The Affair of the Sooty Paws
October 8, 2009 4:12 AM   Subscribe

How the heck do I keep the kitties out of the chimney?

We recently decided to share our new home with two elderly cats adopted from the local shelter. We thought we'd done a pretty good job of catproofing the flat, but 30 seconds after we released them from the carrier, the cats had discovered the fireplace in the living room and scrambled up on to the ledge inside the chimney, dislodging a massive heap of fallen soot which in their ensuing panic they spread all over the floor, the furniture, the bathroom, a load of drying laundry (white, of course) etc.

We've propped a large framed poster over the grate opening and anchored it with several heavy objects, but this is an unsightly interim measure and the cats are still manifesting an interest in the Forbidden Cave of Mysteries beyond. I've seen folding metal fire screens on the market, but they all look like only a moment's work to dislodge with a sharp pair of claws. I doubt we could get glass doors fitted, as the fireplace (a small 1920s coal-burning grate) has an all-metal surround. And blocking the fireplace off permanently is not an option, as we want to use it occasionally. How do we prevent another soot disaster?
posted by stuck on an island to Pets & Animals (16 answers total)
Maybe you need one of those childproof cage things. And if that's not sturdy enough, a couple of eyes screwed into the wall on either side would allow you to tie it securely into position.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:17 AM on October 8, 2009

Use the fire for a week or so and they'll probably forget it.
posted by fire&wings at 4:23 AM on October 8, 2009

Not the most sightly solution, but still workable:

Get a plastic Rubbermaid bin just slightly smaller than the opening. Fill it with textbooks (or firewood!) to weigh it down. Set this inside the Mystic Tunnel of Glory and Exploration so as to block the kitties' passage inward and upward. Remove before setting a fire.

You'll still want a secure folding fire screen for those times that you do light a fire. Attempts to sequester a cat to a spare bedroom for its own safety during such proceedings, while advised, are not always successful.

Also, is it possible for you to post a picture of the fireplace so we can get a better idea of the nature of the opening we're trying to cover here?
posted by lizzicide at 4:24 AM on October 8, 2009

Sounds hilarious.

I second the eponyhelpful fire&wings: use the fireplace. Fire should scare the crap out of them, and the lingering smell of something-burned-here is usually enough to keep animals out. My cat definitely gave the fireplace a wide, wide berth after staring at a fire wide-eyed for about four hours without blinking.

Beyond that, those "fireplace safety" screens (fine mesh, four or five folding panels) can be anchored quite strongly. They'd be a pain to climb, and jumping over one would be a big commitment most cats wouldn't risk.
posted by rokusan at 4:29 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not all cats have that fear of fire. Mine has lit himself on fire. Twice.

Yes, my cat was actually on fire and from the look on his face at the time he just didn't give a damn.

Fur is pretty insulating, they can get close before the heat would be a deterrent... close enough to LIGHT ON FIRE.
posted by Loto at 5:08 AM on October 8, 2009 [13 favorites]

For what it's worth, I had this exact problem when I moved to my current place. All I did was buy a three-panel screen to put in front of it; my cat was still a little interested after that, but after a couple of weeks the "ooh, what's in here?" instinct died down. She's occasionally knocked the screen over when running around the apartment, but never on purpose (as far as I can tell.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:09 AM on October 8, 2009

Seconding that not all cats are scared of fire. Mine likes to sniff the gas heater as it burns. He's always singeing his whiskers and if it wasn't for the metal grate, I'm sure he would have set himself on fire by now. So, um, a grate, I guess?
posted by embrangled at 5:13 AM on October 8, 2009

How about placing a small wireless motion sensor alarm by the mouth of the fireplace? Just something that will make a scary sound when they try to sneak in.
posted by like_neon at 5:16 AM on October 8, 2009

Best answer: Same problem, I cut a piece of cardboard to fit the hole, and just stuck it up the chimney so they couldn't jump up there. It stays in place, and you can't see it. It doesn't stop them from getting in the fireplace itself, just the chimney.

Of course, my cat only went up there once. Of course, it was the all white kitty, so he was grey for a couple of months after that. After he got down, my partner and I gave him a long, scrubby bath to get out the soot. I think that traumatized him so much that he probably hasn't tried going back up there.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 6:01 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is the damper not closed? Does your fireplace not have a damper? You can have one installed. It's basically a permanent version of Tooty's solution that isn't flammable if you forget to remove it before lighting the fire. You will fill your house with smoke if you leave it closed, but you won't be burning smelly cardboard.

We've anchored our gate to the fireplace and the cats ignore it.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:16 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Echoing Tooty. When I adopted my late cat, he too took to exploring the fireplace with gusto. Once he realized that doing so was going to mean a thorough scrubbing, he stopped.

Or, he just decided he was bored with it and didn't go there any more. Who knows? Cats.
posted by micawber at 6:49 AM on October 8, 2009

When we bought our house, it came with this very unattractive three panel screen that stood in front of the fireplace. We replaced it with a much nicer looking and heavier three piece panel.

Then, we got Julius. He liked to climb over the sturdier prettier panel and just sit in the fireplace. This was not OK. So after a few poor ideas, we came upon the ultimate solution. The largest panel of the original lightweight grate was the same height and width as the fireplace opening. We folded the side panels at right angles along the inside walls of the fireplace. The middle panel is a perfect fit for the opening and the side panels keep them from being able to pull the grate down since they prevent it from tipping by hitting the side walls.

We still keep the pretty screen in front. You know, for style. I'll post a few pictures tonight.
posted by advicepig at 6:58 AM on October 8, 2009

Nthing the "cats not that afraid of fire" theme.

We had a Siamese once, who luxuriated in the warm ashes of the fire regularly on winter mornings, and didn't seem to mind overly when his whiskers got singed.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:02 AM on October 8, 2009

I'm looking at my fireplace right now, which the cats have finally given up trying to explore. It has a heavy three-panel screen in front of it. Maybe you should try going to a fireplace store if the ones you're seeing are too light. This one is welded steel frame, piano hinges, and a fairly rigid steel mesh. It probably weighs at least 10 lbs. It came with the house so I don't know what brand it is or anything, but you should shop around—nothing in this place is expensive or particularly exotic.

This is for a fairly large wood-burning fireplace, but even in a smaller size, a screen constructed in the same way ought to be heavy enough to keep a cat from just casually knocking it over.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:30 AM on October 8, 2009

You may be able to anchor your gate to the iron surround with magnets. Screwing magnets to a temporary barrier is feasible, and does not require attaching anything permanent to the fireplace or wall.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 8:44 AM on October 8, 2009

Response by poster: I'm not sure the fireplace has a damper -- I grew up with woodburning stoves and fireplaces, which all had dampers, but this is a coalburning grate and doesn't have any obvious levers near or inside it.

The bf and I are going to search for a heavyweight fire screen at the architectural salvages yards nearby. Meanwhile, I will try the "associating chimney with trauma" method. I would have bathed them the first time they went in there, but it was our first day together and I didn't want to cast a permanent pall over the relationship. Defo bath next time. And I am particularly intrigued by the motion-sensing compressed air gizmo.

Thanks for all the helpful suggestions!
posted by stuck on an island at 10:11 AM on October 8, 2009

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