Going to DEFCAT 1
January 23, 2011 1:04 PM   Subscribe

A few weeks ago, my cat started freaking out whenever people walk by the my ground-floor window. Is there a good way to help her chill out about it?

A few weeks ago (around the time I came back from holiday travel), my 9-year-old cat Isabel (pic 1, pic 2) started getting rather agitated whenever someone walked by my living room window (shown in pic 1) and she happened to be sitting there. Her behaviour is quite aggressive when this happens — hissing and swatting at the glass. She'll also do this when cars pull up next to the window. Unfortunately, this happens not infrequently — the driveway you can see in pic 1 is where my neighbours park their cars. She'll even hiss at me if I walk around and show myself at the window.

I've lived in this apartment since August, but I hadn't seen this behaviour from her until the beginning of this month. She's always been a little agitated about the neighbour cats who appear out the window sometime, but this reaction to people & cars is new. If I pick her up when she's agitated like this, she doesn't attack me, but as soon as I put her back down she immediately runs back to the window and looks out again.

Unfortunately, there isn't really a good way to rearrange my furniture to keep her away from the window (the apartment is small), nor is there a good way for my neighbours to get in and out of their apartment without going right by this window. She'll head-butt the Venetian blinds out of the way to be able to look out the window, so I don't see an easy way to block her access to it — especially if I don't want to cut out most of the natural light from my living room. Also, any potential solution has to take into account the fact that I rent, and that I'm 99% likely to be moving again over this coming summer.

I thought about using Feliway, but I'm not sure from the information I've read whether it would actually help in this situation. As I said, she's lived here since August, so I'm assuming this apartment is already soaked in her pheromones. Given the $50+ pricetag of the infuser, I'd like some assurance that it would actually work before I invested in it.

She's not being destructive to my property (short of knocking over a lamp once or twice), but I'm worried that I'm causing her undue stress. Do any of the cat-loving MeFites out there have any experience with similar situations, or advice about how to help kitty chill out a little?
posted by Johnny Assay to Pets & Animals (9 answers total)
I moved to a basement apartment where the windows look out on to my landlord's back yard... where they let their two rottweilers play. My cat Rhubarb loves to look out windows but would go all puffer fish and lose her mind for the first couple months every time she saw them. Much hissing and screaming and general throwing of a feline conniption fit. I was worried she was never going to adapt and I was going to have one very freaked out cat on my ends forever... but then she adapted. She still reacts a bit to them, the occasional growl if they look right at her when she is up on the window ledge, but generally she is indifferent.

Your cat will adapt. Give it time.
posted by gwenlister at 1:20 PM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Disclaimer: I'm a vet tech and I use Feliway for my cats.

I usually recommend that people start with Feliway. If your kitty is upset about something, Feliway will more often than not help chill them out. I have a cat that has separation anxiety; if I'm not home, she will pee on the floor and break my belongings. When I get home from a particularly long shift, she will not let me get out of her sight for about an hour. When I remember to keep the Feliway plugged in, she's a much happier kitty; she pees in her box (more often) and doesn't freak out when I get home from work and will sit quietly in the next room without following me around.

I know the price tag is a little daunting, but the stuff actually works. If you can, get it from a vet clinic. The veterinary brand is more effective (I've tried the pet store brands, too) and they often have coupons for $5-$10 off. The next option after Feliway (according to veterinary medicine) is to try kitty prozac. That means giving your cat medication every day (or maybe twice a day). That's really no fun for either you or kitty.

It looks like in your pictures that even if you move the furniture Isabel will still be able to get up on the windowsill, so you probably won't be able to prevent her from looking out it. Even when I close the blinds, my cats still get their head under them and look out. I'm sorry I don't have any better suggestions than Feliway... I've had very good experiences with it and have only gotten good feedback from clients who've tried it.
posted by faethverity at 1:21 PM on January 23, 2011

What about using some of that stick-on window frosting that some people use for privacy in bathrooms and whatnot? It might obscure enough of the details to make her less freaked out by all the comings-and-goings but wouldn't block too much light.
posted by miratime at 1:34 PM on January 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

Is it possible that something is wrong with your cat's vision? I only ask because you stated that this behavior is a recent change, in an apartment that your cat has lived in for almost 6 months. Perhaps something is wrong with her sight, and she is reacting in the way she is because she can't really make out what she is seeing???
posted by AlliKat75 at 1:47 PM on January 23, 2011

Cats are just crazy.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:55 PM on January 23, 2011

So you were away for the holidays and Isabel was home? Was she alone? Cats are indeed crazy, but maybe your being away triggered some kind of anxiety.

That might identify the problem, but solving it is another issue. It might make her more secure to not see what's going on outside when you're not there, as maybe the proximity of strangers is suddenly too much for her. Some possibilities to try: put curtains up in that location in addition to the blinds and close them both (add a binder clip or something to the curtains to keep them closed) when you're not home. Maybe having to deal with two layers of complexity would be enough to make her quit. I like the frosted contact paper idea, too. Maybe even cut a cardboard insert that you put over the windows when you go out. When you're home, take it down.

Can you just keep her out of that room altogether? Maybe during the day she's bedroom-only cat, and when you're home she's roam-the-house cat?

It's possible that if you can break the trigger of this anxiety behavior you can break the aggression.

Good luck! She's gorgeous!
posted by clone boulevard at 7:41 PM on January 23, 2011

There's also a free solution - soap the windows. Rub a bar of soap all over the panes to get the same effect as privacy film.

You could also use this to acclimatize your cat; soap the windows, then wipe away an inch of the film off the top every week.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:03 PM on January 23, 2011

I told this anecdote on another thread today, but here goes:

The cat pheremone collars are pretty awesome.

When I visited family for Christmas, their crotchety old siamese mix pulled her usual shenanigans to hiss and bite if anyone but her people were there. We got her a pheremone collar, and within two days, she got calm enough to be in the same room and even be petted. By the end of the week, she tolerated being put in a lap and petted by someone she formerly attacked.

They're good for about a month, generally.
posted by bookdragoness at 8:06 AM on January 24, 2011

I don't know how easy or difficult this might be but I was thinking of using some kind of positive reinforcement. Like every time something appears in the window she gets a tiny piece of chicken or some kind of treat for a while. This way she starts to associate things appearing in the window with positive things!
posted by heatherly at 10:05 AM on January 24, 2011

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