Lucy’s Picked Up Bad Habits from David’s Cats– But Is This Really a Bad Thing? An Examination of Cat Behavior After Abuse

Patrick and Lucy have always been well-trained cats. I started training them at a young age, and the only real behavioral issue that Lucy has is biting when he is afraid or overstimulated, and Patrick has issues with keeping me awake at night. Overall, though, they have always been pretty well-behaved boys. That is, until they moved in with David’s three cats.

The first bad behavior that Lucy picked up on was peeing outside of the litter box. This is something that David’s cat Marmalade did frequently, and Tempest sometimes also sprayed. About 6 months or so after moving in with Marmalade, Lucy started peeing outside of the litter box, too, particularly in beds. He had done this a couple of times before, but only when he was sick. This made me very worried. We took him to the vet right away though and ruled out physical issues.

We then took Lucy to an animal behaviorist, who worked with us on ways to reduce his and Marmalade’s habit of peeing outside the litter box. We tried all kinds of things to reduce this behavior, but it did not decrease until Marmalade stopped doing it when he developed cancer. The behaviorist told us that likely the cats are doing this to mark their territory, and it seems that when Marmalade got sick he didn’t have the energy to do this anymore.

Lucy did get diagnosed later on with bladder cystitis, too. This definitely could have influenced his propensity to pee wherever he could. But, because he didn’t do it until he met Marmalade, and he had bladder issues before then where he usually peed in the litter box despite them, this seems to be a bad habit that he picked up from the other cats. And, even though he rarely pees outside the litter box these days, he still does on so infrequently. The other day, for example, he peed in a cat tent that we have. Luckily, though, this is no longer a daily occurrence like it was when Marmalade was participating in it.

I was actually quite embarrassed and shocked when Lucy picked up this habit. As I said above, he’d always been a pretty well-behaved cat. Therefore, when he started peeing outside the litter box, it was shocking to me. But, he was also in a situation he’d never been before. He and Patrick had always been my only cats, so being introduced to new cats and their bad habits rubbed off on him.

Over the past six months to a year, Lucy has also picked up on another habit from David’s cats, which is that he has started to eat food that is left on plates in the sink. He also will drink stagnant water that is on dishes in the sink, and has become interested in human food, which he hadn’t been interested in for years. I know that David’s cat Perdi is guilty of eating and drinking out of the sink, so likely he picked this up from her. But, he took it up a level, meaning that he now does it much more often than she does. Because of this, I try to do the dishes as often as I can, and if I soak a pan I put a plate over it so that he cannot drink the water in it.

Lucy has always liked to drink water from places other than his water dishes and fountains, though. He loves to drink water out of the bathtub, and to drink out of my water glasses when they are full. I used to actually fill up glasses of water for him that I had previously drank out of just because he loves to do this so much.

So, I guess that it’s not too surprising that he discovered that there are sources of water in the sink. He likes water somewhat, so I think that this might be a bit of an adventure for him. We have three cat fountains that are always full, so he has no reason to scope out different water sources; I think that he just likes to do it.

Also, a few years ago he lost a lot of weight through diet and exercise. He used to be 18 or 19 pounds and I think that he is now 13 or so pounds. Before he lost this weight, he was unable to jump up on kitchen counters. Now that he can, though, it seems like he is apt to explore those areas and more.

We do have a problem in our house, though, with David’s cat Perdi drinking out of the toilet. Patrick and Lucy never showed a propensity to do this, so I am not in the habit of putting the lid up. But, I need to learn to do it anyways, especially because the other day I caught Lucy drinking out of the toilet, meaning that he has picked up yet another habit from his new housemates! Still, I understand that he is exploring his environment more now that he has lost the weight that he carried for most of his life.

I also wonder if part of the reason why he is trying all of these new things is simply because he is in a safe enough environment to do so. I remember that before our time in domestic violence, that both Patrick and Lucy would explore the apartments that we lived in much more than they did when we were in abusive situations. At that time, Lucy still liked human food, too. But, when we were in abusive situations, it was like he sort of shut down and only wanted one type of food. Both cats became really picky and rigid and were very anxious. This continued even after I got out of domestic violence because we continued to live in the same apartment where the abuse occurred for a couple of years afterward.

It is possible, then, that a big part of the reason why Lucy is trying out all sorts of new behaviors and finding new habits is simply because he feels safe enough to do so. I know that Patrick has picked up new habits as well, but he never really has gotten back to his pre-abuse self quite as much as Lucy and seems to have lingering anxiety issues (he was more of the explorer than Lucy when they were younger). Still, he is more talkative and assertive than ever, even if he isn’t actively exploring like he used to. Part of this could be age as well, and a result of his late-stage arthritis.

Because of these reasons, I kind of have mixed feelings about all of these “habits” that Lucy is picking up. While they are not great, this still shows me that he is feeling free to take risks again. This is quite freeing for me to see and gives me a sense of freedom as well. So, in a lot of ways I’m happy to see him trying out new things (or re-kindling old habits), even if they aren’t the best habits in the world. I’m glad that he has the courage to try these things and knows that he will not be harshly reprimanded any longer.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment below.

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