cats

Is My Sex Life Emotionally Scarring My Cats?

I wrote this for Broadly. Image by Kat Aileen.

Dating is terrifying and breakups are agonizing, but thankfully humans have friends and the pharmaceutical industry (actually, cats have that too) to help us get through it all. I live with two marmalade tabby cats, Major Tom Cat (Tommy) and Mama Cat. You’ve got to be a very attractive person to lure me out on a Friday night when I could be home with them and a plate of nachos. Recently I went through a rather traumatic breakup and am back in the saddle (OkCupid). I know I eventually will be fine, but what about my cats? Are they doomed to a life of personality disorders and abandonment issues? To learn more, I spoke to Elise Gouge, MPH, owner of Pet Behavior Consulting, LLC and certified animal behavior consultant and trainer. I refrained from asking her about why Mama Cat sometimes tries to curl up on my legs when I’m using my vibrator, as I assume it’s simply because she wants a massage too.

Broadly: I co-adopted Tommy with an ex-boyfriend, who was a major part of his life until recently–how can divorce/break ups/the absence of one partner affect cats’ behavior?
Elise Gouge: Cats form strong attachments with their caretakers, and the loss of one or both can have a profound impact on behavior. It’s not uncommon to see grief behavior and distress such as vocalizing, searching behavior, restlessness, loss of appetite, changes in litter-box or grooming habits, and general malaise.

In the past month my cats have taken to licking and swatting me awake at night– is there usually any cause for this behavior other than wanting food?
Changes in behavior may be due to wanting more attention or needing more enrichment. If the cats were used to a certain level of activity, and that has now decreased due to one person leaving the home, they could be frustrated or stressed. The licking and swatting could be attention-seeking behavior or stress-related to the changes in the environment.

Can cats pick up on your emotions–in this case being very sad and hurts with lots of crying because you were dumped?
Absolutely.

If you are single and bring different men home, can the influx of strangers affect a cat’s mental health?
It depends on the cat. If a cat is by nature a social and friendly feline, then meeting multiple people will be exciting and fun. If you have a cat with a more reserved or shy temperament, having multiple strangers enter the home will be increasingly stressful.

It seems new partners can almost make a cat jealous! Is this a thing?
The concept of pets feeling jealousy is widely debated by animal behaviorists and consultants. Some feel that pets absolutely feel jealousy, and others believe that jealousy is a term that carries a lot of negative stigma that should be separate from how we define our cat’s behaviors. It is true that if your cat is used to spending 100 percent of his time with you and suddenly another person is occupying your time and the cat now only has access to you 50 percent of the time, he will most likely show some stress behaviors.

For cats, vying for your attention through vocalizing, knocking things over, scratching, etc. can be common. From the cat’s perspective, he is simply doing things that result in the desired goal of getting more attention from you. If a cat (or any creature) does a behavior and it creates a desired result, the cat is going to do it more often. This is called positive reinforcement.

When cats watch people having sex–do they know what’s going on?
Cats would be sensitive to the smells, the changes in energy, the sounds and motion. Sexual contact, heightened levels of emotional or physical arousal, are all things that can impact a cat’s behavior.

My older cat Mama has now had two different “fathers” (ex-boyfriends of mine) do such changes–along with moving apartments–have a detrimental effect?It depends on the cat’s temperament. In general, cats are not fans of change. They prefer things to stay the same. Some are better than others in adapting and changing as the environment requires.

My cat has seemed to like some men more than others! Should I consider this information when deciding to get serious with someone?
If you are a dedicated cat owner and plan to have cats in your life for many years to come, then I would advise making sure you pick partners that share your love of cats. Your cat will be happiest with a person who is genuinely fond of, delighted by, and interested in him or her.


It depends on the cat’s temperament. In general, cats are not fans of change. They prefer things to stay the same. Some are better than others in adapting and changing as the environment requires.

My cat has seemed to like some men more than others! Should I consider this information when deciding to get serious with someone?
If you are a dedicated cat owner and plan to have cats in your life for many years to come, then I would advise making sure you pick partners that share your love of cats. Your cat will be happiest with a person who is genuinely fond of, delighted by, and interested in him or her.

A Brief Note on World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental  Health Day. In case you didn’t read and pick up on this from my last VICE column about death and thinking I had no friends, I had been acting rather depressed, whiney and was feeling quite jaded about humans. OK, I was acting a bit like a spoiled brat. I had hurt people, I had been hurt. Cue Johnny Cash, in the one cover I prefer to the original: “I will let you down, I will make you hurt.” 

A while back I wrote of the time my kitty, Mama Cat, who was once upon a time a homeless teenage mom, had bit me and sent me to the hospital. She didn’t want to intentionally hurt me, she bit me because I had left her alone for Christmas, felt abandoned and was going through her own issues. Her biting response was instinctual. While our bodies, brains, and experiences vary vastly from a house cat, we are still animals. It is a cliché, but there is truth to “It’s not you, it’s me.” Often when we hurt others it is because we are reacting from a place of pain, and when someone else lets you down, you must remember they are dealing with their own struggles. Sometimes the best way to be there for someone you care about is to give them their space and let them heal. Just as I would like to be forgiven for the times I acted like an asshole to others, I forgive those who have hurt me, understanding that their actions may be coming from a place of their own pain, and not to take everything so personal. 

Depression, anxiety, or other forms of mental issues are something that most of us, more people than you think, will likely struggle with to some degree from the rest of our lives. This weekend I’ll have a new column go up, one intentionally more about living than dying. I’ve learned you can’t depend on anyone else to fix you, and you can’t truly be there for anyone else until you have healed yourself. For therapy, some people run, others play guitar, some paint, I write. To write I must experience, because as great as Netflix is, reruns of shows I’ve already seen don’t provide the same creative inspiration of the oddities I encounter when I leave my apartment.

Whatever your therapy is, tonight, and as many nights as you can, get out there and do it. And may we forgive — forgive ourselves for inflecting pain, and forgive those who have hurt us, as we never truly know what someone is going through, and kindness and forgiveness provide more healing and emotional freedom than resentment.

Happy World Mental Health Day.