Those Reckless Cats Who Share Their Water

By Bill Hall

A calendar of cat pictures with tidbits of advice for cat owners urges cat keepers with more than one cat to put out separate dishes of water for each one.

Oh, yeah? And how about separate toilet stools for each of the cats to drink out of?

Sometimes the advice given to cat owners by well-intentioned experts involves what is, technically, sound advice but also totally impractical and nearly useless.

Of course, totally impractical and nearly useless virtually describes cats themselves. They are impractical and useless to the extent that they never help around the house. They never get a job. They never chip in a cent on their upkeep.

About the best you can say for cats is that, unlike kids, they don't leave their socks all over the house, though they do spread their coats around.

On the other hand, they are not useless if you judge them as you would a friend, a small child or a pet ape. Cats are good company, likable and often entertaining. That's useful.

I am also aware why people writing advice on pets frequently come up with relatively zany ideas. They have to write something every issue whether they have anything practical to say or not. Lord knows, I understand that, as I am in the process of proving at this very moment.

Nonetheless, urging cat keepers to put out a dish for each cat is bizarre on the face of it. If you have five cats, do you put out five different water dishes?

I understand the suggestion. It is the same as recommending that humans not share the same water glass to avoid passing around colds and flu bugs.

On the other hand, you can say to another human being, "Don't drink out of my glass; I have a cold."

You could also say that to a cat -- in any language you please -- but a cat won't understand a word.

How then are we supposed to carry out the recommendation of separate dishes for cats?

"No, no, Puffy, that's Scarfy's dish. Please drink out of your own."

You might as well explain the world monetary system to Puffy. She will understand as much of what you say.

The alternative, of course, is policing the water dishes in some fashion. But how do we do that? Do we lock the cats in separate rooms with each water dish in the appropriate room? Do we issue them each a small canteen or maybe a little plastic water bottle?

What is the practical method of carrying out the admonition to keep each cat's face out of the other cat's dish? And how do we explain to them which toilet stool is their own personal drinking fountain?

Sometimes those who write advice for cat owners make suggestions with the best of intentions that aren't a great fit for the cats I live with. For instance, there are places where you can buy toothpaste and toothbrushes for cats. And there are those who will tell you that you really should brush your cats' teeth every day because cats, just like people, will experience more cavities and loss of teeth if you don't exercise proper feline dental hygiene.

But as a practical matter in the real world, how does a person fit that into a normal life? "We can't leave for work yet, dear; we have to catch the cats and brush their fangs."

In the first place, there is the matter of safety. You cannot safely brush the teeth of any cat I know without wrapping the cat in duct tape. Anything else will result in shredded arms.

Apart from that, is it really feasible for most families to catch the cat and brush its teeth daily, given the fact that brushing a cat's teeth makes a cat increasingly hard to catch?

These suggestions from obsessive advisers remind me of the dentist I once knew who used to mention -- as an object lesson for one and all -- how much he enjoyed wandering around a campground out in the wild flossing his teeth.

Similarly, there are probably pet experts who would, as a hint to be more responsible, suggest how much I might enjoy wandering around a campground with a cat under my arm brushing its teeth.

Of course, if I take two cats camping, I must admonish them not to drink out of the same brook.




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