This cat is destroying my apartment.
May 15, 2009 12:43 AM   Subscribe

I agreed to cat-sit. Now the cat is destroying my apartment, my sanity and my 401K (no wait, the stock market did that). Please help me.

A friend of mine had to leave town Tuesday on short notice, due to the sudden death of her mother. Wanting to help, I offered to take care of her cat while she's away for the next couple of weeks.

The cat is about 10 months old, very cute and furry and a lovely creature... except for the fact that he's an absolute terror. I had no idea cats were capable of such evil. I dread getting out of bed every morning, because every morning has brought a new phase of disaster to my apartment. My wife and I only have experience with outdoor cats, so we haven't a clue why this cat is doing some of these things or how best to handle it.

To complicate matters, my judgmental mother-in-law is coming to stay with us for the weekend, as arranged several weeks ago (and I can't cancel; I already tried that.) I'm recently married, and had been hoping to demonstrate that I'm not quite the failure at domestic life as my wife's mother thinks I am, but that'll be hard to pull off with shredded curtains and kitty litter sticking to the dishes.

Here are the two biggest problems we're having. I realize there are multiple questions here, but any advice is deeply appreciated.

*Kitty litter is everywhere but in the box.
Every time he uses the box, he flails around so violently that bits of litter fly clear across the room. We originally had the litter box in the kitchen, but quickly realized that wouldn't work when litter somehow ended up in our coffee machine. So we moved it into the bathroom, and woke up this morning to find kitty litter on every possible surface: the sink, crusted across the toilet seat, and in the bathtub. It was even in the walls. Is there some reason for this; and better yet, can we make it stop? Will different/better litter help? Should we put more or less litter in the box? Is it in the wrong place?

*He is an architect of destruction.
I don't think the cat will be allowed to watch The Wire on DVD with us anymore, because it clearly gave him the idea to stay up all night, smoke crack and ransack the apartment. He really must sleep all day when we're at work, because at night he is a whirling dervish of activity. He topples over the trash cans and strews the contents around the house, vandalizes the houseplants, and will knock everything possible off of shelves and countertops. I found teeth marks that weren't my own on my toothbrush. He also has figured out how to open drawers, and this morning I woke up to find him sitting inside my nightstand; naturally, all the contents of the drawer were on the floor. We've tried limiting him to only certain sections of the apartment by keeping the doors closed, but we have a small apartment, and boxing him up in small spaces just seems cruel (and seems to make him even more active). Should we keep him closed up in one room anyway, or do I need to start purchasing additional rental insurance?
posted by Valuev to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
He's adjusting to a) new carers and b) a new environment, so it's not surprising he's freaking out.

I'd suggest buying a Feliway deispenser and plugging it into a room where you can confine the cat for a day or so... then gradually let the cat out to wander under supervision. It's about $30 I think, but it may be cheaper than replacing half your furniture, and the ongoing psychiatrist's bills.

Hopefully the Feliway will calm his nerves while he gets used to you and your homes new smells.

I'm sure MeFis other catlovers will chime in with better advice, but it's a start. Good luck!
posted by indienial at 1:01 AM on May 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Would it be awful to board the cat for the weekend?
posted by bluedaisy at 1:09 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Go buy a covered litterbox, tape a bandanna over the door as a curtain, and put a scrap of carpet or a little rug in front of it. Should contain the litter mess for about $15 total.
Get a laser pointer (most dollar stores carry them) and tire him out. Should cost under $5.
Feed him before you go to bed. After he eats she'll probably do some licking and napping.
Buy a small water pistol and spray him when he's being bad (only if you catch him literally in the act, though- cats won't understand if you spray them later for something they DID, they live 100% in the present). Should cost $1.
Get some little cat toys- catnip mice or even balls of foil- and toss them for him to chase. $2 and will help tire him out.
Arrange the furniture so he can sit and look out the window. Scatter some bread bits below the window to attract birds for him to watch. Should cost $1.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:16 AM on May 15, 2009 [17 favorites]

Yep I agree that having them chase around after something will tire them out and make them sleep better at night.

If you've already been doing as much of that as you can then some cats react fine to different kitty litter, others don't. If you do change to something harder to scatter all over the place, make sure you see the cat use it before you wander off because you wouldn't want your mother in law finding a little surprise in the drawers of the guest room!

Make sure you clean the litter frequently, and top it up as well, in my experience cats like it nice and fresh.

Does your mother in law like cats, and have experience? Maybe you can make her feel like part of the solution by letting her suggest things to try.

Also try getting something for the cat to scratch, a scratching post or an old rug or something. He might ignore them completely and continue to shred the curtains but it can't hurt.

Lastly, try going to a pet shop, they might have kitty treats the cat can chew on so he doesn't feel inclined to chew your toothbrush.

Best of luck!
posted by Admira at 1:21 AM on May 15, 2009

Also pseudostrabismus's advice is much better than mine, I love the bird at the window idea!
posted by Admira at 1:23 AM on May 15, 2009

Have you considered turning this experience into a screwball comedy screenplay and using the profits to board the cat?

If that doesn't work, when we brought our cats to our house for the first time, we kept them just in my small room for about a week so they could adjust. They got into everything at first, but after they were done exploring they settled down enough so we could introduce them to the rest of the place. Even if your apartment is small, I think confining the cat could help. Note that it will be constantly drawn to whatever area you stick it in, so make sure you choose somewhere you want the cat to be.
posted by martens at 1:33 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: At 10 months he is definitely in the mischievous phase: not so cute and kitteny anymore but a long way from adulthood and it's attendant 23.75 hours per day of sleeping and general floppiness. You essentially have an adolescent cat in a new environment. He also sounds pretty clever if he has learned how to open draws.

Don't leave anything edible or remotely food-like where he can get at it.

'nthing cat toys, something obvious and satisfying to scratch and spray bottles. If you have to confine him at night or when you aren't around for peace of mind, don't feel bad. It won't hurt him and he'll get used to it. Of course it will also give him lots of thinking time to plot his terrible revenge.

As for litter I would keep it in a corner of the bathroom (held in place somehow so he cant move it - maybe with bricks?). This will limit the directions he can fling it around.

Also just a suggestion but when I was young and poor and I was nursing my cat through his twilight years (RIP Zombie) I sometimes couldn't afford cat litter so I used shredded, crumpled up newspaper. My cat was fine with it and it was hard for him to scatter around. Shredded office paper worked too and is less labour intensive than shredding newspapers by hand. Paper is absorbent of liquid but not effective at absorbing odour so be prepared for frequent refreshing of the litter tray if you decide to try it. A vet suggested it to me.

As for mother-in-law, she should be delighted that her offspring has chosen a spouse who is willing to inconvenience themselves to such a degree to support a grieving friend and who seeks advice on how to better care for someone else's pet!
posted by evil_esto at 2:27 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Covered litter box. You probably are putting too much litter in as well.

See if you can score a large box, like for a water heater. Cats love to play in boxes, and cardboard is easy to chew on.

Buy cat grass for him to eat instead of your plants. You'll probably need a friend to watch your plants, or a room to keep them in, but possibly a more appealing choice will help keep them safe.

I find that small craft pompons are excellent cat toys, and you can get a large bag of them very inexpensively. If you get these and the cat likes them, you will find them under your sofa and in weird corners for months later. Try anything for cat toys. The cat is bored. Play with it more (laser pointer, pipe cleaner rings, feathers on a string) and have better stuff for it to play with. If there's a room you can lock it in overnight, that's also fine.
posted by jeather at 4:01 AM on May 15, 2009

I sometimes couldn't afford cat litter so I used shredded, crumpled up newspaper.

I've heard this can work great. Unfortunately for my three lovely kitties it resulted in them thinking that ANY paper is a litter box. Let's just say that little factoid has taught me to pick up my messes better than anything my mother ever did.

A covered litter box will help a lot. Sometimes changing to litter that is less dusty will also help since less litter will cling to his fur and get carried around.
posted by aetg at 4:05 AM on May 15, 2009

Can you take kitty back to his own house and just stop by every day to check food, water and litter? Cats really don't need hands-on sitting.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:33 AM on May 15, 2009 [9 favorites]

seconding sweetie. taking the cat to your place was a bad idea. not too late to fix it. take the cat back to his own place.
posted by JimN2TAW at 5:15 AM on May 15, 2009

Thirding Sweetie. Cat is freaking out because of the environment change: the people, objects, litter, food,etc have changed and he's confused and angry. He would probably be better off in his own home if you can go there and spend some time with him there. Cats are social, but they also ahve a very highly developed sense of territory, and right now, that cat doesn't know where his territory is.
posted by baggers at 5:53 AM on May 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'd certainly like to return Psycho Kitty to his native land, but in the madness that followed his owner's departure, she forgot to leave me with a key to her place. So I can't get back in and kitty will just have to stay with us for the time being.

I really appreciate all the helpful responses. I was awakened at an ungodly hour by You-Know-Who, so I'm operating on very little sleep and am relieved to see some suggestions for curbing the madness. I think we'll try confining him to the room where he can do the least amount of damage overnight (I really did feel guilty about doing that, but you guys have sufficiently assuaged my conscience... nevermind that it wasn't ever going to be that difficult.) We'll also try to wear him out as much as possible before bedtime, and my wife is going to look for one of those litterboxes with a roof.

M-I-L has been briefed on the situation, so my fingers are crossed that everything goes smoothly. If she complains, I'll threaten to leave the cat locked up in her room tonight.
posted by Valuev at 6:36 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

pseudostrabismus is spot on.

Deeper litter box helps keep the litter in.

Good, cheap toys: A small toy(or barrette) on a string, attached to a doorknob. 2 small objects, connected by a yard of string. Paper grocery bag, left open. A box. Put a small amount of catnip in an old sock & tie the end off.

What a good friend you are.
posted by theora55 at 7:14 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: No need to go buy a covered litter box until you try the cheap fix: You can fashion an inexpensive covering for the exisitng litter box by finding a large enough cardboard box (cut in an entrance doorway) in which to completely enclose the plastic litter pan. I really like the suggestion of taping a bandana over the doorway and putting a doormat/carpet scrap in front.
posted by mightshould at 7:32 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have you thought about putting the kitty litter inside of a large box or something, so the cat goes in to do it's business, and litter only ends up thrown around inside the box, not the whole room.

Would that work? It seems like it would as long as the kitten knows where the litter box actually is.
posted by delmoi at 7:33 AM on May 15, 2009

Just want to say that reading this post and the ensuing thread cracked me up. Cats are hi-frickin-larious.
posted by nosila at 7:35 AM on May 15, 2009

Okay so I wasn't the only one with this idea...
posted by delmoi at 7:37 AM on May 15, 2009

Cheap toy suggestion: mouse toy in an empty kleenex box = hours of bonkers kitty fun.
posted by Mavri at 8:30 AM on May 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

If the covered litterbox is expensive, just do what my dad did and take something like a rubbermaid tote and cut a cat sized hole in the side.
posted by Foam Pants at 9:48 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it's not an option for financial or other reasons, but if it was me, his furry ass and I would set a land speed record for time to deliver cat to boarding place

(And I say that as a lover of cats, one who has taken in and found homes for strange, exotic cats indigenous to the Middle East; one of them is sitting on my lap as I type.)
posted by ambient2 at 1:21 PM on May 15, 2009

I just got this awesome self-cleaning litter box, which is the greatest thing ever. At $30 it's a steal. I also found it at petco. It is the answer to your prayers.

But seriously, you should just take kitty back to his own pad. Cats don't need hands-on sitting, just food/water/litterbox maintenance.
posted by mullingitover at 5:21 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you can afford ~$30, look for this top-entry litterbox by Clevercat. We got our first one at PetsMart. (We needed to prevent the dog from snacking on cat excrement (facepalm) but it works beautifully for litter containment as well.)

On the ‘tire out the kitten so he’ll sleep at night’ front, I recommend a feather teaser wand in addition to the laser pointer. It’s like a little fishing pole with a feather lure; any pet store will have one. A young energetic cat like you describe will be doing air flips trying to catch it, which is great fun to watch as well as good exercise.

Good luck!
posted by wolfling at 8:30 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

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