Personal friends, Facebook friends, and readers of my blog undoubtedly remember the poignant final weeks that I spent last year with my cat Crispy.
I wrote several blog posts chronicling her diagnosis with an uncommon type of cancer, her brave battle in the hospital (two surgeries and a blood transfusion), and her amazing recovery at home. Ultimately, she succumbed peacefully to her illness, however, those last weeks were wonderful in many ways, and looking back on how things played out, I can honestly say that I have no regrets about any decisions I made, and I couldn’t have scripted a more gentle, peaceful passing.
What I hadn’t anticipated, however, was how Crispy’s departure would affect the life of my other cat, Mittens. Crispy and Mittens were not close. In fact, they could take or leave each other, and that’s putting it kindly. You can see the tension below, as Mittens tries to claim a piece of Crispy’s blanket.
That’s Crispy screaming, “Get your own blanket!!”
Crispy thought of Mittens as an intruder back when we added her to the household, and she resented it. Unfortunately, the resentment lasted for nine years! In cat years, that amounts to around a 40-year grudge. I didn’t think you could hold a grudge that long, although I have a friend who’s still mad at Yoko.
Being the subordinate cat for nine years, Mittens blossomed a bit after Crispy was gone. There was a brief period of mourning where she seemed lost and forlorn, but it was quickly followed by a sense of liberation that Mittens had never before experienced. A by-product of that freedom, however, was boredom. You see, Mittens has a very active mind, and with me working at my veterinary hospital all day, her dynamic little brain wasn’t challenged much while I was gone at work. Granted, she may not have gotten along well with Crispy, but they had a declared, mutual understanding: Mittens annoyed Crispy just enough to make life interesting, and Crispy kept Mittens on her (extra) toes.
(Now you know why I named her Mittens)
With Crispy dearly departed, my challenge was to find ways to make Mittens’ life more stimulating, more exciting, more of an adventure. This wouldn’t just benefit her mental health. Keeping a cat’s mind stimulated has been shown to benefit their physical health as well. Studies conducted at The Ohio State University have demonstrated that the monotony of indoor life is a stressor that can lead to illness, with cystitis (inflammation of the bladder) being a notable example.
I know it sounds ludicrous to talk about “stress” in cats. I mean really, how stressful can a cat’s life be? Their entire existence consists of eating the food that we deliver to them, sleeping in a wide variety of cushy spots, shredding beloved sofas and speaker grilles, and peeing and pooping in a private toilet that we flush for them, followed by more sleep. Rough life. To be fair, humans can’t be entirely objective when assessing feline stress, because when we think of stress, we think about things like mortgage payments, traffic jams, and mothers-in-law. Feline stress has to be understood from a different perspective. What really stresses a cat is the lack of acceptable outlets for their natural behaviors. In the wild, cats hunt for their food, stalk other creatures, and they hide from predators. It’s important to let cats continue to perform these evolutionary behaviors, but in a way that is considered acceptable in a modern household. Armed with this knowledge, I set out on my task.
Of course, one figures that the most obvious way to enliven her life would be to get her a new companion. There are issues with that, however. I’m still mourning Crispy and I honestly don’t know if I’m ready for a new cat. I’m also pretty certain that Mittens isn’t ready for a pesky little kitten, or any newcomer, for that matter. Mittens may be bored, but I don’t think she’s lonely. There’s a difference. Cats aren’t pack animals like dogs and humans. They are independent and self-sufficient. She enjoys being Queen of the Castle. I just need to make it a more adventurous castle.
In keeping with the principle that stress comes from not having acceptable outlets for natural behaviors, I reassessed the food and water situation. In the wild, cats stalk and hunt for prey. This includes a variety of rodents and birds and other critters. While some cats are content to eat the same diet every day, others like variety. Mittens seems to enjoy having all sorts of things offered to her. I must have 8 different bags of treats in the cupboard. Every morning, I offer two or three treats, which I toss across the floor, making her chase it down as if it were prey. It’s a little morning ritual, and she loves it.
Changing the form of her food (from canned to dry and back), the brand, and the flavor, often piques her interest. A few weeks ago her life became more stimulating when I offered her Purina Shredded Blend.
Her enthusiasm for Shredded Blend motivated me to sample the other Purina Pro Plan formulas, and now, Mittens’ excitement is palpable for every morning as she anticipates something novel in her bowl. On investigating further online, I was pleased to learn that Purina Pro Plan actively promotes and encourages cat owners to do things to make their cats’ lives more adventurous. They even suggest taking your cat on a walk in the park! As a veterinarian, I always look at things from a medical standpoint, so if you’re going to take your cat to the park, it’s important to make sure that their vaccination status is up-to-date, they’re protected against fleas, ticks, and heartworm, and that they’ve been microchipped. Here in New York City, taking your cat to a city park seems bold, but I found the idea intriguing. Mittens is a bit skittish for an outdoor adventure, but Crispy had the right temperament. In fact, last summer I decided to take Crispy to Madison Square Park, a few blocks from my home. She was elderly and somewhat ill at the time, so I knew she wasn’t really capable of wandering away. I have to say, that afternoon in the park with her was one of the best we’d ever spent. As a lifelong indoor denizen, she finally got to feel the grass beneath her little paws.
Getting back to the food discussion, it’s clear that Mittens is not your ordinary cat. Every now and then, I’ll try to throw her for a loop by offering a food item that most cats would find undesirable, just to see how she reacts. She’s fooled me several times in the past. For example, the other day, I showed her half a tomato. What carnivore would ever consider eating a tomato?
Strange, no? Then, around Passover, I had a box of matzo in the house, and she seemed curious. I figured there’d be no way a cat would be interested in a bland, dry cracker, right? Ahem.
So that’s how I spiced up Mittens’ life with food. What about water? Cats have a natural fascination with water. They have different preferences for the size, shape, and location of their water bowl. In addition, some cats prefer still water, while others are intrigued by running water. Mittens has always been mesmerized with water. As a kitten, once she saw water coming from the sink faucet, she turned the sink into her own personal hideaway, spending hours there.
Exploiting this penchant for flowing water, we now have another morning ritual. I come into the kitchen, and she perches by the sink and meows, asking me to turn on the faucet. She then laps from the running stream for a few minutes.
Her fascination isn’t limited to running water. She’ll drink still water, but oddly, only if it’s in a cup. In a bowl, she ignores it. But in a cup, well… see for yourself. Those big mitts offer a nice advantage here.
Entertaining my cats when I’m home isn’t a problem. We have no shortage of toys here, and both Crispy and Mittens really liked the catnip variety. Crispy liked the long catnip-stuffed fish. She’d bite the head, while rabbit-kicking the tail.
Mittens preferred the catnip cigar and the catnip banana. Tossing them a catnip toy is an obvious way to rev up their little brains.
Catnip toys are passive toys, though. Cats also enjoy solving puzzles, and presenting them with a brain-teaser type of toy really makes life an adventure. Here, Crispy and Mittens, forgetting for a moment that they were adversaries, teamed up on how to get the little stuffed toys out of the puzzle box.
In a populous city like Manhattan, you don’t get much privacy. The streets are crowded, you’re crammed into the subway like sardines, and even at home, you’re neighbors are often just a few feet away. I typically keep the blinds pulled when I’m home, as I’m not keen on my neighbors watching my every move. In my apartment, however, there’s one large window that overlooks the fire escape, and I’ll leave those blinds up, for Mittens to scan for birds. They don’t land very often, but when one does, she focuses her eyes like laser beams. This window serves as her television set while I’m out all day.
Scratching is another natural, instinctive feline behavior. To provide an outlet for this, a scratching post (ideally, both vertical and horizontal, in a variety of types) are important. Mittens always had one, but now I’ve made sure she has several. She’s happy, and my sofa and carpets are grateful.
Hiding from predators is another behavior that’s programmed into a cat’s DNA, and not having enough hiding places can make a cat’s life tense and stressful. Mittens has an obsession with hampers and bags. I try to take advantage of this. When doing the laundry, after I empty the hamper, she goes over, pulls it down, and goes inside. I leave the hamper out for as long as she wants to huddle inside.
The same goes for bags. You can spend a lot of money for fancy cat beds, but nothing beats a paper shopping bag!
For many cats, including Mittens, variety is the spice of life. I give Purina Pro Plan credit for offering so many varieties of their foods. Although she’s normally pretty fussy, she seems to like every form and flavor. Remember, June 15th is National “Take Your Cat on an Adventure Day”, and I’m now incorporating many of the suggestions that the Purina website offers to make a cat’s life more exciting. She may be the only cat in the household, but now she’s never bored.
Feeling adventurous? Learn about new possibilities for adventure at www.mygreatcatadventure.com. Share your adventure with #MyGreatCat and @ProPlanCat and your photo may be featured on their site!https://www.proplan.com/cats/mygreatcatadventure?utm_campaign=great_cat_adventure&utm_medium=partnership&utm_source=studiod&utm_content=drarnoldplotnick_greatcatadventure
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Purina Pro Plan. The opinions and text are all mine.