Help me defeat a cat in a battle of wits.
May 10, 2005 10:08 AM   Subscribe

Because of long-standing behavior issues, I need to find a way to keep a large, determined, unusually intelligent cat in the basement all night. Actually, I need to keep her from climbing some stairs.

If she can get to the top of our basement stairs, she can paw the doors or the trim for hours, making a swishing noise (she doesn't have her front claws, but has tough pads that excel at making scratchy noises) that cuts right through to the bedroom and deprives Mrs. Cobra! and me of sleep.

The bottom of the stairway is shrouded on either side by drywall, like so:

|_|Stairs|_|
basement

To date, I've tried piling boxes on the stairs (she either jumps over them or pulls them down), stretching a jury-rigged barrier made out of old basketball nets (cut into rectangles and joined together) across the base of the stairs (the bottom of the net isn't secure, and she just shimmies under it), hanging a big hunk of cardboard on four nails driven into the drywall (she works on one of the corners, eventually prying the cardboard off of the nail), and piling a rolled-up rug at the base of the stairs (she just brute-forces it aside).

A baby gate won't really work, because a railing on the stairway would be in the way.

Any ideas, preferably involving ordinary household items/minimal house modification are welcome. Aside from the fact that I'm not getting much sleep these days, it's very disheartening to be losing a battle of wits with something whose brain is the size of a walnut.
posted by COBRA! to Pets & Animals (23 answers total)
 
How about cutting out a piece of plywood that "seals" the bottom of the stairs, fitting snugly against the floor and the drywall on both sides? You could attach it with those velcro pads with peel and stick backing, so you can just push it out of the way when you want to come down.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:16 AM on May 10, 2005


Well, for starters, why do you want to keep it in the basement all night, anyway?

If you aren't too concerned with the doors and trim, you could just attach some old carpet or thick fabric on the door and trim where she paws at.

On preview; Flanders's idea is great also.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 10:19 AM on May 10, 2005


I read somewhere that you should put double-sided heavy-duty tape on the area that the cat is pawing as they don't like the feel of stickiness on their paws. Not sure if that works but it seems like it should.
posted by KathyK at 10:29 AM on May 10, 2005


That or aluminum foil.
posted by KathyK at 10:35 AM on May 10, 2005


Well, for starters, why do you want to keep it in the basement all night, anyway?

Because this is a fairly old cat with a very well-established pattern of raising hell all night (knocking things off of shelves, jumping on and off the bed repeatedly, demanding food at 3 AM) if she isn't locked down. And after 9 years of nighttime imprisonment, it's what she's used to; now, if we leave her out, her behavior's even worse because she's not used to the horrible, horrible freedom.

Carpet/fabric/tape on the door at the top of the stairs is a possibility... that's more or less how we contained her in our last place. But that gunked up the door pretty badly, and if I can avoid excessive door-gunk, I'll be happy.

SSF's velcro idea has a lot of promise...
posted by COBRA! at 10:37 AM on May 10, 2005


How about a Cat Scat Mat?

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION: Thin, soft, vinyl like feeling mats which have wires running through them. These wires are attached to a coupler which attaches to a battery pack. This pack has a low, medium and high setting. This setting is the amount of power which is sent to the wires which run throughout the mat. When powered on, this power will deliver an uncomfortable shock to pets like dogs or cats that walk over it.
posted by LarryC at 10:38 AM on May 10, 2005


I had a similar problem with my cat when I was revarnishing my stair treads. The first couple days I used flattened corrugated boxes with blue painters' tape. I later settled on using a single sheet of 1/8" luan plywood - cheap and light enough to be held with tape.

I like velcro but I can never get it to remain fixed to its substrate. If I you want an alternate method to hold it place, try hook-eyes or extension springs like this:
| |   Stairs   | ||_|\          /|_|----o--------o----
P.S. I keep a small, loaded Super Soaker squirt gun on my nightstand.
posted by klarck at 10:53 AM on May 10, 2005


Another option might be sheet lattice, like the stuff installed in gardens. It usually comes in a sheet that is a little wider than a standard door. You can attach it with hook and eyes on the sides.

It should be strong enough that the kitty can't bend it to get under it, and if he can figure out how to climb the lattice, unhook it from the wall and from there make it upstairs...well then, he deserves food at 3am. ;)
posted by dejah420 at 11:04 AM on May 10, 2005


This may be excessive, but what about bird spikes?
posted by KathyK at 11:17 AM on May 10, 2005


If you want to try double-sided tape again, you could mount the tape to something (vinyl floor protector comes to mind, though posterboard would work too, I suppose) and then staple your "tape plate" to the door.

On that note, could you pad the door where she paws at it? Don't use uncovered foam or anything else she could chew and eat, but you could make a thin pillow from batting and some cheap, sturdy (rip resistant because of the chewing) fabric and cover as much of the door as she can reach.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:23 PM on May 10, 2005


I think bird spikes at the bottom of stairs poses a rather undo risk or impaling one's self. I second the idea of a lattice with a garden-gate type latch.

It will allow air, light, and sound to penetrate, but not your cat. You may want to tack some 1/2" stock around the edges to make it more sturdy and give you something solid to which you can attach hinges and latches. It would end up looking something like a storm door or barn door. Also, if you are going to use this material, make sure to either get one made of very smooth wood, or to varnish the daylights out of a rough one so as to avoid spinters.
posted by kc0dxh at 12:24 PM on May 10, 2005


Yeah, with the bird spikes, it'd just be a matter of time before I injured myself going down to feed her in the morning. My pre-coffee coordination isn't so hot.

I'm sort of looking at door-padding as a last resort; aside from the door-gunk issue (which Lyn Never appears to have solved), the door in question goes against one of our kitchen walls when opened. And, aesthetically, I'd rather not have the padding/tape visible (although I suppose we could always use some really nice-looking pad, and maybe it'd make a good conversation-starter).

I'm going to look into the velcro/hook-eyes and lattice work ideas. But if anyone comes up with anything else, please keep 'em coming.
posted by COBRA! at 12:39 PM on May 10, 2005


jumping on and off the bed repeatedly, demanding food at 3 AM

That's exactly what my cat does. Maybe it comes with age.

Flanders' idea is definately the cleanest idea...I second it.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 12:41 PM on May 10, 2005


A bit off topic, but it might help with behavior modification: have you tried giving your cat a big meal when you go to bed? That way at least she'll be full and won't be waiting impatiently for food all night. We had the same distructive nocturnal issues with our cat that you do, and the only way we were able to solve them was by feeding our cat one time per day at our bedtime. He still has occasional bad nights, but at least he doesn't start whining for breakfast at 3 a.m.

Even if you still want to confine her to the basement overnight, at least you'd be taking hunger out of the equation.
posted by handful of rain at 12:47 PM on May 10, 2005


A bit off topic, but it might help with behavior modification: have you tried giving your cat a big meal when you go to bed? That way at least she'll be full and won't be waiting impatiently for food all night.

We tried that years ago. Food isn't exactly the issue with her. She generally doesn't even eat all of the food she gets in the morning, even after a multi-hour "feed me, goddammit" session. It's attention/validation she's after, with a possible side helping of establishing herself as the alpha mammal of the house.
posted by COBRA! at 12:54 PM on May 10, 2005 [1 favorite]


Ah, that's too bad. I know exactly how self-reinforcing those little habits can be--and how irritating they can become! We were lucky that our cat grew out of a lot of his bad habits--but it looks like yours grew into some!
posted by handful of rain at 1:04 PM on May 10, 2005


A bit off topic, but it might help with behavior modification: have you tried giving your cat a big meal when you go to bed? That way at least she'll be full and won't be waiting impatiently for food all night.

We've got four cats, and after months of sleepless mornings, we finally had the bright idea of setting up a timed, two-bowl feeder to open around 5 am. Solved a lot of problems.
posted by Dean King at 1:12 PM on May 10, 2005


We use a Cat Scram to keep our cats out of certain areas of the house. It works for two of our cats, who won't come near it. The third cat is totally oblivous to the high-frequency sound (but is not deaf). Thankfully the oblivious cat is not prone to destructive behaviors.

If you do try this product, get the AC/DC adapter, which beats the heck out of replacing the batteries all the time.
posted by Joleta at 3:33 PM on May 10, 2005


Have you considered a kitty condo?
posted by Alylex at 3:58 PM on May 10, 2005


At the top of the stairs, possibly above the door, set up a Super Soaker. Buy a motion detector. Uh..make them work together.

Or, you could connect the Super Soaker to the internets ala online hunting, and let us have some fun with this poor cat. MeFites are up at all times of the night.
posted by graventy at 4:53 PM on May 10, 2005 [1 favorite]


I really like graventy's idea, but stupidsexyFlander/dejah420's ideas make the most sense. A "door" like that would be easy to install even for someone without much skill (not saying that COBRA! doesn't have skill, but ..erm.. you get the idea) and relatively inexpensive.
posted by deborah at 6:36 PM on May 10, 2005


um, why not hang an *actual* door at the bottom of the stairs, too?
posted by mwhybark at 8:34 PM on May 10, 2005


um, why not hang an *actual* door at the bottom of the stairs, too?

Because it's a rental and I'd rather not sink any more money into it than I need to.

---------

Anyway, starting next Wednesday, qualified contestants will get to buy half-hour stints guarding the staircase online with a remote-controlled water gun. $15 for 30 minutes, or a Grand Opening Special of $20 for an hour. Sign up now, spaces are limited!
posted by COBRA! at 7:35 AM on May 11, 2005 [1 favorite]


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