Kitten Discipline
June 24, 2010 11:39 PM   Subscribe

Our kitten is about 9 months old, desexed and he's still behaving badly. We've tried various discipline methods suggested to us but none have really worked. Advice would be very much appreciated.

As I said, our male kitten is about 8 or 9 months old. He's always been something of a naughty kitten, and we hoped the desexing would help, and it has, to a degree. He's calmed down a bit more but he's still being naughty. Examples of his behaviour include;

Attacking my wife. Generally speaking, he dosen't let her pet him or hold him. In the evenings as we watch TV, it is a common event to see him pounce on and bite and claw her feet. Her feet and arms are testaments to his frequent attacks. In stark contrast, he seems to love me. I'll pick him up and he'll purr, he'll sleep on my chest at night and he'll sit in my lap every once in a while (so long as my wife's not around). He pretty much never attacks me at all, and when he does I just growl at him or give him a smack and he stops.

Climbing the screen door. Put simplye likes to climb our screen doors. Not so much of an issue when he was smaller. More of an issue now as he gets heavier and creates holes in the fly-screen.

Getting behind the TV and climbing the TV. This is an issue because there's a lot of wires and cables back there and he likes to pull on the wires and this often brings expensive electronics tumbing down. He also likes to climb up the back of and sit atop our expensive LCD TV. Obviously not a behaviour we want to encourage as he gets bigger and heavier.

Attacking our feet at night. Although he likes to sleep on me when we're in bed at night (and not my wife), he also likes to attack any part of our body that's hanging over the edge of the bed, like feet, arms and hands. This includes me, who as I mentioned earlier, he generally dosen't attack.

Clawing the bed. He also likes to claw the edge of the bed before he jumps up. It seems to be only the bed he likes to claw.

These are probably his worst behaviours. We've tried various forms of punishment suggested to us by friends or vets. A quick spray of water from a spray gun. A smack whhen he's being naughty. Putting him in time out. Growling at him like his mum or dad would have done. They tend to have limited success. By this I mean, it might get him to stop doing the naughty thing he's doing, but a few minutes later he's right back at it again. For example, pointing the spray gun at him makes him meow at me and behave, but once the spray gun is down he'll go right back to being bad. A spray of water later and he'll run away, but come back later anyway.

At this stage I'm really not sure what else we can do, and we're both getting frustrated. I think some of this may just be boredom. He's an indoors cat and we're at work most of the day. I've suggested we make him an outdoors cat (see this earlier question of mine) so that he has the whole day to get his excess energy out, but my wife is hesitant to let him out for various reasons. We try to play with him as much as we can at night but this tends to get him hyper-active. Either that or he has no interest in playing. So is there anything else we can do? Is there anything that has worked for you?

Also, I wonder if this is all just kittenish behaviour that he'll eventually grow out of when he reaches a certain age. What do your experiences suggest?

Any advice you can offer would be appreciated.
posted by Effigy2000 to Pets & Animals (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have an answer for you about the biting and attacking or the climbing. Maybe get him a friend to play with?

As for keeping him out of areas that you don't want him in, I've seen success with:

Putting aluminum foil down, apparently most cats don't like the noise it makes when they walk on it.

Putting down some of that clear plastic meant to protect carpets from chair wheels, you put it on the area but lay it upside down so that the little plastic spikes are pointing up. The points are uncomfortable to walk on so the cat avoids them.
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:15 AM on June 25, 2010

I have a little terror of my own, about 10 months old now. What's really helped is that I sort of accidentally got another male kitten at the same time (long story, always is), and they play fight all day and expend their energy and aggression on each other, not as much on us or inanimate objects. I had just one cat for 13 years before that, and wasn't sure if I ever wanted more than one - but it's hardly been any extra trouble.

If getting another kitten is out of the question, you can play fight with him yourselves. What I do is put a thick sock over my hand and wrist, and we go at it. He knows the difference, and I've noticed that if we happen to be playing without the sock, he keeps his claws in.

I also take him outside on a harness with an extra long leash. I read in your previous question that your kitten doesn't like them, but it's worth trying a few more times - ours took a few tries to get used to it. When we go outside, I take a long stick, and wiggle the tip in the grass on the opposite side of the lawn from him - so then he comes dashing across to "kill" it.

As for electronics - you'll probably have to kitty-proof for a while. We haven't found any good alternatives for this. I see it along the same lines as toddler-proofing.

Other stuff that wears him out - he likes to fetch paper wads, so we play that game when he brings them to us.

Sometimes if he's been especially awful, he gets locked in the bathroom for an hour or so. He has a litterbox in there, and we leave the magic sink drink station dripping, so his physical needs are taken care of, but he can't stand to be away from all the exciting stuff on the other side of the door. After he comes out, he's usually quite a bit calmer.

Having had many cats throughout my life, though, a lot of this is just kittenish behavior. He's a teenager, sort of, and seeing what he can get away with. "A spray of water later and he'll run away, but come back later anyway." Keep doing this, as many times as it takes. He may get completely soaked.

Most cats calm down eventually. He may even develop a liking for your wife - or he may not, some cats pick one human, and that's it. Good luck with your small furry terror and be sure to post a pic so we can all marvel at his innocent expression.
posted by HopperFan at 12:21 AM on June 25, 2010

Your kitten is bored. He's exploring the world and, in the absence of other kittens, practising play fighting and hunting. He thinks your wife's reactions are fun, and she's less threatening, which is why she gets singled out for being "attacked" (and I doubt it is attacking with intent from your description).

Climbing the screen door, jumping behind the TV are all normal behavior. They tend to slow down from climbing things vertically as they get a bit older and heavier. For example, it's common for kittens to climb up people's legs. But not so common for adult cats.

At that age kittens often choose a favorite person. Sometimes there's a rhyme or reason to it - the person that feeds them. Sometimes not so much. These things change. My cat adores me during the day and won't sit on my wife's lap. At night she won't come near me and insists on curling up next to my wife. I've given up second guessing why this is.

To help expend your kitten's energy and enthusiasm, another kitten is one obvious solution. Toys, climbing areas and so forth will also help. In the absence of a second kitten you need to play with him. I personally favor a piece of string with something small tied onto the end for them to chase. But you'll need at least 20 minutes per day and if you're not careful the soft furnishings can suffer.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:50 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why are there no kitten pictures in this thread? :) they really do help us answer cat questions.

Mylar feather toys
Cat fountain
Cat tree
Supervised outdoors stuff
Just stimulate him more in any way you can think of - see what he responds to.
posted by By The Grace of God at 12:59 AM on June 25, 2010

These are all normal things that cats do when they're terribly bored. Sorry for the snark, but... what's he supposed to do all day, or at night when he's awake - watch TV? He's an intelligent, young animal full of energy, he needs something to do. Play with him and, if possible, let him play/catch mice outside. Or get another cat.
posted by The Toad at 1:12 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

We have discussed getting another kitten for him, but we've been worried that it might be the same problem x 2. In other words, Kitten Number Two gets bored just like Kitten Number One and then Number One teaches him or her the same bad behavior that he's used to displaying.

Plus there's a whole slew of new costs involved with that, so it's a bid decision.

Oh, and for all those wanting pics of him, here he is at my computer.
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:04 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Strangely enough, my cat is a Basement Cat, too. Perhaps there really is something to that meme.

"Number One teaches him or her the same bad behavior that he's used to displaying"

I haven't really noticed this - ours have very different personalities. Kitten 2 is just as curious, but in a more laid back way. Also, Kitten 1 is absolutely horrible at the vet, to the point where they're put a large highlighted "Caution!" in his file to warn the techs. Kitten 2 has not picked up any of this aggression, and actually lolls about on the exam room floor on his back and purrs.

Could you possibly foster another kitten, to see how it goes?
posted by HopperFan at 2:24 AM on June 25, 2010

Yes to what the others have said.

Over time, the kitteh will calm down some naturally. Be consistent with discipline EVERY SINGLE TIME it happens.

Two kittehs will probably help. I'm going to have a discussion soon about getting my furdemon a little buddy for her to goof off with all day so she doesn't annoy the crap out of me while I'm trying to play video games.

I don't think the other cat will necessarily learn his bad habits. They'll probably spend the first few weeks going the kitteh equivalent of 'Screw you!' 'No, screw YOU!' but hopefully settle down and be friends. This is easier if they're both young and not quite so set in their ways already.
posted by Heretical at 3:48 AM on June 25, 2010

Nthing that a lot of this is his age, and that he's got lots of energy to spare that you'll need to get out of him. We have a very active cat, and for a while I tried to wear him out by throwing every toy in the world at him, with mixed results. Eventually I figured out how to play with him as if I were another cat - crouching down, hiding behind doorways, sneaking looks at him and waiting for the right moment to strike - and he loves it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:44 AM on June 25, 2010

Nthing that this is completely normal kitten behavior. One of my former kittens would attack my husband's and my feet when under the covers at night, so much so that we learned to sleep with our feet uncovered. For the climbing, could you get him a cat tree? As far as I've encountered, cats don't teach each other bad behavior; they're far too independent for that.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:45 AM on June 25, 2010

Excellent advice in this thread so far. Agree with the hand sock, aluminum foil and massive amounts of exercise.

Cats respond instinctively to certain sounds and behaviors throughout their lives. When training my kittens, I used to hiss at them and make a quick gesture directly at their faces with the palm of my hand *without* actually touching them. You're making a gesture a mother cat would -- to force them backwards.

The instinct when they see something coming at them head on or that they bump their nose against it is to back away. Take advantage of this. But it's typically more effective in the long term if you don't touch them to do so.

Hissing is an excellent learning tool. It's far more attention-grabbing than growling. So is snapping your fingers. Combine a hiss with a "talk to the hand" hand gesture (moving towards his face) and the word "NO!" every single time you need to get him to stop doing what he's doing.

Also... No smacking, please. Kittens don't learn that way, (or will learn the wrong lesson -- that being aggressive is acceptable when mommy and daddy cat do it) and you don't want to hurt him. At *most* you might find that a light tap on the nose may have the same or a better effect as a "get back" hand gesture.

Good luck!
posted by zarq at 5:17 AM on June 25, 2010

I really don't think you should get another cat. Your kitten is being a normal kitten, and you don't like it. Another kitten might solve some of the problems, but honestly, you don't seem like cat people to me. If you look at any askme about cat behavior you'll see some suggestions for discouraging behaviors, and a whole lot of "cats just do things and you can't always stop them because they're cats." Accepting that you have limited control over your pet is part of having a cat.

Spraying water (consistently), playing with him more, deciding to accept some of this and focus on one or two real problems, and patience are probably your best bets. Please don't smack your kitten for doing what comes naturally. Your wife should spray kitty when he attacks, and not do anything "fun" in response (like wiggle her toes to get him off). She could also try redirecting him to an exciting string attack or some other form of sanctioned play. As for the nighttime foot attacks, sometimes the only solution is to keep the cat out of the bedroom. For the screen doors, try putting double sided tape or some other deterrent on the bottom couple of feet.
posted by Mavri at 5:28 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Eventually I figured out how to play with him as if I were another cat - crouching down, hiding behind doorways, sneaking looks at him and waiting for the right moment to strike - and he loves it.

Dealing with this myself now all this advice is still in the test phase. My demoncat is 9 months and is doing ALL of this. My co-workers and friends say he'll chill out. I've been cruising cat discipline threads and they response seems to be that the discipline needs to be consistent. They're slow learners. So don't keep switching behavior modification methods on him. I was talking to a dog owner and it unlocked this idea for me. Use the same words tone and gesture everytime and they will start to get it faster.

Biting: Isolate him. Do not fight or yell. Do not give the negative attention or continue the game. Just say no loudly and put him in the bathroom alone for 5 minutes. (I think this is starting to work. This morning he was "helping" me tie my shoes and was about to go for a hand bite and then stopped midway.)

Being on tables: Make duck tape loops put them all over counter surfaces. Leave in place for 2 weeks. They hate that sticky feeling on their paws. Mine has started to jump up again, but it's not 90 times in a row anymore. It's once and then I place him on the floor and he goes off to investigate the fridge I just opened.

Climbing the screen door: Get a cat tree, if you don't already have one. My roommate was getting rid of an old mattress and that's become a low rent cat tree in our house. It's awesome. You can throw nerf darts on top of it and he will climb up then down in order to fetch them. (Teach your cat to play fetch it takes about 30 minutes of nerf dart fetch to buy me an hour of cat chill out.)

A note on squirt gunning, my cat started to see the squirt gun as kind of fun game and got really tolerant of repeated squirt gun hits. If this is happening drop it and try more visceral lower attention-from-you discipline methods, like sticky tape and bathroom isolation time.

There was a great thread on kitty discipline and biting I saw a while back I'll see if I can hunt it down it doesn't appear to have made it into my favorites.
posted by edbles at 5:29 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also... If you find him climbing something he's not supposed to, there's nothing wrong with gently picking him up by the scruff of the neck, telling him "no" firmly and putting him down on the ground. It may take a while for the lesson to sink in, but it usually will with enough repetition.

Think of the scruff (back of the neck) as a kitten failsafe. Hold them by it or pinch it gently and they go limp for a brief period. Mother cats carry their young around by the scruff, and can't have them squirming while doing so. Simplest explanation: going limp is an "I'm being taken from danger" reaction.

You won't be able to pick him up by the scruff when he's an adult. The skin and fat around the neck thins and they gain weight. Picking them up by the scruff then can be unhealthy. A pinch at the back of the neck will then have the same effect. But take advantage of it now while you're training him as a kitten.
posted by zarq at 5:30 AM on June 25, 2010

Also, the best cat toy in the world is the Cat Dancer. Kitties will wear themselves out faster with it than with anything else I've seen.
posted by Mavri at 5:32 AM on June 25, 2010

Found that thread. HuronBob's advice seemed especially good.

Also aluminum foil became a game for my cat, too. I think when they're super active and curious and seem to get used to the other standard loud noise sudden surprise discipling methods that isolation seems to work.
posted by edbles at 5:48 AM on June 25, 2010

Honestly, I think the best way to deal with these issues are to say "He is a cat, this is what cats do," maybe meditate some, breathe slowly, count to 10, or something.

But, if you do want to try disciplining cats you have to be patient, and know that most all of these behaviors he'll grow out of. If you are against getting another cat (and I'd recommend getting a young cat, but not a kitten), providing him more toys and finding a scratching post he likes to use are better solutions to your problem rather than trying to find more effective methods of discipline.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 5:58 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, those are standard kittenish things. I mean, if he were studying law or reciting Shakespeare that might be something to worry about, but kittens will claw and climb pretty much whatever they can. Find something fun for him to play with, and he'll pay more attention to that. A piece of string is always welcome.
posted by Slinga at 6:00 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

A footnote here, but this kind of post always strikes me as an argument for adopting an older cat who's already outgrown their bad teenage years. Too late this time, but just putting this idea out there: there are always a lot of older cats needing adoption who don't find homes because "Look at the cute little kitties!" and then you've got yourself a hyperactive toe-biter...
posted by zadcat at 6:15 AM on June 25, 2010

If your cat can climb the screen door, his claws need to be clipped. This will also help with scratching. I used toenail clippers on my cat, or get cat claw clippers. Keeping the claws short has many, many benefits.

Cats must scratch something. Have at least 1 scratching post. Treat with catnip for extra appeal, if needed. When he scratches something he shouldn't, pick him up and take him to the scratching post.

Lots of toy and exercise options. My cat stole my hair doodads, so I hung barrettes from door handles, and she'd bat them and play happily. 2nding a climbing structure. Get sonotube or large-ish sturdy packing tubes and some tree branches build something. Cover tubes with carpet.
posted by theora55 at 6:45 AM on June 25, 2010

You've gotten a lot of good advice here -- I just wanted to add a suggestion re: the toe-biting. It's hard to train a cat out of biting the toes of a sleeping human (probably because if you're a cat, the pained thrashings of a half-asleep human are hilarious). My cat was a horrible toe-biter for years, so I feel your pain. You've got 2 options:

1) Lock the cat out of your room @ night. Be prepared for plaintive yowling or worse, though. When we tried this, the cat literally ran at the door time after time, smashing into it with his head at top speed until he knocked himself unconscious. We got afraid that he would kill himself, so we let him back in.

2) Wear thick slippers (and mittens, if need be) to sleep. If the cat can't get you to kick and thrash around when he tries to bite your feet, he'll eventually get bored and stop doing it.
posted by kataclysm at 7:56 AM on June 25, 2010

Some of this is redundant, but here's a few thoughts from someone who thought they were going to have to put their kitten up for adoption because of these sorts of problems:
-Discipline - we tried all sorts of things, but most of them just really pissed her (our cat) off. This led to her being very aggressive and confrontational including scratching and biting my face and neck. The only thing that work was hissing at her immediately after the behavior started. Sometimes displaying dominating behavior like standing up tall and stretching out you arms helped as well.
-Cat proofing - despite what you may have seen on tv, cat's are terrors. Cute, occasionally snuggly, terrors. This means that you will have to change certain things to limit the amount of damage your cat can do. We don't leave water glasses out. My bluetooth (which our cats obsessively steal) must always be in it's case. Dryer sheets cannot be left in laundry baskets as they will pull them out, tear them to shreds, and then sprinkle the little paper bits about. Each time you discover a behavior you dislike, find a way to make the behavior impossible.
-Sleeping - our cats do not come in the bedroom with us at night. I'm an incredibly light sleeper and wouldn't get a single wink with them hopping all over me all night.
-Exercise - It helps a little, but trust me, that cat wants to play kill the feather much much longer than you do.
-Rules - All owners need to get together, make a list of rules for the cats and enforce them constantly and uniformly. Just like children, if you don't enforce the same rules the cats won't learn what's not ok.
-Territory - I'm not sure, but believe that getting some cat towers helped a lot. They give our cats some additional space that is their alone. They can claw it, attack it, whatever they want as long it doesn't damage the area around it.
-Getting another cat - This was the final thing that made a huge difference for us. We were very nervous about taking this step for the same reasons as you, but I'm incredibly happy with our decision. They keep each other amused and if they are having fun their urge to play with you or do things to get a rise out of you pretty much disappears.

Good luck!
posted by yeoldefortran at 8:13 AM on June 25, 2010

Exercise, exercise, exercise. The climbing on the TV and the screen may just be curiosity, but the attacking feet/hands/wife sound like "I want to play!"

I'd try feather 'taunts' (feather boa thing on the end of a stick), laser pointer, remote-controlled mouse, and various other toys, to see what he likes best. But you're going to probably have to find some fairly serious time to play with him and tire him out. Because he doesn't have any littermates to play with, you're going to have to do the job instead.

We trained our kitty to do backflips during that period of his life, after figuring out that making him jump 3 feet in the air repeatedly (going after a feather taunt) was definitely the most efficient way to use up his energy. Chasing a laser pointer back and forth along a long hallway also works.

Getting him a scratching post or cat tower that he can climb on and scratch may also help with the bed-scratching; be sure to use lots of positive reinforcement / treats when he uses it. Claw trimming (get your vet to show you how if you don't know how to do it) also seems to make both our cats less interested in destroying the furniture and carpets.

A big part of it may just be kitten rambunctiousness though -- our guy mellowed out a bit after hitting a year or so, but still likes to go after our feet under the covers from time to time. That's just one of the joys of cat ownership.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:37 AM on June 25, 2010

The one item I can think of that hasn't been mentioned is double-sided tape.

Place it on areas you don't want to cat tearing up or climbing up. This worked great on my couches, and it's easy to replace, also, it's great to keep cats off counters, so I suspect it would be good for your screen door and behind the TV.
posted by annsunny at 8:46 AM on June 25, 2010

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