Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde
November 13, 2010 4:16 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way to control my cat's occasional bouts of short term insanity? It only happens at my mom's house, and usually at night.

My otherwise lovely, energetic and somewhat odd cat (obligatory picture here) goes a little nuts whenever we visit my mom's house.

We usually start off fine, but as soon as it gets dark out, she'll start growling and hissing, sometimes turning on a dime. She will also sometimes lash out people who get too close, especially my mom who she seems to hold personally responsible. Right now, she is hissing and periodically attacking her own tail.

We've tried to figure out what the problem is. We normally live in a small apartment in the city, and my mom's place is a large house in a small village. There is definitely more wildlife outside and sometimes we wonder if she is hearing things or smelling things outside. She also seems to freak out even more if she sees her reflection in anything shiny - something that doesn't bother her at home.

Obviously, she is not comfortable in this environment, but we're not comfortable leaving her behind if we're visiting for more than 24hrs.

What I'm looking for are suggestions of things that might make her more comfortable, and that would be less stressful for all of us (we're not big fans of her random attacks on the family). I know the mefi folks rave about feliway, but I've heard it can take a while to work and wonder if it's worth using if its only for a couple of days at a time, or if it would be just kicking in as we were leaving.

Suggestions for calming her down and eliminating her Dr. Jekyll and Ms Hyde behaviour? FWIW, she does seem more comfortable in the living room, and we try and leave that room as hers when she's here.
posted by scrute to Pets & Animals (13 answers total)
Cats in general are territorial and don't like being taken away from their home turf (the reflections thing is probably freaking her out because she expects to encounter and be attacked by whoever owns this strange new place, and is mistaking her reflection for an enemy cat.) If there's no way to leave her at home and get somebody to take care of her there, the best thing would probably be to confine her to a single room, preferably with her customary bed or favorite blanket, or just some stuff that smells like home. If the living room is her favorite and can be closed off easily, that'd be perfect.
posted by contraption at 4:28 PM on November 13, 2010

Most cats I've known weren't thrilled about visiting new environments, honestly. They much preferred to be home in comfortable, familiar surroundings rather than enduring a stressful car ride and strange new people and smells. Maybe look into hiring a petsitter to check in on her at home if you go on any extended visits/vacations elsewhere?
posted by mesha steele at 4:29 PM on November 13, 2010

Is there a special reason why you won't leave her alone for more than 24 hours? Medical issues or something? In my experience cats without outside issues do fine for 48 hours on their own, with adequate food and water supplies left for them. Longer than that, I will have a friend pop in, or a housesitter sleep over. Over the years, I've found those solutions to be much less stressful on my cats than going on a trip with me or going to a kennel.

If you truly think you must take her along, you might try using Feliway while at your mom's.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:36 PM on November 13, 2010

Try the Feliway spray, and/or confine her in one or two rooms; the bedroom you sleep in, probably. A smaller space to fill will make the Feliway work better, and having smaller 'borders' to patroll should help her feel more comfortable. My cats get very nervous in a new place any larger than a Motel 6 room...
posted by The otter lady at 4:37 PM on November 13, 2010

I'd look into getting a pet sitter or a timed feeder. We have four cats and if we're out of town for less than three days, we put out enough food and water to last them that long. Of course they don't like it when we leave, but the amount of stress is less than if we decided to uproot them and move them into an unfamiliar environment.

If either of those is not an option, look into Feliway. It comes in a spray or a room diffuser. Some cats respond to it and some do not. If that doesn't work, talk to your vet but I'm thinking that your cat may respond this way every single time because cats hate to be in unfamiliar environments. But I really think you should reconsider leaving her at home. It will be so much less stressful for your kitty cat.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 4:37 PM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nthing everyone above.

One of my cats was trained to travel often and travel well as a kitten. I can literally take her anywhere now and she takes over the new environment within moments of her arrival. The other one was treated normally as a kitten (same home, no travel) and she took weeks to relax when we moved last year. She's also less friendly to visitors, less adventurous when she goes outside, etc., etc.

Cats can stay home safely on their own with lots of water, dry food, and litter boxes for up to 4 days, although I personally never go more than 2 without having a friend drop by to clean the box and administer food/affection.

Leave your cat home. Make arrangements for additional care as necessary.

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 5:08 PM on November 13, 2010

Not leaving her at home has more to do with the anxiety levels of my husband, who doesn't seem to be able to cope with not knowing if she's okay not.

One of my cats was trained to travel often and travel well as a kitten. I can literally take her anywhere now and she takes over the new environment within moments of her arrival.

This is why this is so strange - do to the circumstances of her life, she actually has been a bit of a traveler, and has always settled in to a new environment very quickly. This is the only place that she hasn't adapted to.

I'll try and work on my husband, and maybe I can find a cat sitter to make him feel better. Anyone know how to find one?
posted by scrute at 6:55 PM on November 13, 2010

sorry about the spelling - my fingers seem broken.
posted by scrute at 6:56 PM on November 13, 2010

I have automatic feeders and water fountains for my two cats in my apartment, and they quite well when I'm gone for 24-28 hours. When I had just one she was a little whinier after a day or so absence but I'm sure she was happier being comfy at home than she would've been traveling.
posted by flaterik at 7:07 PM on November 13, 2010

"Not leaving her at home has more to do with the anxiety levels of my husband, who doesn't seem to be able to cope with not knowing if she's okay not."

Reliable pet sitter + leave extra food and water + password-protected webcam(s).

Then he'll know that a) she's being taken care of, b) she won't die if something happens to the pet sitter, and c) he can check in on her remotely at any time.

With webcams being so cheap these days, I think it would be worth it to stop putting yourselves and your cat through this trauma on a regular basis. :)
posted by Jacqueline at 7:18 PM on November 13, 2010

If you're insistent on taking the cat, just remember it's more for your comfort than his. I'm sure he could do without the place where he freaks out so much, and he'd be happier if you listened to his behavior. Anyway, if so, buy mom a Feliway diffuser and have her plug it in 24 hours before you and kitty arrive, and have a little spray bottle for the just-in-case times. A little squirt in the general area of his nose -- not directly at him, mind you -- will have a good chance of a salutary -- if temporary -- effect.

But giving him a room to call his own territory might work. See how well he wants to stay cooped up in it.
posted by dhartung at 11:06 PM on November 13, 2010

If the cat must come with you, brings the clothes or whatever that you slept in the night before. If you can't actively hold on to kitty the whole time you're there, being snuggled in something that very strongly smells like you may be close enough for her.
posted by gally99 at 12:10 AM on November 14, 2010

We have a pet sitter in to see to our two cats every time we're gone more than overnight. The pet sitter texts us or calls to let us know how the cats are doing, so we do get feedback on how the cats are doing. This has been standard for every pet sitter we've used, and we've used several over the years in different locations.
posted by immlass at 7:57 PM on November 15, 2010

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