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Save my armpit from becoming swiss cheese!
May 23, 2012 1:53 PM   Subscribe

I know I'm asking the impossible, and can't believe I'm actually asking this, but I'm at my wits end. How can I train my cat not to knead me to death?

These are my three furrbabies. The one on the right with the toy has this maddening habit of making bread in my armpit, typically when i'm in bed. Every night. Usually when I'm already asleep. She just wants to be petted (she's an extremely needy cat when it comes to affection) but this really starting to drive me insane. When i'm asleep, it wakes me up. It hurts!! She also does it when i'm just falling asleep, making sleep impossible until she's gotten the pets she has deemed necessary. I keep her claws trimmed, but my armpits are consistently covered in tiny cat-claw pricks. She really only does this at night, and I'll be honest, trying to train a cat when I'm about ready to pass out asleep is not usually my priority in the moment. But something needs to be done.

Things I've tried:
1) telling her a forceful no and ignoring her. She doesn't stop. In fact, she gets more persistant.
2) A high pitched yelp like they make when the play fighting gets too intense. She actually understands she's hurting me right in that moment and stops temporarily, but 60 seconds later she's back.
3) Kick the cats out of the bedroom. Works in that it forcibly stops the undesired behaviour during the banishment, but has the side effect of "punishing" the other two, and now I'm without my other two footwarmers. I can't lock one out and two in, due to litterbox issues and the fact all three would cry to be with their pal(s) on the other side of the door.
4) Shaking a can of pennies - sorta works, causing her to run away for a few minutes, but also freaks out the other two cats (and thank god I sleep alone). I didn't really keep this up long enough to train any behavior.

I haven't tried it yet, but am conteplating using compressed air. I've debated squirting some air at her, but is this safe? I'm also worried about my abilities to do so in a half-awake state.

Obviously, the other cat training tactics don't apply here -- i can't cover my armpit in pepper, or tinfoil (or can I?... hmmm). Body armour maybe? My arm coverings at night are at most usually light, tshirt material and easy penetrable by a determined cat.

The other two cats are actually her kittens. When she was weaning them, where they would knead her to get more milk, she would kick them in the head. I really wish I was flexible enough to duplicate this behavior as it seemed to work for her, but alas i'm not built quite right :)

So - any other ideas? I love my cats, and feel bad discouraging her cuddle instincts, but i'm at my wits end here. My armpits thank you in advance.
posted by cgg to Pets & Animals (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
How well are you trimming her claws? Our little boober loves to knead, but we trim her nails every other week and it seems to be fine.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:57 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can you tuck your arms in and roll over away from her? (I'm guessing you sleep on your back ordinarily, which is how she gets armpit access.)
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:57 PM on May 23, 2012


Spray bottle on the bedside table?

A family member of mine who shall remain nameless has been known to hurl transgressive cats across the bedroom, not that I'm recommending that.
posted by Wretch729 at 2:01 PM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love your pretty black kitties. What a lovely family.

My black kitty Malcolm is a giant pain in the rear at night. His sister Eartha is a wonderful sleeping partner. Malcolm will head butt me, meow, knead me and in general kick up a fuss at around 3AM. Hence, and it kills me to do this, both are now banished from the bedroom.

I've tried to cure him of being a butt, and there's no help for it.

They seem resigned to sleeping elsewhere in the house, and while I would love to share my bed with them, I value a good night's sleep more.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:04 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


In my experience you can't. I believe it is related to being separated from the mother cat prematurely.

You could scent up (i.e. your scent) an old woollen jumper for your mog to knead. You could also try plugging in Feliway.

Trimming claws and redirecting actvity is one way to go but it is hard to do.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:11 PM on May 23, 2012


cgg: "Shaking a can of pennies - sorta works, causing her to run away for a few minutes, but also freaks out the other two cats (and thank god I sleep alone). I didn't really keep this up long enough to train any behavior."

You've got to keep it up, and have a true zero-tolerance policy. Training cats can sometimes feel like trying to dig through a brick wall with a toothpick, but eventually you get through to them. They'll backslide from time to time, but if you promptly return to the training technique, they will remember quickly. When we kicked our cats out of our bedroom it took probably two or three miserable weeks of spray bottle training to stop them from meowing and scratching at our door, but it worked eventually, and now they are fine sleeping in the rest of the house.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:11 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cats are pretty much exclusively responsive to positive reinforcement. Name of the game here is to cuddle but not knead, right? I'd suggest petting whenever she is cuddling but not kneading. If she starts to knead, gently move her to where you want her, then pet. Never pet when she is kneading.
posted by bearwife at 2:12 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I actually found an anti-cat (and dog) throw blanket at the pet store. It did have crunchy stuff on one side, like a hypothermia blanket. I got it to keep a certain beastie from using my lap as the first choice for a nesting place ALL the time. I just myself covered up until she reaquainted herself with the nearby cushions. It worked pretty well. I think i found it at Petsmart.
posted by dness2 at 2:12 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Give your cat an alternative thing to knead, such as a pillow or a cat bed.
posted by acidic at 2:15 PM on May 23, 2012


How about putting a balloon there which would pop in her face?
posted by jamjam at 2:16 PM on May 23, 2012


Our cat likes to knead on just about anything that's soft and squishy (here's a blurry pic of him working on some yarn). Try putting something super-soft at the foot of the bed for her to knead, like a folded-up fleece blanket or an old sweater. If she chooses your armpit, pick her up and gently relocate her to the blanket.

Wearing extra-flowery deodorant to bed might make your armpits smell less cat-friendly, but that's a shot in the dark.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:17 PM on May 23, 2012


Training cats can sometimes feel like trying to dig through a brick wall with a toothpick, but eventually you get through to them. They'll backslide from time to time, but if you promptly return to the training technique, they will remember quickly. When we kicked our cats out of our bedroom it took probably two or three miserable weeks of spray bottle training

I also use a spray bottle filled with water on my lovable little brick wall when he decides he has Ever So Much To Say at three AM.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:17 PM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Be careful with canned air - if the nozzle touches skin when you spray it, air can enter the bloodstream and it can be fatal.

Your cat sounds just like ours (needy)! She went through a period of sleeping on my head (no joke). I second MuffinMan's suggestion - a tee shirt on a pillow with your scent on it? We've tried this with ours and it works pretty well.

Good luck!
posted by luciddream928 at 2:19 PM on May 23, 2012


If nothing else works, throw them all three out of the bedroom and just declare that off limits for kittens. They'll get used to it soon enough.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:20 PM on May 23, 2012


My kitty does this to my neck at night, so far I've been able to keep her claws trimmed short enough that it doesn't hurt, but I keep thinking I should try Soft Paws.
posted by The otter lady at 2:32 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Compressed air worked really well for my cat when she was chewing my hair in the wee hours of the morning. But then I got annoyed with spending money on canned air and I just started blowing at her when she started tugging my hair. I don't have bad breath (honestly!), but she hated the sensation of someone blowing at her and would put her ears back and stop the behavior.
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:37 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


i trim my kitty's claws. i've trained him to stop kneading my neck/being naughty (pouncing on the sheets i'm under, making a rucus) when i'm trying to sleep by just putting him out of the bedroom as soon as he starts up and ignoring his sad mrowls at the door so that he associates the behaviour with getting kicked out. it took a couple weeks but now i sleep uninterrupted as he's learned bugging me while i'm asleep = gets locked out of the room
posted by raw sugar at 2:43 PM on May 23, 2012


I have a needy kneady cat. As needy as he is, if I scoop him up and hug and kiss him vigorously he hates that and runs away leaving me in peace and he usually won't come back. I also trim his nails frequently.
posted by backwords at 2:43 PM on May 23, 2012


if the nozzle touches skin when you spray it, air can enter the bloodstream and it can be fatal.

Really? I mean I read your link...but I've routinely stopped up flows from compressed air lines with my thumb or other body part and suffered no obvious problems from it. Five minutes of googling yielded no other hits.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:14 PM on May 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


One of my cats went through a brief period of sitting on my head, and kneading it clawily while I was asleep (which makes my head sound sort of soft and squashy - it isn't), and still likes to lie on me in bed, often perching on my hip, busily kneading away. I just shove her off when I've had enough and then she generally goes and curls up behind my back (or, more hilariously, tiptoes over to my pretty-much-asleep husband and touches noses with him, which cause him to jolt awake, every time). I tend to just push away cats who are being annoying, does she respond to that? Sometimes it takes some furious muttering as well, but neither of my pests will continue to be really annoying after a few forcible evictions.
posted by thylacinthine at 3:32 PM on May 23, 2012


If you're willing to really put in some time for training... maybe pretend to go to bed earlier in the day when you're not sleepy and do the training then?

(don't have a cat myself, so don't have any other advice)
posted by cheemee at 4:25 PM on May 23, 2012


As much as I adore my kitty, and have adored previous kitties, every cat who has ever lived with me has wanted to declare their undying love in the middle of the freaking night by licking my face, kneading my armpits, bopping my head, or pouncing my feet. So, in our house, there is a rule that no kitties can be in bedrooms with dormant human occupants.

Believe me, banishing the cat from your sleeping chambers is the only way to go.
posted by mmmcmmm at 4:27 PM on May 23, 2012


2) A high pitched yelp like they make when the play fighting gets too intense. She actually understands she's hurting me right in that moment and stops temporarily, but 60 seconds later she's back.

Being consistent with my owie cries is the only reason Llamacat attacks Mr. Llama's hands but never mine, for what it's worth. It's good that kitty stops temporarily, so kitty gets it, and I'm wondering if doing this, say, five or six thousand times might do the trick.

I have never figured out a way to get Llamacat to not walk back and forth in front of me as I type on the computer, rubbing her ass directly underneath my nose and ;aiue arnv;^^^^ iatnu;an
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:41 PM on May 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


She's treating you as if you were her CatMama, so communicate with her in the same way that a CatMama would: HISS at her, or bat her away by flicking your fingers on her head (not to hurt, just to duplicate the effect of her kick to the head of her own kittens when they did the same thing to her). Speak the language she understands.
posted by Corvid at 6:28 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've had some experience with this. I like to have full personal space at times, and I've had a couple of extremely affectionate cats that I've trained to give me my space when I need it.

Cat #1, AKA "HERE I AM YOUR SECOND APPENDIX!!1!"
This kitty used to be all up in my face and chest while I was sleeping. To stop him from doing this, I'd push him away every time he got into a space I didn't want him. If he kept pushing in, I'd ruthlessly shove him off the bed. We quickly got to the point where he'd come in and cuddle up quietly at my hips or legs until I woke up, which was perfectly fine with me.

Cat #2, AKA "I Am A Force Of Nature Only Slightly Smaller Than Your Average Grizzly Bear"
When indiscriminately-affectionate Cat #1 was gone, Cat #2 got all lonely and took on the Extremely Affectionate Cat mantle. He is a the very illustration of Cat Physics (2nd to last in that link), with close to 20 lbs to back him up, so shifting him to a place other than the one he's at is an exercise in advanced engineering.

Cat #2 likes to cuddle in awkward spots while I am awake, so he needed a not-right-now-honey signal, which ended up being the "talk to the hand" position. When he began an unwanted approach, I'd put my hand up, palm out. When he pushed past it, I'd use that hand to push (okay, roll) him away. Continued pushing got extra rolls. After some time, he got "sneakier" in his approaches, in that they got extra-slow-mo. (Seriously, I've seen tired sloths move faster. He's like continental drift.) Eventually, he learned that he could approach any time he wanted some sweet loving, but if I held my hand out in response, it was time for him to turn around and cuddle at my feet for a while, instead.

Though Cat #1 was dumb as a rock, neither cat had trouble picking it up. The key with both was to be consistent, and not give mixed signals. I don't think you're asking the impossible at all. If it's just the armpit-kneading you're having trouble with, push your kitty away every time she kneads you. Have a little pillow or pet right there to knead, instead, if you like -- just move her so her front paws land on it. If she doesn't stop after 2-5 hints, push her off the bed. At first, she'll probably jump right back on and knead you again. Push her right back off the bed if she does this. Repeat the same process each night: push her off you at first, and then off the bed when she doesn't take a hint.

Good luck with your armpit!
posted by moira at 6:32 PM on May 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


I love cats and am all for cuddling them but I love my sleep a lot more. So yes, you could probably eventually train the cat but why go to that much trouble when you're trying to sleep. Just banish them from the bedroom - they'll soon get used to it and you'll enjoy blissfully uninterrupted sleep and painfree armpits immediately.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:23 AM on May 24, 2012


I second the recommendation of going to bed early (just 15 minutes, maybe), scooping her up, and giving her all the attention she craves. Listen to your iPod while you do so if it will help. We all need more sleep/rest; this can benefit both of you!

I've tried blowing in my cats' faces to discourage them from pestering me and have had mixed results. You can try it if she wakes you up demanding more *after* a cuddle session.

If giving her attention in advance of falling asleep doesn't work, then I agree that they have to be locked out of the bedroom.
posted by purplesludge at 6:30 AM on May 24, 2012


I agree that you have to stick with it, but also that it's hard to know for sure what will work.

I did have a cat that I got as an adult from the pound, who really wanted to knead as I was trying to fall asleep -- not painful, but kept me up. (he was a delight at all other times, although definitely an affection-seeker.) I adopted the plan of giving him one warning (hey!), and then if he did it again, I'd throw him off the bed. it took a couple of weeks, but he learned.
posted by acm at 8:03 AM on May 24, 2012


What worked for me is to just keep up with and even escalate the "ouch!" response. Really over react and scream bloody murder when you feel the slightest pokey or scratch.

It worked in training my cats so that now they *never* knead on bare skin. One will even flop over and knead the air because he just needs to knead.
posted by utsutsu at 8:21 AM on May 24, 2012


A quick blow of breath on my cat when she was new to our household, often repeated 2-3 more times did train her to stop trying to sleep on my pillow. You don't need canned air, just put your lips together and blow.
posted by soelo at 2:30 PM on May 24, 2012


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