Girlfriend, Cats, and I
January 4, 2010 7:21 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I live together for 2 years with cats. The cats are driving me crazy. What can we do?

My girlfriend and I decided to move in together two years ago. She wanted to have cats, so we got two shortly after getting the keys to the apartment. At the time I was happy with her idea; she really wanted them, and I wasn't going to say no (and I never thought of saying no at the time). As we live in a very densely populated Asian city on the 14th floor, they are 'house cats.'

Two years on they are driving me crazy and making me feel like a guest in my own home. I can't put down anything without getting it covered in hair. They damage a lot of furniture so I can't buy anything a little expensive I like. They smell (litter box; 14th floor with minimal ventilation as wide open windows are a scary fall). I am often awoken by their loud meowing at night and hence am tired at work. I often have an irritated throat at home which I suspect is caused by "cat air." After a long day running around for work I want to come home and relax on a clean couch, not one totally covered in hair and whatnot. The list goes on, and on, and on... and we've tried a lot of solutions.

Problem is my girlfriend has grown attached to them. Giving them away would be difficult for her and they are so "not-cute" that I doubt people will want to take them in, especially anyone we know. An option is that I go live in another apartment. This is a realistic option at this point, but I am worried that this will harm the relationship I have with my girlfriend that we've both worked to build. There is also the feeling I have that I'd be neglecting my duties if I left, as I did initially agree on having the cats... and I don't like the idea of being the guy who runs away from difficult situations. So there would also be the option of staying and dealing with it for the next 14 years or however long they'll end up living.

To be clear: I regret getting the cats. I wish I hadn't but there's little I can do to change that decision now. So here I am! The situation is very upsetting for the both of us.

OK, so, are there any other options? What are your thoughts? And from the three options above, which would you choose (giving them away, live in different apartments, or stay and deal)?

Question posted anonymously as I don't want people Googling me and connecting any dots. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Ok. Good ways to deal with both cat hair and the smell -

Buy a GOOD air filter and keep the filter changed every 4-6 months.

Change and scoop the litter box DAILY (it shouldn't smell if you do this) and look into a better cat litter, if you can.

Vacuum your apt regularly, including the furniture. This will help with the hair problem and the smell by lowering cat dander. And when I say regularly, I mean at least every two weeks, with a good strong vacuum.

If the cats are shedding a lot, try adding fish oil to their food, as it will improve their coat health and lower the shedding. This also can improve the smell of their litter box.
posted by strixus at 7:26 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you and your girlfriend need to step it up a notch in cat maintenance duties. I have three cats and my litter boxes do not smell. I use good litter, scoop at least once a day, and there are also litter deodorizers you can buy to sprinkle on top of the litter. Now the hair problem...frequent brushings and vacuuming will easily solve this. Also, do the cats have ample scratching posts and toys? Cats can scratch out of frustration, boredom or the lack of a proper scratching post.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 7:27 PM on January 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

I am often awoken by their loud meowing at night and hence am tired at work.

I sleep with earplugs in so that miscellaneous cat noises don't bother me. You get used to it pretty quickly.

As for the hair, keep a lint-roller in every room. Run it quickly over whatever you plan to put on or lie on.

If you comb or brush the cats, it decreases the amount of hair they have to shed, and it is also bonding time with them, which might take the edge off your irritation.
posted by hermitosis at 7:29 PM on January 4, 2010

It seems like a lot of your problems stem from cat hair alone. Cats shed when they have a poor diet and aren't brushed regularly. Brush the cats often (at least once a week), fed them high-quality food, and you'll see the hair count diminish dramatically.

Get bitter apple to put on nice things. If your apartment is big enough and has a door, designate one room to be cat-free where you can relax. Or, use that room at nice to put the cats inside when it's time to go to bed. Make sure your girlfriend (who's responsible for your happiness with the cats) makes an effort to wear them out with playtime during the day so they sleep better at night.

You have options other than sacrificing your sanity and relationship. Good luck!
posted by zoomorphic at 7:29 PM on January 4, 2010

at nice night
posted by zoomorphic at 7:30 PM on January 4, 2010

First of all, and this is coming from a cat owner and lover, it is absurd that you should have to relocate to a new place and allow the cats to take over (and no matter how attached she has grown to them, I doubt that your girlfriend would choose that option either).

So it comes down to dealing with them or giving them away. From the gripes that you've listed it definitely doesn't sound like you should be sharing accommodations with a cat in the first place, as what you perceive as life-altering annoyances (to the point that you would move) most cat owners just accept and deal with on a daily basis.

When it comes to the cats howling at all hours of the night; have you had them spayed and/or neutered? Where did you get them from (a local shelter, were they feral?)

Bottom line, if they make your life miserable then something has to be done. You and your partner need to sit down and determine what is more important: two cats or your relationship. And if you do decide to give them away, you owe it to them to find a loving and nurturing home for them.
posted by Tenacious.Me.Tokyo at 7:33 PM on January 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think this is a set of worthwhile, addressable problems. If you both focus, you should be able to make your lives much better.

The first thing that will make the biggest difference for you will probably be buying an air filter. Run it in your bedroom before you go to bed every night and you'll notice improved odor and significantly lessened allergic reactions.

If you can keep the cats out of the bedroom, definitely do that. Also, dust everything with a damp cloth, change the sheets, wash any curtains or other soft goods, vacuum, and generally make the bedroom 100% clean - you're converting it into your own happy safe place.

Which brings up another idea: if you both can move together into a place where you can have a (non-bedroom - maybe a den?) cat-free room to yourself, you might feel a lot better with a refuge of your own. I realize this may not be realistic.

Litter odor: don't give up. We do things like adding baking soda, adding fresh litter on top of the existing litter every so often when we clean it, and using a covered litter box with the little charcoal odor filters on top - they really do help. The box should be cleaned every day.

It sounds like the cats are acting out. Is your girlfriend playing with them and paying attention to them every day? They're living, thinking creatures in need of stimulation and interaction. With each other, they'll just run around and play a little rough, sometimes, but if you can give them good cat play every day they might be calmer at night. I've been lucky - it's always seemed that my dear man loves playing with the cats (there are some awesome fun toys to be had; try different types to see what the cats like best). It's fine if you're not that into playing with them, but it really might help with the night problems.

The good news is that, if they're almost two years old, they may be calming down a bit soon. However, they'll still need some play.

A bored kitty is a difficult kitty.

In a nutshell, while cats are often perceived as trouble-free, not-time-consuming-at-all pets, you do need to put some time into them to keep them from becoming crazy and unpleasant. Cats' needs differ, too.

Good luck. Thank you so much for taking the time to ask.
posted by amtho at 7:37 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

One more thing: brushing the cats regularly will have two awesome effects: reducing the amount of shedding (and potentially hairballs - yeah, that's pretty bad, too), and increasing their affection to, and attention to, the human who brushes them. "Bonding" is a real phenomenon, and it helps tremendously.

One more one more thing: If you don't have a nice large scratchable piece of cat furniture (maybe a tower-like construct with multiple levels and rope-wrapped ramps), I heartily recommend getting one. It's fun for them, encourages them to wear themselves out by running up and down it, and gives them something wonderful to rub that isn't a couch or rug. It gives you a fun way to play with them, too, leading them up and down it with a toy-on-a-stick, etc. Something that's not too hideous to look at can also help make the cats more of a "feature" of your apartmented lives than a hidden mess-making secret... Cat furniture can be expensive, but if you're into it, you can build it yourself.
posted by amtho at 7:42 PM on January 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

For the hair: get one of these and use it at least once a week. You could also put a blanket on the couch or wherever you would like to be completely free of cat hair and remove it only when you want to lay down on the couch.

If the apartment smells, look into feeding your cats higher quality cat food that is closer to what they would get in the wild. (Many suggestions here.) It makes their waste much less smelly. Clean the litter box once a day, or look into a self-cleaning litterbox if the cats will use it. Look for a fan that you can put in the window to circulate the air without letting the cats out. Something like this. Vacuum the apartment every day.

For the noise. Get earplugs or a white noise machine. Whatever will help you ignore the cats while you sleep.
posted by MsMolly at 7:47 PM on January 4, 2010

I'm sure I'm repeating what others are saying here, but this is a really easy problem to fix, so chin up!

For the smell of litter (presuming you're in the US): Arm&Hammer multicat litter in a covered litter tray. Change often (at least once a day if you only have the one litter box). Use additional baking soda or litter deodorizer (that you can buy in pet stores for a few dollars) on top of that.

For the general air quality: an air filter.

For the fur: a Furminator and a vacuum. Use the furminator regularly, or get your girlfriend to use it regularly if you're not willing to be in that much contact with the cats. Vacuum every other day. Keep a heavy blanket on the couch during the time you're not at home, and take it off when you want to veg out. Spray the cats with water every time you see them anywhere they shouldn't be (eg: clean clothes, bed, couch). Believe it or not, cats are trainable, especially when they are designated their own spaces to hang out in.

For the meowing/scratching: spray them with water, and actually interact with them in the evenings so they're not so bored at night. Make sure they have enough toys (jingly balls! Small cloth mice! Catnip!) and some kind of a view to look out at (it could be an alley, cats don't seem to be picky). You can get some really nice, tall cat trees for under $100, or even just put up a few shelves and throw down some cardboard scratchers.

Consistency is the key! Remember that you're the human and they are the pet - they aren't supposed to be taking precedence over your sitting and sleeping places. It is absolutely OK to discipline them by raising your voice, tapping them on the nose and spraying them with water. They do not have to sit on the couch, they do not have to sleep on the bed.

It's really not hard once you get a routine down, there is absolutely no reason why this should be making you both so unhappy.
posted by saturnine at 7:54 PM on January 4, 2010

This flies in the face of one of your stated problems (afraid to buy nice things the cats will scratch), but how about leather furniture? Leather = no hair. By all means, don't go out and buy something new. But my consignment shop leather couch is nice enough that I really enjoy having it (and not having the constant layer of cat hair), but not so nice that I have a heart attack every time the cats get a wild hair up their nose to scale the back of it.

Also seconding advice to look into a cat tree or some better stuff for the cats to claw. In my experience, cats don't instinctively have a need to claw everything in their reach, so if they already have something really great that they're allowed and encouraged to scratch, they shouldn't be particularly interested in furniture/etc.
posted by gueneverey at 8:06 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

-Can you add screens to the windows, or open the windows just a crack, to get fresh air? Also Nthing an air purifier.

-Silica/crystal kitty litter can help with litterbox smell and dust.

-You could keep the cats' hair short or shaved if they're longhaired cats, and if it's warm in your apartment.

-Keep their nails trimmed, and make sure to have a scratching post around to help prevent them from resharpening their nails on your furniture. There are also softpaws, but I don't know how these are (for the cats, owners, or furniture).

-Instead of living in two separate apartments, maybe you and your girlfriend can move into a single bigger apartment and block the cats out of half of it.
posted by sentient at 8:15 PM on January 4, 2010

No personal experience, but I have read that cats are relatively easy to toilet train, which might cut down on the litter box smell.

Also, I've never been to Japan, and so have no idea if Japanese toilets are compatible with such a regimen.
posted by chazlarson at 8:16 PM on January 4, 2010

You can most definitely address a few of the problems. I live (albeit alone) in less than 600 sqft with 3 cats, so most of your concerns are also things I deal with on a daily basis.

1) Fresh air: get screens on those windows. Even as a renter, you can make your own screens relatively easily that attach to the inside of the window. Full disclosure -- a friend made mine, but I could have done it myself. You can buy a variety of sizes of screen frames from the hardware store, and rolls of the screen material. Find a screen frame that is slightly bigger than the window and is about the same shape. It doesn't have to match perfectly, as long as it's bigger than the window. Cram the material into the frame, and attach with a lot of good, double-sided tape (for easy removal later). Then open those windows! Fresh air is your friend.

2) Litter box stench: First, you need to invest in a very good quality strong clumping multi-cat litter with carbon. I prefer the unscented, and use EverClean. It's more expensive, but because it clumps so well and so little is wasted it all works out. Clean the box AT LEAST once a day. I never smell cat pee. You can't really avoid the stinky poo bombs, but feeding them good quality grain-free food (there was just a thread about this here yesterday) will reduce the stink, and it should only be offensive for the first few minutes. The good quality food also brings me to...

3) Cat hair. A good quality food will have a noticeable effect on their coats. A shiny, glossy coat sheds less. Other than that, this is the one thing I slack on... I do have a cat hair problem. (I also have a cat snot problem, and a poopy-paw problem, but thats my question, not yours...) Anyway, I've thrown blankets over the chairs I've acknowledged the cats own, and try to keep a blanket over the couch. When humans use the couch (or attempt the chairs), the blanket is removed. Not the optimal solution, but it works for my level of laziness. I also make sure to at least throw the duvet over the bed so it kinda looks made.

Cats are a great apartment pet, and there are a lot of things you can do to make it a livable, if not happy, situation for you and the furrballs. If after doing everything possible it still doesn't work, then.. well, deal with that later. But there are still less drastic options to try first.
posted by cgg at 8:18 PM on January 4, 2010

Also recommending the Furminator brush. It costs more than a regular comb or brush but it is UNREAL at pulling out loose hair. I am the owner of an impossibly fluffy, white, long-haired cat. (When I choose to take over the world I have the PERFECT cat to pet while laughing.) His hair was driving me nuts until I starting Furminating him two or three times a week. It sounds like you need to rekindle - or maybe even kindle - affection for these kitties. Brushing a purring kitty cat is one of the sweet, sweet things in life.
posted by missmary6 at 8:22 PM on January 4, 2010

.....on preview, sorry, I didn't mean to be condescending when I said you need to kindle affection for the cats. I meant that if you discover some of the joys of cat ownership, the frustration of scratching, hair, etc might seem more manageable. good luck!
posted by missmary6 at 8:36 PM on January 4, 2010

Yet another vote for the Furminator! That thing is amazing. (But, er, be careful not to get carried away. My little tabby acquired a baldish streak along her spine after we both got a little too Furminator-happy last spring.)
posted by onepot at 9:07 PM on January 4, 2010

Mesmerize your cats: one way mirror bird feeder.
posted by hortense at 10:14 PM on January 4, 2010

Furminator aside, I would endorse most of these suggestions. Cleaning the catpan every day is paramount to controlling the smell. I would add that a cardboard scratching pad would go a long way to curbing their desire to sharpen their claws on furniture. I see no need to get any cat furniture but that's me. I do try to groom my cat with a wire brush with rubber tipped ends--which may be what a furminator is--and that helps with the hair.

I was thinking lately that I was developing an allergy to my cat--my sinuses would block up and I would get tight in the chest when she jumped up with me at night or when I got up to go to the bathroom. I put this down to the dust from the litter.

A friend bought an air purifier--which is what people mean by 'air filter' here, or so I assume--and that made all the difference in the world. So I heartily endorse that concept. But simply scooping out the clumps of pee and the poop every day--better yet, as soon as they appear--has just as dramatic results.

The thing to me here is that it doesn't sound like you want to have cats, have little affection for them and no interest in trying to understand them. Of the three options you describe, staying and dealing with them seems the one you least prefer. All the behaviors you describe, save the meowing at night, seem normal for cats. A person who likes cats would not find them so objectionable or insurmountable obstacles. If you like cats, you can deal with them if you sincerely try. They are not animated furniture--they are animals and you have to learn what works by dealing with them fairly. If you stay and deal with them, it's only going to work if you commit yourself to understanding them and treating them with a modicum of respect and affection. But you don't seem to want to invest any time or effort in trying to ameliorate things by dealing with what can be done. It's more like you are asking for permission to get rid of them.

For instance, you clean the cat pan every day because it's not fair to the cat to leave it dirty. They will put up with totally disgusting situations where the catpan hasn't been emptied or cleaned in weeks but if they had a voice and a choice, they would prefer a clean, pristine place to pee and poo. That the smell and the dust is ameliorated by you doing your daily duty is a bonus. Or so I think.

So, all of these suggestions above are good but you have to have good intentions to do them right. I could be wrong--these are words on a screen that I am reading--it sounds like you don't want to do the work. It really sounds like you have an aversion to doing the work and are looking for an excuse to cut them loose or move out and endanger your human relationship in the process. Which doesn't make you sound very committed, I am afraid. If I am wrong, my apologies, but that is how it looks from here. Treating a cat right is not that hard to do if you are diligent but it takes work. There is no just add water solution here.
posted by y2karl at 10:32 PM on January 4, 2010

Assuming your commitment does not extend to the maintenance duties required to keep a relatively fur-free home with cats, you have to decide if this is a deal-breaker for you; is this the kind of thing that you'd leave your girlfriend and move out over? If so, communicate that, but realize that you are abandoning a commitment you signed up for, and that isn't likely going to lead to her choosing you over the cats. Your best bet, then, is to start trying to fulfill that commitment you made (using the excellent air purifier and other cleaning-related tips above.)
posted by davejay at 12:44 AM on January 5, 2010

Oh, and assuming they can't be placed in a new home is not the same thing as trying to place them in a new home and failing. If your girlfriend considers this an option, get off your backside and find them a good home.
posted by davejay at 12:45 AM on January 5, 2010

Another vote for the Furminator. It works exactly as advertised. It costs a bit more than you would think is reasonable for a comb, but it is worth every penny. My cat, who hates to be brushed with any comb or brush, loves it, and the amount of fur it removes is amazing.
posted by Houstonian at 5:08 AM on January 5, 2010

You need something like the Petmate Litter Locker. Scoop the box everytime you notice a deposit. This device encloses it in plastic and allows you to store about a weeks worth of waste with no smell. That way you aren't having to run it out to the trash everyday either.

Couple this with a motion detecting air freshener near the box, and you will not smell them
posted by wrnealis at 6:33 AM on January 5, 2010

For the cat-noises at night, a white noise machine works wonders. We had problems with my cat (who is notoriously a dick) waking us up in the middle of the night and lived in a small space where closing the bedroom door wasn't an option, so we got the white noise machine. Miracle machine is more like it! It's not that it drowned out the cat noise, but it provided a consistent background noise so the cat become part of that and didn't wake us up.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:24 AM on January 5, 2010

No one has suggested Feline Pine or Feline Fresh, so I'm here to add an enthusiastic endorsement. I find the smell of a clean clay litter box gross. The pine litter sits in the middle of the my living and doesn't bother me at all. If you use the pellets, you only have to scoop the poo. I also recommend the special box which cuts down even more on maintenance.

To keep my house clean I rely heavily on a roomba. I know it is a luxery item, but there is no way I would be able to clean under furniture as often as I turn that thing on. I have hardwood floors and it picks up a bunch of cat hair.

Lastly, I concur with leather furniture, my house doesn't look amazing but at least the sofa isn't cat scratched.
posted by Gor-ella at 9:26 AM on January 5, 2010

In addition to the great suggestions above, get a couple of washable blankets with which to cover your sofa. Cover it when you go to bed at night; whip the blankets off when it's time to flop and watch TV. Wash the blankets regularly.

Also, I agree with the sentiment that it sounds like you and your girlfriend need to step up the cleaning. Sad but true fact -- if you share your home with animals, you need to clean more than if you don't. A roomba has made a huge difference to my life.
posted by kestrel251 at 9:27 AM on January 5, 2010

You could get an automated litter box so you don't have a smell and don't have to scoop. I highly recommend the litter robot. It may be the best thing we ever bought... ever.

With regards to the furniture... ultrasuede seems to repel cat hair.

Seconding, thirding, etc. the furminator. Its a bit tedious but if you really brush those cats you'll hardly ever see the hair.
posted by muscat at 10:14 AM on January 5, 2010

What everyone is saying. I have two cats in a small city house (and I'm allergic to them). They have sisal scratching posts in every corner of the house and have never scratched furniture. I clean the litter-box twice a day (I use the Omega Paw which makes it quite easy) so there's no smell. They get brushed regularly and get Petromalt to make sure they don't hack up hairballs on the bed. And one room stays mostly cat-free and has blankets on the chairs and couches.

My philosophy is that the "approved" things -- scratching posts, litter-box, toys, etc. -- are so excellent (from the cats' points of view) that they never feel the need to scratch furniture or leave smelly gifts.
posted by phliar at 3:10 PM on January 5, 2010

- roomba programmed to run every day while you are at work (has made SUCH a difference for us!)
- frequent brushing; Furminator
- frequent litter box changes; better litter
- higher quality food so poo smells less (see related threads)
- scratching post(s)
- white noise machine and/or ear plugs
- cover your post-work relaxation chair with a blanket when you're not sitting in it, so the cat hair stays on the blanket, not your chair
- designate a cat-free room for you to relax in, e.g. bedroom
- screens on the windows, plus a fan
- cat beds (cheap version: cardboard box with blanket in bottom)
- get them fixed if they're not already

What does your girlfriend think about all of this? I hope you are talking to her and not just planning to move out without finding out whether she would rather lose the cats than lose you.
posted by heatherann at 8:50 PM on January 5, 2010

What everybody else said - better cleaning, better food, brushing, play, and trimming claws (your vet can do this) - is right on. I came in to emphasize a couple of points.

First: cat litter. It may be a pain to clean it every day, and you may feel like slacking off on it, but what you absolutely do not want is to create litter avoidance problems. If you think smelly litter is bad, try having cat pee anywhere else in the house. Once a cat starts avoiding the litter box because of its smell, you've got a nasty behavior problem that is very difficult to eradicate.

If at all possible, with two cats, it's best to have two litter boxes. I've gone through a lot of litters, and what I've found the best is a low-dust, hard-clumping, non-scented litter. I use Dr. Elsey's Precious Cat Ultra. It's pricier than other litters, but it lasts several times longer with regular scooping. I can put my nose right down to the litter and not smell a thing. I've personally found silica and non-clumping litters such as feline pine litters disgusting to my ultra-sensitive nose. They usually have their own scent, and when wetness hits them, it intensifies. To add insult to injury, they allow the urine to build up, instead of allowing you to remove it completely in the form of clumps. You have to change the whole pan often with those types of litter.

Don't use bags in your cat litter box. Make the litter deep enough that the urine never reaches the bottom. If you have a urine ball stuck to the bottom or the side of a box, get it off without breaking it up, and then wipe the area down with a 20% bleach solution. Cleaning the box will only take a few minutes in the evening.

Second: night meowing. That's another difficult one to eradicate once you've allowed/reinforced it. We have a night meower that we have mostly cured of the problem. If the ear plugs and white noise won't be sufficient, you'll need to take some steps to stop the behavior.

First and foremost: do not reinforce their meowing by personally responding in any way, positive or negative. Don't talk to/yell at them, make noises at them, squirt them, or open doors for them. That's going to be the hardest part. If you have a way to make a loud, unpleasant noise that cannot in any way be associated with you, go ahead and use that when they meow.

Keep them alert and active during the day, especially in the afternoon/evening. Get cat toys they love, leave them around the house, and trade them out on occasion. Hide treats around the house for them to find. Wear the cats out by playing them at night before you go to bed (think laser toy or "da bird"). Leave toys in the area they meow at night.

Along the same lines, give them attention/affection during the day and especially before you go to bed. I understand you don't feel a lot of affection for them, so maybe your girlfriend can take care of that. Brushing them, petting them, talking to them, and allowing them to sit on your lap all count.

Make sure they have a comfort zone at night, such as a soft bed in an area away from any noises or disturbances, such as a central air vent. Close your blinds and curtains to block any outside stimulation. You may want to consider using Feliway in their comfort area and in the area they meow at night.

So, night-meowing summary: activity and attention during the day, quiet area and an outlet at night. Ignore the meowing when it happens.

With a little bit of house maintenance and cat stimulation, your problems can be almost completely eradicated. You'll enjoy your home, and maybe, at that point, you'll find yourself resenting the cats less and laughing at their antics more.
posted by moira at 10:27 AM on January 6, 2010

Here's my advice/take on the situation: All the (really good, btw) suggestions above?

Your girlfriend should be doing those things. These are basically her cats, and as the primary owner, she should be taking the bulk of responsibility for the care & feeding of (& and cleaning up after...) them. Having a pet is both a joy and a burden, and it sounds like she's getting most of the joy, while you're getting most of the burden.

Two years of this burden has taken its toll to the point that it can no longer be ignored: you're starting to feel frustration and resentment. If you move, that will probably weaken the relationship (and you'll probably still feel resentful, although you'll probably still direct it toward the cat). If you get rid of the cat, your girlfriend will probably start to feel resentful, but she won't be able to direct that resentment toward a cat.

If I were in your situation (and, actually, I am), I'd deal. All the advice above addresses how to deal with it externally. Here's how I'd deal with it internally:

As the (reluctant) secondary owner, adopt/substitute an attitude of benign indifference for the resentment you're developing. Now, when you do cat maintenance chores, they'll have nothing to do with the cat; they'll really be relationship maintenance -- they'll be expressions of affection for your girlfriend -- just be part of the uncounted little things done to make your partner's life easier. After a while, you and the cat may have an Archetypal cat-human relationship of mutual grudging affection, which means you'll get some of the joy of cat ownership, too (btw, your girlfriend will be pleased by this). 'Hope this works for you, too..
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 5:02 PM on January 6, 2010

Get a covered cat box. It helps a lot with the smell. Scoop it out daily, and replace the litter weekly. If you keep it in the bathroom, you can just flush the poop down the toilet, which makes it more convenient to keep up with. Putting it in the bathroom also helps keep the smell out of living areas.

If there are things you don't want covered with hair, keep them out of reach—at the top of a closet, in a drawer, hung up so the cats can't lay on them, etc. Cover things with blankets or cloths. Hair is a fact of life with pets, and you're never going to get away from it entirely.

If you can afford it, iRobot makes versions of the Roomba specifically for pet households. If you get the optional scheduler feature, you can set it up to run daily at a convenient time. The battery on mine died, but when it was working, it definitely helped.

Cats need to scratch, and different cats prefer different kinds of surfaces: horizontal, vertical, or diagonal; cardboard, sisal, carpet, or leather. Take note of what each of the cats is scratching on, and try to provide an acceptable alternative with similar characteristics. You might have to experiment a little before you find the right ones for your cats. I always demonstrate new scratching posts to my cats by example, so they understand what they're for. Yes, I'm a dork.

Part of the purpose of scratching is to leave a visible marker of territory. So scratching devices should be in plain view, and should only be replaced when they're too threadbare to provide a usable scratching surface.

That said, sometimes a cat just is just bound and determined to scratch on a particular thing. Sometimes it's easiest to just write off that piece of furniture as a loss, and be glad that it's distracting the cat from your other furniture.

If the cats are bothering you at night, then there are two things to consider.

First of all, figure out what they want. Are you guys gone all day? Maybe they're not getting enough social interaction, and they're bothering you at night because that's when you're at home. Give them a few extra minutes of attention earlier in the day. Are they hungry? Adjust their feeding schedule. Are they fighting? If so, is it play-fighting or real fighting?

Secondly, you can try training them to behave differently. Training cats isn't easy, but it can be done. You will need a superhuman will, 100% consistency, and several weeks. Discuss the behavior changes you are trying to achieve, and how you plan to achieve them, with your girlfriend. And promise to each other that you will both stick to that plan. Giving in even once will take you ten steps back. Hopefully you have a stubborn streak you can tap into, because you'll need it.

For example, I need to keep my bedroom door closed at night, due to issues with heat and my roommate's cats. But my cats were insisting on going in and out of the bedroom several times a night, which meant that I had to get up and open the door for them.

First of all, I made sure they had everything they needed (litterbox, food, water, various sleeping options) in the bedroom. Then, I simply stopped getting up to open the door. Period. It was hell for a while—there were a couple of nights where I laid awake for hours—but I eventually won. They now spend all night in the bedroom and only complain when I sleep in.

A watergun can provide a remarkably powerful incentive for a cat to stop doing whatever it's doing. Also, learn how to hiss—it puts the fear of God in the critters.

Lastly: if they're still young, they will mellow with age. In terms of rambunctiousness, they're kittens until the age of two. They get gradually sleepier and more dignified after that.
posted by ixohoxi at 9:49 PM on January 10, 2010

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