Begone, cat
March 9, 2010 10:55 PM   Subscribe

Can I keep my neighbour's cat out of my house with some sort of proximity alarm? Background and complications inside.

I live in a ground floor studio with my cat. He enters and leaves my studio by jumping through the grille on the window, which is always left ajar.

My neighbour's cat, who is bigger, meaner and much smarter than mine, has taken to visiting when I'm not home. He jumps in through the window and eats my cat's food, or just hangs around in my living space, looking smug. They don't seem to fight at all - whenever I catch the intruder in action, my cat is just sitting in a corner, looking miserable.

My neighbour is very apologetic; her cat is on a special diet so she really doesn't want him visiting my house. With her permission and encouragement, I've tried all the usual methods of cat-vanquishing - spraying the visitor with water, making loud noises, chasing him away. But as I said, the cat is smart, so all my shoo-ing has made him afraid of me, but not my abode.

I'm hoping there's a tech fix for this. I'd like to put some kind of small proximity device on the cat's collar, which will trigger a loud noise whenever it comes near my window. Something with a range of, say, 1-2 metres. Is there a product out there like this? If not, could I kluge something together from components? How would I go about doing that?

Other considerations:

- My studio is tiny and I work shifts, so I can't just keep the food in another room or cover it when I'm not there.
- Both cats are contented indoor-outdoor moggies. This is non-negotiable.
- I would only use a proximity alarm with the full understanding and consent of my neighbour - there's no neighbourly conflict going on here.
- I don't want to use anything which might harm or hurt the cat.
posted by embrangled to Technology (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There are infrared cat doors. They let your cat in and out, but stay locked for other cats or animals. I do not know how well they work. But if I were in your situation, this is what I would try.
posted by fifilaru at 11:12 PM on March 9, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, I had a look at those, but I'm a renter and don't have permission to make permanent alterations to the house.
posted by embrangled at 11:14 PM on March 9, 2010

You don't have to make a permanent alteration... you can build a frame for such a device out of wood or some other material and fit it within the window opening. If the other cat is indeed bigger, then you can make a wood cutout for the window which fits only your cat. Quite frankly I think those are your only solutions unless you're willing to put a proximity sensor that allows you to get up, check things out each time, and actively bar the other cat's entry. The other solution of course is to deal with the owner.
posted by crapmatic at 11:31 PM on March 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

You wouldn't need to make a permanent alteration. Make up a frame that fits neatly into or over your window niche and has a sub-frame that fits the cat door. Fill the space between the outer frame and the sub-frame with metal mesh. You could even add some fly screen over the mesh to reduce the ugly and keep bugs out.
posted by flabdablet at 11:34 PM on March 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

What about using SSSCat? I'm not sure how you'd get the neighbor's cat and not yours, but it's something you can set up to work while you're out of the house.

Also, if you do this, please make a video.
posted by chiababe at 11:35 PM on March 9, 2010

In any case, flipping the problem around from blacklisting your neighbor's cat to whitelisting yours will definitely save you trouble.
posted by flabdablet at 11:35 PM on March 9, 2010

Best answer: Human-sized cardboard cutout. Life-sized dummy. I am only slightly joking here. What kind of boundary/barrier exists between your place and the neighbour's? Any way of changing that dynamic?

Otherwise, RFID and a custom Arduino board would be the obvious way to rig up something electronic: that combo's been used for a cat tracker, and you can power a siren with the right kit.
posted by holgate at 11:36 PM on March 9, 2010

My neighbour is very apologetic; her cat is on a special diet so she really doesn't want him visiting my house.

Maybe you could gently suggest to her that if she is the owner of a cat who needs a special diet, she should probably be keeping him inside.
posted by amyms at 11:38 PM on March 9, 2010 [5 favorites]

The simplest solution would seem to be closing the window when not at home.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:44 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

It is your neighbor's responsibility to keep her cat from doing this. If she can't, she needs to keep the cat inside.
posted by Justinian at 2:34 AM on March 10, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for your all responses so far. Thank you especially to the commenters who answered the question I actually asked.

The context here is a sleepy suburban laneway where the fences are rickety, the cats roam freely and the residents know each other well. We share produce from our gardens, we have potluck dinners, we are kind to each other's pets. I like my neighbour, I like her cat, I don't even mind if he dozes in my garden; I just don't want him inside my house.

There are certainly times and places where demanding that the neighbour keep her damn cat inside would be an appropriate solution. It's not the right answer for me or my community, which is why I explicitly ruled it out in my question. The neighbour can't tell her cat where not to roam, and I would not want a contented outdoor cat to be confined on my account. Besides, why solve a problem with antagonism when it could be solved with technology?

My question was about proximity alarms and how I might buy or adapt one to keep a cat out of my house. Can anyone tell me more about how I might implement this solution?
posted by embrangled at 3:39 AM on March 10, 2010

I understand wanting to keep your cat indoor-outdoor (mine was, for years), but it seems to me that the easiest solution would be to not let your cat freely roam. That is, close up the open window, and let your cat inside and outside when it asks. Yes, this is mildly more inconvenient to you. But it also has added benefits behaviorally for your cat--when you control its ingress/egress, it will be much easier to deal with any situations when it needs to be confined (if it's ever medicated for something, if there are ever any dangerous animals in your neighborhood that preclude it going out at night--Sammy Katz finally became an indoor kitty thanks to roving coyotes in my neighborhood, not to mention a rash of distemper-infected raccoons).

You're already antagonizing the other cat by spraying it with water. It seems strange to me that you'd prefer to rig up a Rube Goldberg-like device rather than really simple and straightforward solutions that, I promise, really won't disrupt the cat's life that much.

The other solution, if the kitties are to be treated as king, is to put your cat on a "special diet," too. That way you'd be shielding your neighbor's cat from any ill health effects of its roaming.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:02 AM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

They don't seem to fight at all - whenever I catch the intruder in action, my cat is just sitting in a corner, looking miserable.

Oh, and I'd do this for the happiness of your cat, too. Kitties, especially males, really, really don't like their territory to be invaded. Even if your cat isn't fighting with this one, he'll undoubtedly be happier without the stress of this cat invading your house.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:06 AM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you neighbour is into it, you could try fitting Mr. Big Mean Smart with an invisible fence.
posted by flabdablet at 5:34 AM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

If the enemy cat is bigger can you find something to have your cat's food in, inside your house, which will not be big enough for enemy cat to get in and eat the food?
posted by biffa at 6:06 AM on March 10, 2010

We had a similar problem with a neighbouring cat which was using our cat flap to gain access and intimidate our cat. We solved it by fitting a cat flap which unlocks only when it scans the RFID microchip) embedded in our cat. The advantage is that there's no collar for the cat to lose, although they are quite pricey.

If the from-scratch arduino project is a bit too daunting, perhaps you could buy one of these cat flaps and modify it to sound an alarm, rather than operate the lock motor.

You'd have to check it works with Australian identification chips, that Mr Big Mean Smart is microchipped and that you can get hold of it. sell them.
posted by matsho at 6:20 AM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know that you are quite enamored with the proximity alarm idea, but here's something you're not considering: after an initial startle, the cat(s) won't care. That seems to counter-intuitive to us as humans. But I've seen cats contentedly lounging on the hood of a car with its alarm going off. Many cats could care less. A loud alarm isn't necessarily going to deter Big Cat from entering your window, but it is going to annoy your neighbors a lot, which I think you'd like to avoid given your good relationship with them. Once an initial startle wears off, there goes your deterrent.

If you're hell-bent on using technology, there are RFID cat doors that open and close via a sensor in your cat's collar. If you can't modify your window, you could build a small wooden (plywood?) enclosure inside or outside the window which can contain the cat door. Keep in mind that if you build it inside and the neighbor cat can get through the window but not into your house via the additional cat door, he will likely poo in the wooden frame to show his displeasure, so this is probably better built outdoors.

I liked the answer to build something outdoors which has a hole small enough for your cat to shimmy through but too small for the neighbor-cat. Unfortunately this problem solves itself if the neighbor-cat stays fat on your cat's food... he'll lose weight, and in the chute he goes.
posted by juniperesque at 6:23 AM on March 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

Your proximity alarm idea will not work. The cat will startle maybe twice, then realize that there are no consequences to the noise and proceed to saunter in and ignore it.

You can't noise-target the intruding cat and assume it will work. Also, have you considered the sheer murderous annoyance of the cat walking by your window at night? If the noise is loud enough to scare the cat, it's loud enough to wake the neighborhood.

Shift your thinking. You seem really entrenched, here, and are not considering quieter, less hodge-podge solutions. Fit your cat with an RFID chip that will unlock the cat flap. Only your cat will come in. Easy as pie.
posted by lydhre at 6:55 AM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

For more about setting-up a sensor-based system, try posting the question to instructables answers. There's people on there who like to tinker with things like the Arduino, or are bored enough that they'll learn for you.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 7:08 AM on March 10, 2010

Are the cats different colors? If so then Arthur Paul Pedrick may have your solution.

Controlling the door with similar off the shelf stuff would allow your cat to go out without an RFID collar and still get back in.
posted by caddis at 7:16 AM on March 10, 2010

It seems to me from reading the question that the neighbor cat's motivation for entering your home is that it knows that there's yummy food waiting for him inside. You might try feeding your cat two meals a day rather than free feeding, or just removing his food bowl when you are not home. Once neighbor cat realizes that Chez Your Apartment is no longer serving kibble, he may not enjoy hanging out there so much.
posted by kitty teeth at 7:55 AM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

A proximity alarm is unlikely to work in the long run. Smart cats can figure out that loud noises alone are not dangerous and learn to ignore them. Plus, loud whooping noises at all hours will not improve your popularity with the neighbours.

An easy, cheap solution you can do in 15 minutes with just a sharp knife:

Buy a piece of chloroplast. Chloroplast looks like cardboard paper, but it's made of plastic. Most art and signage store sell it, but you may find in the dumpster behind for free. I definitely don't advocate stealing a real estate or political sign, but those are often made of chloroplast too.

Anyway, however you obtain your piece, cut it to fit the window. Use a sharp knife to cut it, lying on something flat. Two cuts will be necessary for each. Don't try to cut with a single stroke.

By either one of the magnetic collar systems or one of those fancy RFID ones linked above. Cut the plastic to fit the door and install in you window. Put the new collar on your cat.

Viola! One-way cat door.
posted by bonehead at 8:00 AM on March 10, 2010

On a more low-tech solution, would it be possible to use the plastic (chloroplast) described in the comment above to just create a barrier that only your cat will fit through? Could a little experimentation come up with a size/shape that would let your cat wiggle through, but keep the bruiser out?
posted by mercredi at 8:11 AM on March 10, 2010

What about the Virtual Barrier, from the makers of ssscat? It's designed for dogs, but if your neighbor is okay with putting something on his cat's collar, it might work? Or it might be too large for a cat -- i've obviously never tried it. But it seems to do exactly what your asking, only using compressed a air spray instead of noise as a deterrent. Seems expensive though.
posted by cgg at 8:33 AM on March 10, 2010

Another suggestion that might be kind of fun is to rig an RC car with a squirt bottle (or buy one that has a built-in water canon, they exist) and hook it up to a wireless camera/control unit. You can control it remotely and then if you see the cat, drive up and spray it. Eventually it will be terrified of your place and you will have lost what I would consider to be a fairly entertaining video game.

Unfortunately I am not technical enough to be able to recommend specific components or instructions however I DO know that this can be done and have seen it before (however I can't for the life of me remember where).
posted by Elminster24 at 10:17 AM on March 10, 2010

I agree with kitty teeth; there is a completely-free solution you've dismissed but should consider. I once had to transition a cat from free-feeding to being fed on a schedule, and she did just fine (had been getting too fat...). You say you're worried about your odd schedule, but I assure you: A cat will not go crazy if you go 18 hours between feedings instead of 12. At the least, it's worth a try before you invest in some awesome but complicated RFID thingy.
posted by chowflap at 2:50 PM on March 10, 2010

I wouldn't be surprised if the neighbor's cat was after more than just food. Even if you change to a feeding schedule, and there's no more food lying around, the neighbor's cat would probably come anyway just to annoy and intimidate your cat. If none of the high tech solutions end up working, I'd try the suggestion to close the window and make your cat ask to go out. I can't install a cat door and I don't like the idea of leaving any windows open, so my cat just meows to go out and bangs on the door to come back in. When I leave for the day, she's usually inside but if it's nice I try and get her outside, and then she's out for several hours. It shouldn't bother your cat too much not to be able to get in or out while you're at work. He's probably sleeping much of that time anyway.
posted by JenMarie at 7:59 PM on March 10, 2010

Is your cat microchipped/are you willing to do that? I just saw this today, and thought of this question.
posted by emumimic at 3:04 PM on March 30, 2010

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