How to soothe my ex's anxious cats until they can move in with him?
November 12, 2019 7:59 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I are getting divorced. He's getting the cats in the divorce. He has effectively moved in with his new girlfriend (temporarily, until we can sublet our apartment and he can afford his own) whose living situation precludes him taking his cats with him, leaving me as the sole caretaker of two very upset cats who don't understand why their favorite human isn't around and are acting out accordingly. How do I survive this and maybe help these poor babies be a little happier?

Both cats were his before I even met him, and have always been more attached to him than me. I don't want them long term, they don't want me long term, and once things are sorted with our current apartment they will be his sole responsibility. However he's currently dealing with the divorce by avoiding me and the apartment and sleeping at his new girlfriend's place 6 nights out of every week. New girlfriend has an elderly cat who would not get along well with his cats.

Behaviors that cats are exhibiting:
- Yowling all night except on the rare nights that ex-husband is sleeping in the apartment because of a late night at work or something.
- Peeing in places that they shouldn't be, like on the bedroom carpet or in open drawers full of clothing.
- Increased incidence of eating too quickly and then vomiting all the food back up again, which had been a problem in the past, but not recently.
- Tearing up the furniture instead of using their various scratching posts or toys.

The cat that's being the most trouble is a very anxious and sweet lady-cat who generally sticks to my ex like velcro and follows him around whenever he's in the apartment. She really just don't seem to be able to handle the fact that he's not around when he used to basically never leave the apartment except when he was at work.

I've communicated the problems to my ex, who bought some calming treats for me to give to the cats (which didn't work), said that he felt awful and missed the cats terribly, and otherwise didn't change any behavior, which is pretty typical for him. I don't expect to be able to get him to take the cats to his girlfriend's place or spend more time at the apartment so that they're happy, I just need to know how to best take care of them and soothe them until they're not my responsibility anymore.

Any advice would be really welcome. With any luck I'll only have to do this until January-ish and then we'll have someone take over the lease and the cats will no longer be my responsibility, but I'd really prefer not to be short on sleep and feeling like I'm under siege in my own home until then.
posted by bridgebury to Pets & Animals (9 answers total)
Ask him for a few pieces of his clothing. His scent might soothe them.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 8:13 AM on November 12, 2019 [12 favorites]

Eating too fast: get a food puzzle toy that will slow them down, like this one or one of these.

Stress: there are two pheromones available to you. Feliway is one; the wall socket one will probably work well. I believe ComfortZone is an entirely different pheromone, and you can get "calming collars" with it.

Peeing: get Natures Miracle to clean whatever's already been soiled. Get Cat Attract litter to encourage them to use the litter box -- it can really work surprisingly well. You can also get a small wet cleaning machine if you have carpet -- even for a few months, if this happens 2x more, it's worth it -- plus you can get your ex to buy it and he can use it later if needed (like when they get super old).

Furniture: if you decide to get some spray to make the furniture less attractive, be CAREFUL not to spray it too many places or ANYWHERE NEAR the litter box.

Other stress ideas: get a lot of very used stinky laundry from your ex, so his smell is around. Make a very cozy bed out of it.

Play a radio (I like NPR for this - people talking, but calmer than other versions of talk radio) when they have to be alone.

Give them small dark cozy spaces to hide/sleep inside; this can help them feel more secure.

Play with them a lot. They will feel better if they can bond with you a little more.

If you have time or the inclination, some basic clicker training is actually really wonderful for them -- it lets them feel a little more in control of their world if they can do a thing (jump on a chair, follow a stick, etc.) and make another thing happen as a result (praise, treats, even the clicker click). Get the book Clicker Training for Cats -- it's really small -- and see what you think.

Oh, and require your ex to visit 2-3x per week. Just tell him when. Maybe clear out if you want, or not.
posted by amtho at 8:14 AM on November 12, 2019 [12 favorites]

Get a couple of heating pads (the ones made for pets are ideal) and wrap them in an item of his clothing, and make cozy nests for them.

Everything amtho said is solid. Especially the visiting part.
posted by cooker girl at 8:18 AM on November 12, 2019

Seconding Feliway.
posted by WCityMike at 8:29 AM on November 12, 2019

Seconding the suggestion of a heated cat bed, especially if it's getting cold where you are or you keep your place a little on the cold side.

On the food: This depends a lot on your schedule etc, but you might try doing frequent small feedings (rather than free access), so that you're reinforcing that you are the Foodgiver, Friend to Cats, and also so there's less food to eat at one sitting. It will mean they bug you more for food, but if it means less anxious peeing and barfing, might be worth it?
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:05 AM on November 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

(Cats love routine, and love having their own secure territory. Doing mealtimes gives an opportunity for them to focus on specific time points or sequences of events to structure/settle their little routine-seeking brains, and heated cat beds are the ultimate "my spot.")
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:09 AM on November 12, 2019

I have had great success using a metal flicker brush to socialize and calm a very anxious feral cat. Some cats love it and some won’t tolerate it.

Feliway definitely can help too.
posted by spitbull at 9:20 AM on November 12, 2019

Nthing Feliway -- get the plug-in type, not the spray, so you can have it running 24/7. Get 2 or even 3, depending on your square footage, so it's really covering the whole area.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:30 AM on November 12, 2019

You are being very kind to these kitties. But if none of the (very good) suggestions upthread work, call him and tell him to come and get the cats or they will be rehomed. He's choosing to stay at his girlfriend's and this is their problem, not yours.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 4:56 PM on November 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

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