She's a Japanese cat, should I be saying "やめる!" instead?
June 10, 2010 4:42 PM   Subscribe

How can I curb my new kitten's undesirable nighttime behavior (scratching and biting my face and hands)? Details and a few more questions inside.

I recently acquired a stray kitten, rescued by an acquaintance who could not keep her. I'm not sure how old she is, but she's pretty tiny (here's a picture for reference and cuteness). I've only had her for three days, so I haven't been able to take her to the vet yet but will be doing that soon.

The first night sleeping in my apartment, she pretty much stayed curled up in the corner, as I had sort of expected. However, she seems to have gotten comfortable very quickly and is now jumping up on my bed at night. I don't mind her sleeping up there, but at about 3:00 every morning she decides that it's playtime and starts batting (with claws) and nibbling at my hands, face, and basically any exposed skin. She nearly scratched my eye this morning. When this happens, I have been saying a firm "NO" and putting her on the floor, but it doesn't seem to really deter her very much, and I've lost a lot of sleep the past few nights trying to deal with this.

Solutions I cannot try: putting her in another room (I live in a 250 sq ft apartment, the only place I could put her is in the bathroom or the front hall, and I don't really want to confine her like that all night), getting another cat/pet (while I firmly believe in dual-cat theory, this kitten kind of fell into my lap and I can't afford to get another one).

I think part of it is that she's hungry (I've been feeding her once in the morning at about 7:15 and once when I get home from work at about 5:30), so I am planning to get some dry food to leave out for her to munch on in the wee hours, but I am concerned that she may not be old enough? YANAV, but any guesses as to her approximate age and appropriateness of dry food would be welcome.

So, TL;DR, how can I stop her from nomming my face in the night?

Also, any other suggestions or tips for living with a cat in a tiny space are very much welcome!
posted by you zombitch to Pets & Animals (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My daughter just got a new little kitten who does the same thing. She keeps a little dish of dry cat food beside her nightstand in case the kitty is hungry, but that hasn't seemed to be the case, so she also keeps a small squirt bottle at hand, to give the kitty a quick squirt (along with a firm "No!" whenever the kitty starts biting or clawing at her. It seems to be helping (you have to be consistent, though, because kittens are very determined to keep doing what they want to do).
posted by amyms at 4:47 PM on June 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

The squirt bottle is filled with water, in case that wasn't obvious lol.
posted by amyms at 4:48 PM on June 10, 2010

For your hands, you want to apply a tiny bit of bitter apple spray before you go to bed. (Avoid your fingertips -- you don't want to get it in your eyes; cayenne is an ingredient.) One of my was-recently-a-kitten cats wants to chew on my hands every morning when I get up. After spraying my hands just a little, her mouth goes nowhere near them.

I don't want to be the one to recommend you also apply the bitter apple to your face, because I think you'd probably taste it, but maybe you could try with just a little bit? Again, staying away from the eyes.

My two little ones like to scratch at the covers in the middle of the night. I don't mind them sleeping with me either, but that shit doesn't fly. So most nights, I just lock them out of the room. I figure they'll eventually learn that when they do that, they get evicted, so hopefully they'll stop. It's been a year and a half, but I KNOW they'll learn soon. (Right?)
posted by mudpuppie at 4:52 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

FWIW, sometimes my bf's cat is feeling needy (or whatever) and tries to sit on my face in the middle of the night. I have actually been awakened by his cold nose touching my nose, as he purrs to beat the band.

Initially, I tended to grab him by the scruff of his neck and throw him in the general direction of the window. But, because he's a wonderfully cool character, I've stopped that.

Defensive strategies include piling pillows around my head so that he can't get at me.

Good luck.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:52 PM on June 10, 2010

We had a cat that woke us up at around 3:00 AM and getting a "Catmate" type device solved the problem (feeder with a timer that opens up at a specific set time). Since the cat knew to expect the Catmate to open at a certain time, he "stalked" the Catmate and not us.

For dry food, the "Go" dry foods are very small little pieces that a Kitten can handle and very high quality (>50% protein, no crappy ingredients / grains).

Lastly, if you can swing it, I think two cats does seem to work better than one.

posted by Jon44 at 5:08 PM on June 10, 2010

I blow air into my cat's face if she does something that I don't want her to do. Most cats really hate it, and I've noticed that if I keep any water (no matter how bottled) near my bed, my cat will ensure that it spills on me at some point during the night. After two years, she keeps the claws to herself pretty well and doesn't wake me up at early hours any more.
posted by _cave at 5:10 PM on June 10, 2010

She looks very young, ~6.5 weeks as her eyes haven't changed color (she might just be a blue-eyed cat, but that's not a super-common eye color for a DSH calico) but in any case cats rarely sleep through the night. They usually pester you because they are hungry, bored or both.

The two things I did to keep me from strangling my Beloved Baby Cat (rescued at ~5 weeks) was to keep a Tupperware filled with kitten-specific kibble (Royal Canin Baby because it's super tiny) beside the bed and toss her a tablespoon when she woke me up in the middle of the night (literally, tossed it across the floor. The longer the kitten has to spend hunting down the food, the longer she leaves you alone). Then when she inevitably attacked my head 30 minutes later all jacked up from the excitement of eating, I'd waggle one of several kitten-sized plushie stuffed animals in her general direction. Usually she'd attack the plushie until exhausted while I had long fallen back asleep.

I had worried that I was teaching her that waking me up at 3 am results in Food! & Fun! but she grew out of torturing me a month or so later and hasn't interrupted my sleep in a year. The other bonus is she's super gentle with hands because I never gave her an opportunity to see fingers as a toy.
posted by jamaro at 5:16 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I first got my cat he would repeatedly wake me up in the middle of the night trying to sleep on my face. It took a month or two of me saying no and moving him to somewhere else on the bed for him to stop.

So basically time. Sorry.
posted by grapesaresour at 5:18 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your kitten looks just like the age of our new kitten. As my husband likes to say, "she has two modes: sleep and attack." We have other cats that sleep on the bed with us, but somehow our little 'miscus (short for Meniscus) only likes to attack the humans. The one thing that I've found to work is to act like a cat. If she does something you don't like, hiss at her. Sometimes if I'm feeling really in character, I'll growl. She then runs away for a few minutes, only to return and sleep across my neck. Good luck!
posted by lizjohn at 5:35 PM on June 10, 2010

When pointy cat was new to me, he did this. Only he was a year old and strong (ouch). Like amyms I had great success with a squirty bottle on the nightstand. Nighttime play attacks were met with a squirt. A very few times, I had to put him outside the bedroom although like you I have a small place. He did have access to food, water, and his box though even if it was a small space.
He got over it and is now very snuggly at night with no batting my face. He only stirs at my usual wake-up time now. I have not yet succeeded in getting him to understand weekends and Federal holidays though.
posted by pointystick at 5:36 PM on June 10, 2010

What toys do you have for her? I think she's just bored (so adorably, heart-meltingly bored).
posted by contessa at 5:36 PM on June 10, 2010

Liberal use of the water bottle. The kitten (very pretty, btw) will learn very quickly and will stop the behavior. I asked a similar question previously. We used the water bottle and the Evil with which we lived learned to leave our toes alone.
posted by onhazier at 5:39 PM on June 10, 2010

My cat did this as a kitten. She's 14 years old now and still does it. If you find a trick that works, let me know!
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 5:50 PM on June 10, 2010

If she is really 5-6 weeks old, she might be hungry and be trying to nurse. I'd suggest trying the timed feeder approach to encourage her to seek food elsewhere.
posted by baggers at 6:06 PM on June 10, 2010

Bitty kittens like that play hard for 30 minutes, crash, wake up, play, and repeat. I think it's one of those "parenting" moments where you realize the tradeoff for all that cuteness is a month or two of frequent wakeups by sharp tiny things. My cats liked to attack my eyelids when I hit REM sleep. God, that sucked. I would just pick them up offa me and put them on the floor. I was guaranteed some time for them scaling the bed and then getting worn out.

My now 12-year-old Siamese doesn't attack shit anymore. Except naptime.
posted by mckenney at 6:15 PM on June 10, 2010

Defensive strategies include piling pillows around my head so that he can't get at me.

My former cat thus trained me to sleep with my head beneath the pillow. Now I've been doing that for nearly two decades, many years after that cat went to live with friends.

(Now I have a puppy that I'm trying to housebreak. Le sigh.)
posted by darkstar at 6:16 PM on June 10, 2010

I would suggest squirt bottle as well. If it does not stop then consider putting her food, box and water in bathroom at night and close her in when she starts the behavior. Its not so bad and will get you through the early kitten period. 15 minutes outside the room is usually enough for my cat before I can let him back in, rub his tummy and he passes out. Squirt bottle works on extreme nights.
posted by occidental at 6:19 PM on June 10, 2010

She looks like she's not more than 6 weeks, though it's hard to tell without any size comparisons. The reason humans don't kill every 6 week old kitten out of frustration from them wanting to play on your face all night is because they are so cute. She will grow out of it.

Don't skimp on feeding your kitten. Kittens eat a lot more than you'd imagine. Try to play her to sleep before you go to bed. She'll wake up again, but will be less excited.
posted by jeather at 6:23 PM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Squirt bottle or canned air (not in the face). I would under no circumstances reward her with food or affection. Never ever ever - you MUST be consistent. I lived with my first cat in a one-room apartment for a year, and unthinkingly instilled some bad habits in him that 7 years later he has never outgrown (fortunately, we now have several doors between him and our room). You might try providing a more attractive alternative, for example a heated bed. Try to be consistent about whatever behavior you choose; she must feel that it is NEVER worth it to bother you. If you punish her 15 times and relent on the 16th, you've just taught her that it takes 15 tries to get what she wants.

Also, thank you for following the rule. She's adorable.
posted by desjardins at 6:43 PM on June 10, 2010

I missed how young she is. I would go with the timed feeder and the best kitten food you can afford until you see the vet, then go with the vet's recommendations.
posted by desjardins at 6:47 PM on June 10, 2010

I keep can of air freshener by my bed - it does the same as canned air or hissing, and my cats *hate* it, so it works great ;)
posted by lemniskate at 6:59 PM on June 10, 2010

We installed a door in our tiny apartment (our situation was very similar to yours) so we could confine her to our somewhat large kitchen where her food, water, and litterbox were. She doesn't like it, and it's been useful as a deterrent from waking us up for 4am "playtime". She still lapses sometimes, but she shows definite reluctance to jump on us until one of us is definitely awake. If at all possible, I'd consider finding a way to confine her humanely. Can you install another door?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:27 PM on June 10, 2010

You have a baby...babies wake up during the night and need to eat more frequently, so your idea to feed her more often is good, and I agree that she'll mostly grow out of this behaviour. In addtion, I think now is a good time to get her used to having her claws (very gently and carefully) trimmed. Although it won't keep her from wake you, it'll make it less ouchy when she does.
posted by kattyann at 9:37 PM on June 10, 2010

One of mine (now 16 months old) still does this, but not nearly as often as she used to. (She still hover insists on chewing on my tiny hoop earrings while I'm asleep.) They're nocturnal animals, and 1-3am seems to be prime time for roughhousing, playing and otherwise attempting to destroy the house and wake the humans.

For this particular problem, I haven't advanced far past a sleepy forceful attempt at a "NO!". But for other training, I use a cheapo ziploc container filled with some spare change. I rattle this at them, and they run. Now, I barely even have to rattle it, just pick it up, and they'll run. It's loud, obnoxious and they hate it. Also, I've found a deep growl from my throat works wonders; they know I mean business. It's not instinctual for me though, and I don't use it as often as I should.

That being said -- nthing food and lots of it at that age. A full kitty is a sleepy kitty, and they need way food than you'd think.
posted by cgg at 10:15 PM on June 10, 2010

One of ours decides that he wants to be fed at five in the morning, even though I feed them both pretty promptly at 7 just about every day. He attacks our feet through the covers and scratches just about everything in an effort to wake us up.

Squirt bottles are good for immediately telling him to go away, and I started putting tape with the sticky side out on all the furniture. The cats don't like the sticky feeling on their paws, so he stops scratching there (although now he's started scratching just above the tape...).
posted by backseatpilot at 7:18 AM on June 11, 2010

canned air (not in the face).

Yeah, that. I use lung power only when for cat discouragement.
posted by _cave at 7:51 AM on June 11, 2010

Time and a squirt bottle. Cats are nocturnal by nature, and nighttime is their prowl and play time until they get adjusted to your weird human wake/sleep schedule. Your kitten (she's adorable, what's her name?) is very young and still on her internal feline instinct schedule. Good luck!
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:47 AM on June 11, 2010

My 25lb Mister does this, and he is most certainly not a kitten. Trust me, when you've got a 25lb cat kneading your face (with claws!) at 3am, it's not a pleasant experience... ^_^ I mention this because it's obvious that someone did not break him of the habit years ago. Since I inherited him only a month ago, I'm not sure of his age, but I guess that he's about six or seven years old. Luckily, my cat is old enough and big enough that I can shoo him away and he finally gets the message.

Good luck!
posted by patheral at 10:13 AM on June 11, 2010

In addition to the other great advice: you can try keeping the kitty awake in the afternoon/evening. Cats I believe are actually Crepuscular from what I understand, so it makes sense the hour she is waking you up. I notice my cats are a lot more active at dawn and dusk. What about a food timer which is timed to go off at around 3am? Blocking out the dawn light coming in might help calm her down a bit.
posted by heatherly at 10:24 AM on June 11, 2010

Cute kitten! While you're still in behavior modification mode, also consider clipping the sharp tips of her front claws to save yourself some skin damage.

Note, I am NOT advocating de-clawing - just using a pair of claw clippers on the tips of those precious little skin slicers.
posted by de void at 2:02 PM on June 11, 2010

She is adorable!

Agree with:
- squirt bottle w/water (only one of my four cats comes back for more - he's insane)

- a loud NO! for training (coins in a can or some other container are a good option)

- more food (my cats have been free feed from day one)

- containment (I've used ply wood as a baby gate to keep kittens contained in an area with their food, water and litter box when I'm asleep or out of the house. Additional plus to this: once they're old/big enough to get over the gate, they are litter trained.)
posted by deborah at 9:44 PM on June 15, 2010

Follow up: basically, everyone who suggested "time" was right. I got a squirt bottle and continued putting her on the floor whenever face attacks occur, and she has calmed down considerably. She still wakes me up, but it's a far less painful process. I have also given in and started putting her out in the hall (where her litter box and food are) if she continues to bother me. She whines a little bit but then calms down and we can both sleep.
posted by you zombitch at 11:59 PM on September 30, 2010

(we need updated pics too).
posted by jamaro at 12:07 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Haha, I was going to post updated pics but I didn't know if anyone would be around to see them! Here she is! She's about six months old now.
posted by you zombitch at 5:18 PM on October 3, 2010

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