Dear Max,

You were the perfect cat for students. You loved to drape yourself across our textbooks and notebooks as we studied. You were fastidious and forgiving. We sometimes let the litter box go longer than ideal and there were no problems. You were easy to feed. We could just keep food in the bowl at all times and you would eat what you needed. And you loved to cuddle on a warm lap in the evening.

One summer, I worked at a horse farm and show venue. I’ll tell the story of how that little scrawny kitten came to our apartment when I write letters to him, but you were the unfortunate victim of that decision so I’ll share your challenges here.

You were about four years old when I arrived home from work, smelling of horses and sweat and dirt, with a scrawny little black and white kitten in a fruit basket. He squalled and cried and puffed up like a pint-sized Halloween cat when he saw you.

Because Dennis was just six weeks old when he came to live with us, you were able to adapt to him as he grew. He couldn’t climb or keep up with you at first, so you were able to approach him at will. You could also easily escape by simply jumping up onto the furniture. I think this made a huge difference in how well you accepted him.

I recall you took it pretty much in stride until Dennis grew up a little. Juvenile cats are active, playful and can be quite rough. You were the victim of the rough, and aside from some swearing and spitting, you dealt with him very well. He did learn a few manners (not many, but a few) with your gentle guidance.

The biggest problem came when Dennis discovered an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet in the food bowl.

It took us a while to realize there was a problem. Because there were two of us putting food into the bowl on a regular basis, it wasn’t the amount of food that tipped us off. It was a younger cat starting to look a little fat and the older cat (you) starting to look a little too thin.

That’s when I realized that some cats, like you, are great at self-regulation with their food. Others, like Dennis, feel the urge to empty the bowl, even when they are obviously getting more than they need.

How did we solve the problem? Well, we figured out how much of the food you needed (¾ cup a day each). Dennis adapted by figuring out that he just needed to be annoying and persistent to score an extra meal, so we started a chart on a dry erase board on the fridge. Morning and evening feedings for 2 cats, checked off when they were given. Two bowls in different rooms, so you didn’t have to wait behind Mr. Greedy for your food.

You were never a heavy cat, but you did gain back the weight and maintained it well, as long as we kept track.

Thank you for accepting this new homeless kitten into our lives with such grace and tolerance.

What did this teach me?

  • You need to keep track of how much food your pets are eating. Aside from their weight, changes in food intake can tell you a lot about their health. Setting up a simple feeding plan (how much, who, when) can help a lot. Dry erase boards are your friend if you have multiple pets.
  • Cats can adjust to changes in the household, but you should introduce new pets slowly and make sure they have escape options in case things get too stressful.