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The rodent eats cat food in the nighttime
August 23, 2010 8:16 AM   Subscribe

What shadowy creature did I see eating my cat's food last night? What do I do about it?

Last night, my boyfriend and I awoke to this *crunch crunch* sound of something eating my cat's food. I realized Kitty was on the bed with us and when I looked down from my sleeping loft to investigate, I saw a large shadow-y *thing* down there eating the cat food. At that point my cat ran down the stairs and chased the thing into the kitchen, where it disappeared. It was very dark, making exact identification impossible but it seemed to be the size of a very large rat, medium-sized kitten or small possum. It was big enough to loudly crunch on the food. The crunching, oh god, the crunching.

I am completely disturbed by this thing. What is it? Would rats and possums just hang out in a house and eat cat food? I have never had a mouse, rat, or even bug problem, though I do live on first floor (I live in Philadelphia). We have a bunch of little stray kittens in the backyard and I want to believe that it was just an adorable lost kitten. What do I do to keep my cat safe from whatever diseases this thing is carrying? Should I ask my landlord to call the exterminator or do you think this is a one-time invasion? How can I unhear that crunching sound?
posted by Katine to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
It could be one of the kittens, if you can find a spot where they might get in. It could also be a big rat, they get to be quite large (especially, I imagine, with a ready supply of yummy pet food).

You could maybe call your local animal control... they might know the next step.
posted by torisaur at 8:21 AM on August 23, 2010


Definitely tell your landlord what happened. Don't go poking around yourself.
posted by griphus at 8:22 AM on August 23, 2010


would rats and possums just hang out in a house and eat cat food?

absolutely.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:24 AM on August 23, 2010


Given that you can't describe it, there's no way for anyone to tell you what it was. Are there openings into spaces behind cabinets or into walls that a rodent could get through? If so, can you do anything to close those openings?

If you do decide to call the landlord for an exterminator, be sure to move your cat to a safe, poison-free location during the process and for a few days afterward, and to make absolutely sure they don't leave behind any poisoned baits in locations that your cat could get into.

Also, and I know you didn't ask about what to do with the kittens but I will offer some busybody advice anyhow -- if you have an SPCA, particularly a no-kill facility, nearby -- consider taking those stray kittens in. Otherwise those few that survive the winter will transform from adorable kittens into miserable short-lived strays who will breed lots more miserably short-lived strays.
posted by aught at 8:27 AM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Could be a raccoon. Yes, all these animals will hang out and try to eat cat food at any opportunity.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:29 AM on August 23, 2010


It could definitely be an opossum--they love cat food.

Call the landlord ASAP. It's his or her job to deal with multiple-legged non-rent-paying residents.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:29 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


If it's a raccoon, your cat's water will be dirty.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:35 AM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


My cousin lived near UPenn in an old house and had a gigantic squirrel infestation. It took them a while to locate and seal up all of the potential entry cracks in their very old row house.
posted by elvissa at 8:35 AM on August 23, 2010


Did you have any windows open at the time? We used to get raccoons climbing through the kitchen window to have a go at the cat food.
posted by corey flood at 8:35 AM on August 23, 2010


If you have a cat door, you could try getting one of those that just works with your cat's collar and won't let other animals in. Raccoons and possums LOVE cat food.

I am shuddering just now thinking about waking up to TEH MYSTERIOUS CRUNCHING CREETUR.
posted by misha at 8:38 AM on August 23, 2010


I walked in on 4 adult raccoons in our kitchen eating the dried cat food. I'd left the back door open for some ventilation while we hung out in the next room. They love cat food and water.
posted by w0mbat at 8:39 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


We used to feed our dog outside (because of the mess she made), and if the bowl got left out too long, there was a possum that would shuffle into the yard and finish it off. It was the crunching that woke me up - I could hear it from the open upstairs bedroom window in the middle of the night. Dunno if they'd be willing to go into the house to eat it, though. I don't recall seeing them move all that quick, either. If it's a rat, you'll probably find droppings here and there, rice-shaped and black.
posted by jquinby at 8:40 AM on August 23, 2010


Possum, raccoon - most likely. Not to fear from them - they are harmless critters. Keep the food indoors in containers and you shouldn't have any more run-ins.
posted by watercarrier at 8:41 AM on August 23, 2010


There was a dumpster diving racoon outside my (Philly) apartment complex not long ago, though duder was definitely bigger than a kitten, he scared the crap out of me as I went to lob a bag of trash in his general direction. We stared at each other for a minute until I backed away, he had absolutely no intention of going anywhere. I told my landlord but I basically live in a housing project so it's not likely anything will improve until a small child is attacked and gets rabies. I see opossums around all the time, too. I would walk the perimeter and try to figure out where the point of entry is and plug it, something that big isn't coming through a small crack in the floor.
posted by The Straightener at 8:45 AM on August 23, 2010


where it disappeared -- Wait, how could it have vanished into the kitchen? Why aren't you asking how it got in?
posted by whiskeyspider at 8:48 AM on August 23, 2010


I can testify that there are LOTS of raccoons in Phila -- enough that I've seen them using the sidewalks at night on multiple occasions.
posted by MeiraV at 8:54 AM on August 23, 2010


I had a rat when I lived in Philadelphia. They are resourceful creatures, capable of flattening themselves out completely in order to slide through the tightest and most improbable spaces. I am also fairly certain they can fly under the right circumstances.

My rat was brazen. I kept my garbage pail under the sink, and it would lurk in there even during daylight hours. I never opened those cabinets until I knew the gnawing had subsided and it was gone. Sometimes I would stomp on the floor just to make sure it was gone.

Talk to your landlord or hire someone who specializes in dealing with pest prevention and eradication. My rat moved on after a while, and after I blocked up his entry portal. Best of luck.
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:54 AM on August 23, 2010


If it is a rat, it could have dived under the stove or fridge or dishwasher. From there, particularly if it went the dishwasher route, it could get into the wall if there is an opening around the pipes.

We had a rat come in the house once years ago. We found it would hang out in the drawer of the stove's broiler. We set the snap trap there and in less than an hour, the rat was in the trash.

If it was a possum, there's a good possibility the cat wouldn't have chased it or it wouldn't have run. Cats and possums have a weird truce. I bet you had a rat.
posted by onhazier at 8:59 AM on August 23, 2010


My first thought was raccoon as well, but backyard kittens, rats, and possums are also real possibilities. Unfortunately, you can't go back and see exactly what it was, so at best you can protect from what it might have been; look for any openings that you can seal off, keep a flashlight next to your bed (always a good idea anyway), and keep the cat's food locked away whenever possible.

Some things you can look for which might help you identify it and better prepare for; feces, outdoor trash-cans being rooted through, dirty water (as mentioned above) and chew marks could all give you clues as to your nocturnal intruder.

If absolutely all else fails, lock your cat safely away for a night, and use a Havahart trap to see if you can catch whatever it is. You can sometimes borrow these from animal rescues, which might save you from having to spend money on one.
posted by quin at 9:07 AM on August 23, 2010


Thanks for your answers and your empathy for the horror of The Crunching. I'll definitely be calling my landlord.

where it disappeared -- Wait, how could it have vanished into the kitchen? Why aren't you asking how it got in?

Are there openings into spaces behind cabinets or into walls that a rodent could get through? If so, can you do anything to close those openings?

I'm assuming it got in from somewhere under my kitchen cabinets as that is where it ran. When I got brave enough to look under there with a flashlight, it was gone. I can't really tell if there are any holes/openings because even though there is a good amount of space between cabinets and the floor, it is difficult to really see under there. The kitchen is in the back of the apartment and backs up the the garden. My apartment is very small so there isn't much of a place for it to go/hide. I did unknowingly leave the back screen door open earlier in the night, but that was only for a couple minutes. Either way, I'm pretty sure (and hope to the lord/void) it's not still inside the house.

My cat is an indoor-only and the food/cat/action was all inside.

Also, and I know you didn't ask about what to do with the kittens but I will offer some busybody advice anyhow -- if you have an SPCA, particularly a no-kill facility, nearby -- consider taking those stray kittens in

I do appreciate the kitten concern. I actually volunteer with a local no-kill group and have been working on finding a foster home for these guys.
posted by Katine at 9:12 AM on August 23, 2010


If absolutely all else fails, lock your cat safely away for a night, and use a Havahart trap

Thank you for reminding me that I actually have one of these sitting in my place right now for use with the aforementioned kittens. I am terrified of having to come eye to eye with my intruder, but maybe I will put it out tonight.

I can testify that there are LOTS of raccoons in Phila

I've seen plenty rifling through our trashcans and there is evidence that something did go bonkers in our trash last night. Based on what I saw, I don't think it was a raccoon. I'm now coming to terms with the fact that it was probably a really big rat. Though, I did dream later in the night that it was an opossum/crust-punk shapeshifter.

Thanks for your help everyone. I'll call my landlord and possibly put the trap out. Will report back.
posted by Katine at 9:21 AM on August 23, 2010


It's probably less likely in this case, but for other folk wondering about cat-food-snacking creatures: one summer when I was a kid, a skunk (!) happily tromped into my parents' house to gnaw some cat food. We (very daintily) constructed a barrier to discourage the skunk from wandering any deeper into the house, but ultimately had to wait until he ate his fill and left.
posted by janell at 9:32 AM on August 23, 2010


Unaccountable sense of dread, rat-sized, disappeared into the walls you say?
posted by bifter at 9:32 AM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Definitely agreed on the have-a-heart trap. We used one to catch a squirrel in our attic. Given that you already know that the "intruder" enjoys cat food, you already know what to bait it with.

(Yes, this might be your landlord's responsibility, but it might be easier to set the trap yourself, given that you already own it, and can do it *right now*. Be sure let him know about the situation though, regardless of which route you choose to take)
posted by schmod at 9:38 AM on August 23, 2010


Possums are loud crunchers.
posted by serena15221 at 10:15 AM on August 23, 2010


Possum, raccoon - most likely. Not to fear from them - they are harmless critters.

Uh, raccoons aren't harmless. They kill for sport. If there's really a raccoon in the house, you need to fear for the safety of your cat.

Look at the poop. Rat poop -- small. Possum/raccoon poop = cat sized poop.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:35 AM on August 23, 2010


Possum, raccoon - most likely. Not to fear from them - they are harmless critters. Keep the food indoors in containers and you shouldn't have any more run-ins.

Oh my sweet gentle jesus is this wrong.

Look, I don't know if you have a possum or a rat or what, but you need to stay the hell away from it, whatever it is. It probably wasn't a a raccoon, since adult raccoons are a bit bigger than the size you've described and cats generally won't chase them. However. If you didn't see it, you should assume the worst, because things that are the size of small possums that feel like they have been cornered will attack you or your pets, and raccoons in particular are whirling dervishes of claws and teeth that you do not want to fuck with.

Everything else in here is sound advice--this is, empirically, your landlord's problem, (although trapping it yourself wouldn't be a bad idea if you want faster turnaround) but it has the potential of becoming your problem in the short-term if you happen to run into it in the middle of the night. If it's finding a way inside your house, you should be locking your pets into the bedroom with you at night until you figure out what this thing is.
posted by Mayor West at 10:53 AM on August 23, 2010


A creature that eats cat food and vanishes into the darkness when approached by a cat says "rat" to me. Raccoons are belligerent, and tend to stand their ground when threatened. Possums are unlikely to move faster than a waddle, and when cornered will flop over and pretend to be dead.

All three animals (and many more) love nothing more than a delicious bowl of cat food.
posted by ErikaB at 10:54 AM on August 23, 2010


Possums *are* actually very docile and harmless creatures. They may attempt to put a show up by hissing, but they are gentle and not very good at defending themselves.

I came downstairs tonight because I heard odd crunching in the cat food bowls and caught one little bugger making his escape through the cat door. He hangs out fairly often with our cats outdoors, they must assume he's just an odd looking cat. I'm not sure about how safe raccoons are, but Mayor West is wrong about opossums.

More opossum facts!
posted by stagewhisper at 10:49 PM on September 16, 2010


um, cute opossums HERE!
posted by stagewhisper at 10:51 PM on September 16, 2010


The Jenkins is a Possum!

For those still following: I've had a trap out since his first visit, but no action. Then tonight I heard some rustling and peeked into my kitchen to find a little possum face staring back. Mystery solved. Now to get him away!
posted by Katine at 5:00 PM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


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