How do I get kitty to stop being a painful alarm clock?
November 1, 2004 8:30 AM   Subscribe

How do I get kitty to stop being a painful alarm clock? (scratches and bites inside)

My newly adopted kitty, Livia, is the most docile (sleeps on my lap for an entire 800 mile driving trip), obedient (comes when I call her, and it doesn't take 20 repetitions of her name), loving (purrmonster) kitty I've ever had. However, in the morning, when she wants to get up (at around 5:30 in the morning), she wants me to get up she demonstrates the dark meaning of her nickname, "barracuda" (thusly named because in I, Claudius Livia Augusta was a right barracuda bitch). She bites and scratches the hell out of me until I'm fully awake.

I don't wake easily, thus immediate discipline (which is usually picking her up by the scruff of the neck and saying NO! loudly) doesn't always occur. Yet I'm starting to look like the victim of feline spousal abuse here. Any suggestions as to how to get her to stop this behavior?
posted by WolfDaddy to Pets & Animals (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: ...she wants me to get up with her and she demonstrates...

That's what I meant to say. It hurts to type right now.
posted by WolfDaddy at 8:36 AM on November 1, 2004

My cat used to be pretty damn insistent in the morning, too, but it was because she wanted to be fed. Now I feed her at night, before I go to bed, and she lets me sleep in. A little.
posted by jdroth at 8:42 AM on November 1, 2004

My couch is looking similarly abused from the same thing -- the cat's up, she wants food, she knows that if she scratches the brand-new couch we'll hear her, yell at her, but then get up and get her food. (Happens mostly on the weekend when we're sleeping in.) So, like jdroth, I've tried to feed her earlier if I happen to get up to go to the bathroom, get water, whatever. It's worked for a couple of days so far.
posted by occhiblu at 8:50 AM on November 1, 2004

When I went through the same sort of thing with my cat, I just made a point of waiting him out until he eventually (like, after 3 weeks) realized that bugging me in the morning got him nowhere. I minimized the physical damage by pulling a blanket up over my head and making sure my arms were covered. He would still reach in through my breathing tunnel and swipe at my nose, but I just gritted my teeth and dug in.
posted by COBRA! at 8:52 AM on November 1, 2004

Keep a squirt bottle of water by the bed. Give her a couple shots when this starts in the morning. Use a new clean bottle for this, obviously.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:05 AM on November 1, 2004

Response by poster: occhiblu, the solution for getting kitty to stop scratching furniture you don't want scratched is to tape an inflated balloon as close to the scratching area as possible. The balloon will fascinate kitty ... until it pops. Most likely kitty will never scratch the couch again, but if so, it usually takes a squirt bottle (why are nearly all cats inherently afraid of squirt bottles?) to complete the training.

Livia's always got a bowl of crunchies and I feed her wet food at night ... she was a stray who actually adopted me, and I'm trying to fatten her up a bit ... so I don't think it's because she's hungry. I'll try PST's squirt bottle suggestion myself and we'll see what happens.
posted by WolfDaddy at 9:19 AM on November 1, 2004

Wait her out. Be prepared for what they call an "extinction burst", though. When she notices that the slashing isn't getting you out of bed she'll just double her efforts and then double them again. After a few weeks she'll get that it's not working and give up.
posted by stefanie at 9:30 AM on November 1, 2004

I got my cat to stop scratching for food in the morning by teaching him to head butt me instead. If he scrached (mostly the matress, sometimes me) I'd grab him up, and put my head on his. Hard to expalain, and he's not terribly smart, but it worked. So, fat cat still wakes me up too early for food, but with purrs and head butts, not claws.
posted by rainbaby at 9:47 AM on November 1, 2004

if your cat is smart, she'll find other ways to wake you up.

My cat wakes me up for food but doesn't bite or try to scratch. Instead, he walks on me, meows in my ears, flops down onto my face, jumps on to things and starts knocking things down, and will keep doing this until i wake up. My cat is also 20 lbs so when he walks on your chest, its hard not to notice it.

i haven't tried the squirtbottle though. i think that might work.
posted by Stynxno at 10:08 AM on November 1, 2004

What stefanie said, exactly. Physical punishment is generally much less effective than other methods, and especially so with cats, so forget about the scruffing her and shouting at her, if this was going to work, it would have worked by now. Animals repeat behaviour which works (i.e. she wants you to get up, her harrassing you makes you get up, the behaviour works - you have trained her to do this without meaning to), and stop behaviour which doesn't - since in this case you have complete control over whether her behaviour will work or not (unlike, say, inappropriate claw-sharpening, which is self-reinforcing), you simply have to make her behaviour ineffective in getting her what she wants, by waiting it out. You have to ignore her completely, though, tuck yourself well under the covers and completely ignore her, even saying "ow" or "GO AWAY BAD KITTY" in a Cartman voice is reinforcing the behaviour you don't want. Become an inanimate object. It will get worse before it gets better, but it will work.

I also have a couple of other suggestions: play vigorously with her about a half hour or so before bed (a "cat dancer" toy is perfect for this), make sure she's had a meal before bed and make sure she has toys available to her. And clip her claws or use SoftPaws on them if you're not doing so already.
posted by biscotti at 10:33 AM on November 1, 2004

Response by poster: stefanie, I'm curious as to who "they" are when you mention the "extinction burst" behavior. Is there some sort of feline/animal behavior website where stuff like this is discussed by veterinarians/pet owners/whatever? If so, please share with the group. I, for one, would be fascinated to learn more. Thanks!
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:36 AM on November 1, 2004

Response by poster: Oh, WOW, thanks for the SoftPaws suggestion biscotti! Those thing will help me be inanimate enormously.
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:41 AM on November 1, 2004

I had the same problem with my cat waking me up with scratches, meows, and bedside-lamp-knocking-over at 4:30am every morning, till one night I threw my wadded-up comforter at her. She never bothered me again after that. *

* Some mornings, however, she stealthily tries to sit in front of the bedside fan, blocking my ventilation. I think she thinks she can get revenge by blocking my air supply and suffocating me.
posted by brownpau at 11:04 AM on November 1, 2004

Beware that somecats completely freak out with nail caps. Clipping their nails is what I prefer to do with mine. The first time can be a struggle, but if you are gentle (and take care to miss the quick), the cat will feel better afterwards.
posted by bonehead at 11:26 AM on November 1, 2004

You're welcome. The "they" stefanie refers to are behaviourists, animal trainers, behavioural scientists and anyone else who studies or discusses behaviour, it's the accepted term for a specific phenomenon. Extinction bursts happen (in any species, including humans) when a behaviour which used to elicit a desired result stops eliciting that result, so the behaviour increases temporarily, before stopping. One of the best examples of this I've heard is: you get on an elevator, you press the button for the floor you want, the elevator takes you to the floor you want. This happens many times. One day you get on the elevator, press the button, and nothing happens. What do you do? Most people would press the button again, and harder, and would repeat this a few times before deciding that the button no longer worked. The extinction burst is the "this used to work, dammit, maybe I just need to do it a bit more aggressively to make it work again" time, before the acceptance that the behaviour no longer works. You have to be careful not to reinforce the unwanted behaviour during the extinction phase, though, since that will make the behaviour even stronger (i.e. if pushing the elevator button harder and more frequently makes the elevator work even once, you're likely to keep doing it for longer than you might have otherwise). And here is a very useful website for pet training - they have a mailing list for discussion.

Using lots of positive reinforcement (like food) helps greatly with acceptance of nail caps. Clipping is the same, and remember you don't have to do all the nails in one sitting, and it's often better not to at first.
posted by biscotti at 11:43 AM on November 1, 2004

Another clipping tip: clip when they are sleeping. Of course, they wake up, but are much more compliant throughout the process when groggy. Make sure you reward them with a treat afterwards.

My kitten did the same disruptive charade every single morning (before sunrise) for about 1 year. After covering myself with blankets, she did indeed find new ways to disturb me. Her favorite ploy is to reach into my cd shelf and pull them to the floor. If that doesn’t work, she starts going through my armoire and pulling out stockings and scarves. I yell at her, but she just looks at me and purrs. I'm not capable of punishing anything smaller than me (because i feel like a big dysfunctional bully) so i can't offer any of those tips.

The only way I could make her stop bothering me in bed at 5am was to put chow in her bowl. Food quickly distracted her, and then eventually placated her. So at first, her disruptiveness wasn't about food, but it slowly evolved into that. I think that’s why everyone is assuming it’s a food issue. Because it isn’t, but it’s the sure-fire way to start distracting her from waking you.

In the meantime, feel blessed that you have such a smart, outgoing, rambunctious, healthy kitten! You'll definitely have your hands full with this one. She'll eventually grow out of it and sleep through the night.
posted by naxosaxur at 12:33 PM on November 1, 2004

Our kitten (previously discussed on AskMeFi) started doing this to us not long after we got her home. She'd run across us repeatedly and jump on our heads til we got up and fed her. Eventually we got one of these automatic feeders. It holds five mornings worth of food and we've got it set to go off at 6am each day. She hears the "clunk" of the door opening and goes to eat, leaving us alone for another hour of blessed sleep. I highly recommend them.
posted by web-goddess at 12:39 PM on November 1, 2004

Christ! Put up with the cat biting and scratching you for three weeks (fingers crossed!) till she gets the message??!!?

Sometimes patience is just stupidity. *rolls eyes in disbelief*

What PinkStainlessTail said: squirt bottle full of water/spray gun/water pistol, by the bedside. Totally harmless to the cat but entirely unwanted.

Make your displeasure known.
posted by Blue Stone at 1:01 PM on November 1, 2004

Response by poster: This is a great thread, thank you everyone, and web-goddess, I had missed that previous discussion about your kitty, and it was also very informative.

Since everyone in that thread seemed to want to see pictures, I've got one of Livia for all of you, in thanks for your help.

Livia at her usual post, with this thread on my computer screen.

BONUS! Kitties (these are my mom's, Bouncer on the left and the boy, Sophie on the right and the girl) obviously in love. I didn't come up with the name for this photo, that was my mom. And you wonder why I'm strange...
posted by WolfDaddy at 1:02 PM on November 1, 2004


(No, I kid, she's adorable.)
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:31 PM on November 1, 2004

For more on cat clicker training a positive behavior instead of relying on negative reinforcement check out the cat_clicker yahoo group. One women with the same problem trained her three cats to nose-kisses and patient waiting in the morning. If you can just define what it is that you do want your cat to do in place of the undesired behavior, then you can use positive means to train that behavior. Also, cats really enjoy click-training once they get the hang of it. The list has gazillions of helpful files breaking down how to train various things.
posted by salt at 1:32 PM on November 1, 2004

My advice to anyone who is getting a new kitten or cat is this: Never, never, never feed your cat the first thing after you get up. It will be hard, but you must totally ignore your cats when you wake up and get out of bed, go to the kitchen, make coffee, eat cerial, etc.. Do not feed, pet, or acknowledge them in any way until you are well into the morning, and all associations with bed and sleeping are past. Cats are used to beginning the day's most active portion at about 4:30 a.m. (they're naturally crepuscular), so by about 6:30 a.m., an indoor cat is bored out of its mind, and bursting with kinetic energy. Once it learns that its fun and easy to wake you up at that hour, it may be nearly impossible to change.
posted by Faze at 1:39 PM on November 1, 2004

Response by poster: they're naturally crepuscular
Only on MeFi will I ever see those three words in sequence. It also sounds like a tagline for cereal.

AskMeFiBits: They're naturally crepuscular! :-)
posted by WolfDaddy at 2:53 PM on November 1, 2004

Blue Stone, who said three weeks? I know stefanie said a few weeks, but it really depends on how much accidental training WolfDaddy has put in here. If he's only reinforced the behaviour a few times, it's likely to go extinct much more quickly than if he's reinforced it a bunch of times.

And sometimes impatience does much more harm than good. I don't think giving a cat a squirt is always the worst thing in the world to do, but there are other ways to handle things, some cats have quite extreme (and sometimes permanent) fearful reactions to aversions like this, especially in a situation where a foundation of trust hasn't had time to be built yet (this cat is relatively new to WolfDaddy's home) and it's a good idea in general to be more aware of what you're actually training your pets to do whether you know it or not.
posted by biscotti at 3:35 PM on November 1, 2004

Response by poster: And, biscotti, it's hard to gauge how much accidental reinforcement I'm doing, as I am hard to rouse. Who knows? Maybe I'm moving my arms/legs/feet in my sleep for hours before she starts getting really vicious enough to wake me. If that's the case, I may have to put her in a kitty crate or close my bedroom door with her outside it when I go to sleep. She doesn't mind the crate (usually it's a signal to the cat that she's going to the vet/something unpleasant, she doesn't seem to be freaked out by that, her behavior at the vet is always stellar) but, as I said, normally she's as docile as can be (right now she's curled up at my feet asleep, she's never far from wherever I am), which is why I let her sleep with me. Maybe that was a bad decision to begin with.
posted by WolfDaddy at 4:19 PM on November 1, 2004

Yeah, the best solution might be to not let her sleep with you anymore. I'm surprised nobody else suggested this, as it should be the easiest way to avoid the problem.
posted by kindall at 4:33 PM on November 1, 2004

WolfDaddy, two cats here that I love with abandon; they get to lie in a bit with us at night, but sleep time and the bedroom door closes and that's that. Sometimes there's whining, but we ignore it. We need the peace. As has been said, don't be afraid to shut the door (especially if you introduce a nice kitty bed(s) at the same time).

Livia is a stunner, by the way.
posted by melissa may at 5:14 PM on November 1, 2004

Response by poster: Well, an unexpected solution cropped up. We had a cold snap last week (well, cold for native Texans, I guess, and native Texan kitties, too ... I slept with the windows open and the A/C off for the first time in six months) and Livia pawed at the covers to get under them rather than pawing me. I praised her highly, and she immediately learned that getting under the toasty covers with me for an extra hour and a half is worth a grumbling tummy.
posted by WolfDaddy at 5:54 AM on November 11, 2004

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