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Feature July 2014 Issue

Getting Divorced with Cats

When couples split, it's important to make good decisions about the future care of any family pets. Cats are affected by household breakups more than you would think.

When Susan Lockmeyer and her husband Tom divorced, the couple arrived at a split decision regarding their four cats. “We each had our favorites,” explained Susan. She kept two of them, and her husband moved out with the other two.

happy cat family

THINKSTOCK

It's a prudent idea to have a plan in place for your pets in the event that your family undergoes changes in the future.

Choosing favorites is one way that divorcing couples can decide what to do with each cat. Another consideration is which partner the cat has bonded to most closely. Does the cat seek out one partner more often, or sleep with one partner?

Which of You Will Be A Better Caretaker?

And maybe more importantly: Is one partner better suited to care for the cat in terms of available time, finances and interest? A partner who works late or travels a great deal for work may have a more challenging time satisfying a pet’s emotional and physical needs.

If the cat has bonded with other household animals, the person who gets custody of them may be the best one to continue caring for the cat. And if the cat has bonded with children, the parent with custody of the kids should try to keep the cat, if possible. This decision will benefit both the cat and the kids during a difficult time for the family.

little girl with kittens

THINKSTOCK

If your kids and pets are bonded, it's best if they can continue to live together.

When a divorce is amicable, partners often make decisions based on logic, while keeping the pet’s best interest in mind. Unfortunately, divorces aren’t always amicable — and the pet can become a pawn in the separation. But the best choice is often to let the cat go with the person most wants to take care of him. This can be arranged well ahead of time — a sort of “pet pre-nuptial agreement” — that can help eliminate problems down the road.

Cats Need Routine

Most cats appreciate specific schedules and staying in the same place, so a cat may actually be more attached to her familiar surroundings than to her caregivers. Because of this, shared custody options — in which a pet moves back and forth between one partner and the other — usually do not work well with cats.

And if the divorce is preceded by a lot of household stress and strife, your cat may also experience stress. If you notice a change in behavior that could be stress-related, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. Signs of stress can include excessive licking or pulling out of hair; litter box problems or territorial spraying; excessive meowing, sleeping or hiding; or a change in play or eating habits.

While splitting up with a partner can be traumatic for you and your family, the best thing you can do is to try to keep things as consistent and stress-free as possible for your cat. — Catnip staff

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