Eat, Sleep, Bark, Love

I’m a veterinarian, not a couples counselor. Shouldn’t 2 people who love each other sit down and work out exactly how they will “parent” their pets?

Did you talk to your partner before you brought that sweet kitty home? By: Janna Hon

Let’s face it: Some of us are more animal-crazed than others.

If you’re contemplating sharing your life with someone — as in being life partners — do yourself a favor and cover the pet topic.

When you discuss the idea of family, are you talking human children, furry children or both? 1 kid, 1 cat? 2 rescue hounds and a rabbit? Is your extra storage in the pantry for a Crock-Pot or for small mammal cages?

I confess I have a strong bias against people who don’t want animals in their life. For me, life is void of warmth without my furries in it. Humans are fine, but I need to talk bark and mow-mow, not just English.

For most life partners, this core love of animals is a shared value. Still, the extent and variety of your menagerie — and how you “parent” your pets — can cause a lot of strife in a relationship.

A couple has to be attached to the same leash and in the same litter pan. Otherwise, there are going to be pet wars, and that’s not good.

How I Stretch My Husband’s Tolerance

Among our pets’ basic needs are sleeping and eating. Where and how they do that should be an agreed-upon plan.

ZeeZee has the bed to himself.

Let’s take the bed, for example. My husband, Andy, feels strongly that a bed is a place where people sleep. Single, double, queen or king, none of this matters. Beds are for people, he says.

I have a more ecumenical approach to sleeping structures. I believe beds are underused, large pieces of furniture that get lonely during the day when people are out of them. All that wasted clean linen and fluff! Beds need warm and furry bodies on their pillows, under their comforters, keeping the home fires burning until nightfall.

Andy doesn’t mind the pets on the bed so much. He loves our fur family. The occasional hairball dripping down the side of the sheets is a bit nasty, but cats will, you know, be cats.

He argues, though, that when the humans decide it’s their bedtime,  the animals should vacate to the 12 or so pet beds we have scattered about the house.

“Hey dogs and cats,” he suggests, “go sleep on other human beds in the house, or take a nappy on any of the couches or soft armchairs.” Our pet policy is very liberal. Upholstered items are for everyone.

This is not what the pets are thinking. They want our bed. Their sleep experience becomes even richer when they can sleep on our faces or make our feet numb. You know that “Sleep Numbers” bed commercial? My husband says our sleep number is 6: 2 humans, 2 dogs, 2 cats.

Who Wins?

I win. Even if I gently move the kitties off the bed when we turn in, they’re back before you can say “cat’s pajamas.” In fact, I’m resting on the bed right now as I write, and Snoop is trying to co-author this article on the iPad while Bedbug Buddy is munching by my feet.

Did you hear that last phrase correctly? Munching by my feet? Would that mean there is a cat in the bed? Eating? You would be correct. It’s a long story.

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Breakfast in Bed

A few years ago, I adopted a fearful cat with a bad injury. The caretaker didn’t want to give the cat the at-home care he needed after being hit by a car, so Bedbug Bud lives with us now.


Bedbug Bud
Bedbug Bud

Bedbug did not easily fit in to my menagerie. Despite his sweet nature, he was timid. He stayed under the comforter on our bed except for quick ventures to the litter box whenever the coast was clear of Cocker Spaniels.

Naturally, I had to leave him some sustenance during his recovery, so I left a dish of cat food on the bed.

The Bug was not shy when it came to claiming our bed as his own. In the beginning, I left the food on the bed only during the day and put it away when we turned in for the night. But Bedbug developed late-night munchies.

Getting tired of him walking on my face searching for the bowl at 3 AM, I took to leaving a little bowl of cat food in the bed 24/7.

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This arrangement drove my husband nuts because humans move their feet while sleeping. This restless-leg syndrome dismantles the cat food. The “Kitty Bed Buffet” made sense to me, however. When the cat food spilled onto the floor, this gave the doggies a midnight snack too. Everyone was happy except my husband, who thinks making a bed in the morning, and having cat food fly from the sheets like rice at a wedding, is not normal housekeeping.

And 3 years later, we finally have a solution. Bedbug is clearly healed and is weighing in at 16 pounds. Although he’s still timid, I find him skulking about at odd hours of the night. He has found the kitchen! Now when we go to bed the cat food goes in a drawer.

Pet Peeves

Seriously, many couples have arguments about what and how their pets eat. Most disagreements have more to do with what the diet should be, not where it should be fed.

The majority of sane households feed pets on the floor, not in the bed.

As you may know, pet food is a hot topic. The pet food industry and the media are in your face constantly touting one pet food craze or another. Most of the debate boils down to a few basic disagreements:

  1. Amount to feed and offer for snacking. Particularly when there is an obese pet in the household.
  2. Ingredients. Raw vs. organic vs. prescription.
  3. Expense. Many times an expensive diet may solve a pet’s medical condition, and one partner may not be on board with the price tag or not believe the food to be necessary.

Veterinarian or Couples Counselor?

I have had nasty scenes in my exam room when partners don’t agree to disagree. Along with my shingle that says “VMD,” I often wish I had another that read “Couples Counseling.”

O.G. has a human and a couch.

Your veterinarian can play a vital role in these discussions, but when a couple is really fighting about a pet issue, it is difficult to solve it during an annual appointment. That being said, please feel free to talk with your vet about what may seem like personal disagreements when it involves your pets. Their health may be more at risk than you think.

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I am often asked by one partner to put my recommendations in writing so they can be shared with the other partner. This is a valid request in many circumstances.

If a pet is obese, for instance, everyone in the house has to be on board with the feeding recommendations. We even have computer programs that can tailor a weight loss plan for your full-bodied Fido or feline.

Recently, pet parents had a nasty argument in front of me, their Labrador and their 2-year-old little girl. The wife had begun feeding a raw diet because she believed it might help the dog’s chronic ear infections. The husband found the raw diet disgusting.

What they did not realize:

  1. The raw diet was not a hypo-allergenic diet. They were also feeding the dog many other items that probably negated the benefits of the raw diet.
  2. Raw diets should be handled with extreme care when there is a tiny tot in the house. The couple was not aware that salmonella is a higher risk in households with young children.

They may still have gone home and argued, but at least they had more facts on board.

New Year’s resolutions were not complete in my house this year without a mention of the pets. I resolve to stop feeding Bedbug on the bed, and I resolve to stop encouraging the dogs on the bed when it bugs my partner.

May your new year be harmonious and peaceful. May your pets sleep well and eat healthy, and may you both agree on how that’s going to happen.

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.

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