoing schroedinger) that the two of you need to sit down and have an open, honest conversation about your feelings. A conversation in which you set aside the question of what to do about the cats and just talk about how you feel. Are you familiar with the framework of communicating in which it's not about figuring out who's right or wrong but in just creating space for everyone to share their emotions and feel heard?

I also suspect that you feel like you're making a big compromise just by living with the cats at all, and that your wife is thus obligated to do a lot of work to make sure that the situation works for everyone. This makes a lot of sense emotionally, but as a framework for evaluating how to measure people's contributions fairly it leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe you can give a sort of blanket amnesty for the past and think about how you can both contribute, both demonstrate that you're willing to give up some of what you want in order to ensure the other's happiness.
posted by overglow at 12:16 PM on May 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

I would add to the list of things to do that you add a few more animal blankets and rotate them on a regular basis--like twice a week. Put a reminder in your google calendar or something.

But I really think that, barring allergy issues, you need to start being a little easier going about the smell and spending time in the living room. I'd be tearing out my hair if I was your wife. I'd imagine it feels like a rejection of the family--and she sees the cats as part of the family. She's not really going to go drink coffee with you in your office, right? That's kinda awkward? A living room is for living, and you're okay with it being a space for the dog--even create space for him there--but not for the cats?

I'm not saying this to argue with you, only to give you perspective on what's likely running through your wife's head. Your choosing to remove yourself from parts of your home over a very minor, small thing that would not bother most people and then you feel resentful about it. That's how I would see it, were I in her position.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:19 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

allergies can also be from the new house.
posted by nadawi at 12:24 PM on May 2, 2012

Hack the living room to make everyone more comfortable.

Buy some self-warming cat beds, and place them up high near the big window, where they can sit and watch the outside world. Put some yummy treats in the beds, make them super cozy, encourage that as a safe place away from the dog and human interference.

Then get some Scat Mats for your couch. Train them to only cuddle up on their beds, or perhaps on your wife's lap on occasion.

Then get about 12 different inexpensive fleece blankets or cotton sheets, and have them in a basket near the couch. Rotate them a few times a week. You have to make this habit easy for yourself, hence having multiples and in a location right near the couch. When one is ready to wash, just fold it up and put it in the hallway on the way to the laundry room. Once they are clean, put them back in the basket near the couch.

You're in a bad cycle. I think you should say, "Honey, I know I've been a pain about the cats, and though living with them is hard for me, I love you, and you love them, and I want us all to be a happy family if possible. I'm going to do the following 6 things -- air purifiers, lots of couch blankets, training them off the couch, swiffering all of the floors very frequently and getting some cat cleaner. Do you think you could wipe them down once a week or so, with these dander wipes? Any other ideas on how we can all be more comfortable? How should I express discomfort in a way that doesn't feel like I'm attacking you or the cats?" And see what happens.
posted by barnone at 12:47 PM on May 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

I like what barnone said. I would hate the idea of my husband being made miserable by cat-related issues that seemed to only affect him, and i love him a ton, but I wouldn't be able to stand the idea of getting rid of our pets, because I viewed their adoption as a contract between me and them, and their lifelong care as a solemn obligation on my part. Asking me to violate that sacred trust would be a huge honking deal.
posted by Occula at 4:27 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

We are both mildly allergic to cats, somewhat dangerously so in the case of Mrs. Goldfish, who has asthma. Our solution has been to medicate the cats, not ourselves. There's a product called Allerpet your wife can use to bathe the cats; we've found it very effective.

I concur with the Mutual Passive-Aggression diagnosis. Among other ways to create the kind of framework overglow recommends, you might try ... watching (light-heartedly, with a glass of wine and no cats) & discussing a fun, engaging TV series called My Cat From Hell. It's awesome reality television (and I never thought I'd type that phrase) featuring couples are having troubles with cats and with each other, not necessarily in that order. The cat wrangler, Jackson Galaxy, is a mellow, sincere, extremely Californian, non-judgmental dude who doesn't take one partner's side against the other, even when, as often happens, one partner is anti-cat. Streaming clips are available on the show's website, but I strongly recommend downloading full episodes (available from Amazon Instant Video) so that you get the full plot arc, which always includes a happy ending (except that I still think Josh was crazy to propose to Tina the psychopath, but hey, Jackson's just doing what's in the best interest of the cat).
posted by feral_goldfish at 6:25 PM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nthing talking about your feelings. On your update, I can actually see a bit better why there's frustration going on between you and your wife. There seem to be a lot of unspoken things happening even in your conversation. Those are things that need to be addressed.

Somehow I missed that you had a dog as well. I could definitely see where this could be an emotional issue, where one animal is favored in the household, and the others (the one your wife loves) are not. One animal is welcomed in the living room, where the others are not.

This might be allergies making you more sensitive, it may not, but talk needs to be had about how it makes you feel.

A caution though; if you rehome your cats upon discovering allergies, I would really strongly caution you against insisting they must be out to a shelter post haste. Try mutual friends first, so your wife can still visit the cats and feel they're safe.
posted by corb at 8:37 PM on May 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Seconding nadawi that it might be the new apartment -- I have a pretty severe allergy to dust, and it takes me about a month or so to get used to the "new" dust of whatever apartment I move to.
posted by spunweb at 11:34 AM on May 3, 2012

I am surprised you can stand the smell of a dog but not cats! Dogs smell doggy to me (which I don't hate but don't really like either) and cats smell like nothing. I am even more surprised since you say you were a smoker, that should have killed at least some of your sense of smell.

I think your dislike of cats could even be causing the smell, much the same way I can smell old books when looking at pictures of very old books online - I remember it from holding old books and wandering libraries of old books and it briefly pops to mind (and smell!) somehow.

People get hung up on things and then your mind can play tricks on you. Like some others posters I think communicating better with your wife might help. You could also try to trick yourself back using Febreeze, putting some Vick's vapor rub under your nose, or other scents that should completely overwhelm the cats... and then see if you still smell them.
posted by meepmeow at 6:18 PM on May 3, 2012

Cats have sebaceous and sweat glands, like every other mammal. I think it's weird that people keep insisting that properly toileting cats cannot possibly have an odor, much less an odor that some might find unpleasant.
posted by gingerest at 7:03 PM on May 3, 2012

According to the vet who wrote this article, cats who are healthy don't smell. The presence of an unusual or offensive odor could be a warning sign that your cat may have a problem. Take your cats to the vet - if they really do smell then they may have an illness and it could be treatable.
posted by hazyjane at 9:59 PM on May 3, 2012

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