Kitten-proofing stair bannisters?
January 28, 2010 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Dear cat-owning MeFites, please help a new kitten owner: what's the best way to kitten-proof a stair railing with a dangerous drop-off?

We've had 4 adult cats in our current house before, and they never had problems with the stairs, but now we've got two 8-week-old barn kittens we've saved from becoming owl fodder (the probably fate of a sibling or two). But our house has its own dangers of course. Primary one is the stairway going to the second floor. At the top the stairwell is surrounded by open bannisters with gaps that a kitten can easily get through. At the far side that means a straight drop of 8 feet to a hardwood floor, or (worse) to the bottom stair or two. Unless we keep them cooped up in one room forever, they'll have to deal with this eventually.

My provisional idea is to put a couple strips of duct tape with the sticky side facing outward along the rails. Low enough for them to see over, to be aware of the drop, but high enough to discourage them from stepping over and weaving through the rails. I'm guessing it is not a good idea to block the whole set of railings much higher as that could lead to a jump to the top of the railing to see what's there, if the kittens aren't aware of the heights.

Any thoughts from experience will be much appreciated...
posted by Creosote to Pets & Animals (25 answers total)
In my experience a kitten at 8 weeks won't make a suicidal leap and if they do then they're fairly bouncy. 8 weeks is still pretty young to have them roaming free around the house, though - there are other dangers (getting trapped inside a couch, getting stepped on rounding a corner, choking in blinds, etc.) 8 feet is nothing to a kitty, though. They should be fine.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:41 AM on January 28, 2010

Yeah, I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by torquemaniac at 8:43 AM on January 28, 2010

My mother had plexiglass panels fitted to some cat-dangerous areas. If you want a temporary solution, you could zip tie chicken wire to the balusters.
posted by paulg at 8:44 AM on January 28, 2010

I have a bannister like that. We've had kittens as young as yours to cats as old as 15, and none of them have ever jumped or fallen. Don't worry about it. (Also, a cat is unlikely to really hurt itself on a jump of that height.)
posted by jeather at 8:50 AM on January 28, 2010

don't worry about it.... our cats have intentionally leaped from 12 foot ledges to the ground, and one tends to fall off the 12 foot ledge by accident on a regular basis... (clumsy!)....
posted by HuronBob at 8:51 AM on January 28, 2010

I wouldn't worry about it. 8 feet isn't much of a fall for a kitten, in fact it's probably better than 3 or 4 feet because they will have a chance to right themselves and land on their feet. (However, mine would happily jump down 3 or 4 feet at that age, after climbing up the curtains...) That being said, I'd probably keep then in their own room for another month or so before giving them free range of the house. Those extra 4 weeks also mean a lot to a kitten in terms of strength and smarts.
posted by cgg at 8:52 AM on January 28, 2010

Response by poster: In my experience a kitten at 8 weeks won't make a suicidal leap and if they do then they're fairly bouncy.

Well, in the interest of full disclosure, that was my belief too, but we've let them out for supervised exploration and one of them last night tried to go through from one side of the railing corner to the other when something was blocking the way, tried to back up, slipped & fell. She is fine in the sense of back to normal & no limping or other sign of injury, but for all of our sakes I'd rather not have it happen again. (More worried about accident than suicide--I've seen even an adult cat who should know better slip off a porch railing, luckily to fall a few feet into a boxwood with only dignity damaged.)
posted by Creosote at 8:53 AM on January 28, 2010

We took the railing off one side of our stairs, so now it's open from about the sixth or seventh step down to the floor - just a little bit under the height you described. None of our cats has ever jumped from that height, and none of them ever did it when they were kittens. I wouldn't worry about it. Heck, we've had cats stuck in trees because they wouldn't jump four feet to the ground (they eventually sort of run down the trunk).
posted by cooker girl at 8:53 AM on January 28, 2010

Oh, well, that's relevant information. The duct tape sounds like a good idea.
posted by cooker girl at 8:55 AM on January 28, 2010

A friend of mine wove some mesh fabric between the posts of her railing to keep cats from jumping off the landing. It seemed to work until the cat learned she could just mush down the fabric.

Another friend, who often fosters litters of kittens, puts cardboard across the open areas.
posted by LolaGeek at 9:10 AM on January 28, 2010

2nding the plexiglass.

We needed to kid-proof a similar banister/2nd story-overlook-thing at our last house and I got sheets of clear acrylic from Home Depot. I -very - carefully drilled some holes (still managing to crack one) into them and zip-tied them to the rods. From the lower level, they were virtually invisible, and they worked great.
posted by jquinby at 9:11 AM on January 28, 2010

I've had a kitten a little older than that fall from a similar situation. She was fine, but she didn't land on her feet. She's clever and agile, but they sometimes just don't pay attention (she tended to also fall from heights when asleep...).

An inexpensive solution might be cardboard taped/tacked/tied/fastened on the outside of the railings to about 3/4 of the way up. Some kittens climb cardboard, but most don't, and you should be OK. You should be able to take it down in about 6 months or so, when they're less likely to tear wildly around.

It might also be a good idea to hold a kitten firmly and see if you can show him that the height is high and scary. _Don't_ drop something to demonstrate - the chase urge is very powerful in kittens!
posted by amtho at 9:25 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Chickenwire seems like it would be more likely to encourage kittens to climb it, not discourage it. Those cute little paw-sized hexagons? If I were a kitten I'd look at it and go 'ooh! tiny playground!'
posted by 8dot3 at 9:47 AM on January 28, 2010

I would get a loooong plastic drop-cloth or other soft plastic sheeting to wrap around the bannister rails where you fear they could slip out.

However, they're kittens, so it's their job to find as many ways and places to put themselves in seemingly mortal danger as possible. Kittens climb and fall off of drapes, counters, cabinets, refrigerators, etc and usually wind up ok. I think it's fine to take precautions, but don't be surprised if they find more ways to get themselves into trouble. Especially when there's two ... oh man, when my cats were kittens together, they took turns leading the other into trouble.

Also, I am pretty sure it's the rule to post pictures to go along with any kitten-related Ask-Mes. ;-)
posted by tastybrains at 10:11 AM on January 28, 2010

I'm pretty much in favor of your duct tape idea (or something similar kinda woven in through the railings). I don't think you'd necessarily have to worry about them jumping unintentionally, but I would be worried about them playing on the landing and not paying attention to how close to the edge they are (by either backing up, rolling, running, etc). Seems like something woven through the rails would "catch" them if they were headed for a fall, but not totally block the view and therefore give them the sense of how high they are.

Of course, you might have to deal with pulling one of them off the duct tape if they get shoved up against it...that might not be fun either.

I think as they grow older they'll figure it out. And please!!
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:58 AM on January 28, 2010

A friend of mine wove some mesh fabric between the posts of her railing to keep cats from jumping off the landing

That was more or less my thought. I've discovered the remainder bin at fabric stores to be fantastic for this kind of thing. The fabric section at walmart has it too.

I'd be less worried about the climbing to see whats over it, personally. Cats are adventurous but even kittens aren't flat-out stupid. I think your priority is to prevent someone going over when they're barreling around at ludicrous speed; I'd trust their limited sense of self-preservation to keep them from jumping after a climb. It will help, I think, that tiny claws are likely to catch quite well in a simple fabric.
posted by phearlez at 11:04 AM on January 28, 2010

Just so you know, "kitten-proof" is an oxymoron.
posted by Aquaman at 11:20 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I can see I have my weekend's work cut out for me. :-)

pictures will have to wait until later tonight...
posted by Creosote at 11:26 AM on January 28, 2010

Best answer: When we had kittens that small (last summer) they couldn't actually jump very high. Anything over knee height (for me) was too much until they got to more like 16 weeks old, by which time they were also less clumsy all round. So anything that physically blocks them going through will be fine (we put big pieces of cardboard around the place blocking off areas we wanted them to stay out of), and I like the fabric idea for ease of construction plus lack of ugliness, as long as they don't decide it makes a good climbing wall. they don't need to see how high it is or whatever (I'm not sure their brains are yet big enough to work that out anyway), just make the barrier higher than they can currently jump. By the time they can get up onto the railing they should be able to stay there rather than stumble off, and should also be getting smart enough to work out the distances and whatever.

I say should because my adult cat used to jump onto our stair rail and misjudge, leaving him sailing down two floors worth of stair well. He always slunk back up looking faintly embarrassed then carefully pretended it never happened. But yeah, eight week old kittens don't have full co-ordination or distance judgement yet (which is why they're so cute!) so doing something here makes sense.
posted by shelleycat at 12:30 PM on January 28, 2010

You could also try buying a roll of mesh screening from your local DYI place. Weave it through and use a few basting stitches to hold in place (duct tape might not be so easily removed) It will be good enough for the cats to see through but keep them from going over.

My local HD has a 36"x86" roll for $5.49 36"x 25ft for $12.60

they even make that flexible 'pet-friendly' stuff although it might be more expensive.
posted by jaimystery at 12:48 PM on January 28, 2010

What about weaving some plastic cling wrap between the bannisters? Will allow them to see out and doesn't seem as tempting to scratch/climb as fabric might be. Plus it's cheap and easy to set up and remove without damaging your railings.
posted by platinum at 2:58 PM on January 28, 2010

Cats will climb mesh screening. Sometimes they will get their claws stuck in it and have to be rescued. (I know this from experience.) Something smooth will make a better barrier.
posted by expialidocious at 3:28 PM on January 28, 2010

Response by poster: Also, I am pretty sure it's the rule to post pictures to go along with any kitten-related Ask-Mes. ;-)
posted by Creosote at 7:40 PM on January 28, 2010

Thank you - pics are certainly a requirement. :3
posted by Kloryne at 8:48 PM on January 28, 2010

Response by poster: Followup: I stuck with the duct tape, and the kittens have stayed away from the railings that have it. No more scary falls, though they ar.e currently rampaging about the entire house except when we're asleep.
posted by Creosote at 8:04 PM on February 7, 2010

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