cats and claws
April 19, 2005 7:05 AM   Subscribe

My cat is a psycho. My wife is pregnant. What are my options?

When I say "psycho", I mean pretty much batshit-crazy with everyone in the world but us. She'll cross the room to take a claws-out swipe at someone who isn't even aware of her presence. Our neighbors will only feed her while we're away because we leave a squash racquet outside the front door for protection. Our vet wears Witchita Lineman's gloves to give her shots.

I've always been horrified by the idea of declawing a cat (even a housecat), but if she doesn't take a shine to the kid, it could get nasty. The vet has mentioned some sort of tiny rubber balls you put on the end of the cat's claws. Will these really work, or should we just have the front claws removed? (Getting rid of the cat isn't an option. She picked us for good reasons.)
posted by Armitage Shanks to Pets & Animals (43 answers total)
 
Well, you could at least try the rubber things, before the kid is born, right? What's the harm?
posted by agregoli at 7:09 AM on April 19, 2005


And you pretty much spelled out your options already, didn't you? Either declaw the cat, try the claw covers, or, may I suggest, keeping the cat away from the kid. Cats who are declawed often turn to biting in defense.
posted by agregoli at 7:12 AM on April 19, 2005


My cat was also psycho, only he had a nasty biting habit rather than scratching. We tried everything. The only thing that worked was getting another cat. I don't know if that is an option for you or not (obviously you would want to get an older cat and not a defenseless kitten). My kitty used up all his energy chasing around his new friend and had no more time to give us the bite bite. Your cat could be lonely. Or just psycho.
posted by crapulent at 7:26 AM on April 19, 2005


Cats who are declawed often turn to biting in defense.

agregoli's right, declawing doesn't do anything to reduce aggression. they only use other "weapons", ie teeth.
nail caps are hit and miss, if the cat is really angry they'll come off, I am told.

Getting rid of the cat isn't an option.

as of now yes, but having kids often means having to make very tough choices. a badass cat jumping in a baby's crib looks pretty dangerous -- unless you can teach an infant how defend herself with a squash racket, of course.
if the cat really is that, well, feisty, I understand why you're asking MeFi, but in the end it may end up to choosing between raising a helpless baby/infant/small child in a safer environment or have said infant run some risks. the amount of risk you're available to accept for her, well, nobody here can tell. it yours, and your wife's, decision. I know what my choice would be, but it's irrelevant for you.
posted by matteo at 7:33 AM on April 19, 2005


I almost forgot: are you going to be physically able to put nail caps on your cat's claws?
posted by matteo at 7:41 AM on April 19, 2005


Answering a question not asked: pregnant women should keep away from cats, because of congenital toxoplasmosis.

The American CDC has a page on congenital toxoplasmosis, which i link here even though it's currently giving me a database error.

Maybe the CDC uses Jrun.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:47 AM on April 19, 2005


You can just clip the cat's claws with nail clippers. If it's a super-wild cat I suppose that wouldn't work, but I'm pretty reliably able to find our own rambunctious cat in a sleepy mood once a week and disarm him.

The key is to keep from cutting into the pink interior part of the nail, and to ignore the back claws.
posted by COBRA! at 7:56 AM on April 19, 2005


Armitage- is the cat by any chance not neutered?

As for declawing, that's not a good option. If the cat is naturally defensive/aggressive, it will simply find new ways to attack people, including biting or resorting to hindclaws/kicks.

How long have you had the cat? When was the last time you took it to a vet? I ask because as someone who used to foster cats, we had a stray living us once that had to be destroyed because of this kind of activity- it would be friendly and loving when you were sitting there, but all of a sudden would suddenly attack people. It almost blinded me one day, and a vet later dicovered the cat had some kind of immunity-related degenerative brain issue.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:00 AM on April 19, 2005


About declawing, just fyi.
posted by scratch at 8:05 AM on April 19, 2005


I asked my vet & dr about toxoplasmosis when I was pregnant, both times, and they both said "Eh, don't change the litter (transmitted by feces) & don't eat raw meat, but most likely since you've had the cat/s a while, it's likely that you've already been exposed & built up an immunity if the cat has it (mother's immunity protects fetus -- unless she's getting it for the first time) & an indoor cat that doesn't already have it is unlikely to get it. But it's a good excuse to have the husband clean the litter just to be on the safe side & because that means you don't have to do it..." Their primary concern was only if I hadn't been exposed already. There is a blood titer test that can be done to check, I opted out and made the husband change the litter. Too bad he didn't keep up on it. < sigh>

Of course, YMMV, IANAD, etc, etc.
posted by susanbeeswax at 8:08 AM on April 19, 2005


I have a psycho cat too. He basically attacks anyone but us. We were really worried about him before our daughter was born, and made sure he didn't get anywhere near her when she was really little. But it turns out they get along just fine. He's only scratched my daughter a couple of times (little warning scratches, and she deserved it both times). So I think he categorized her as 'one of us' pretty quickly. Maybe you'll have similar luck -- I'd watch the cat closely for the first several months, and decide what to do if it does in fact turn out to be a problem.
posted by nixxon at 8:10 AM on April 19, 2005


Toxoplasmosis is not to be taken lightly, trust me.
posted by wsg at 8:10 AM on April 19, 2005


I'll second the suggestion to see how the cat would react to a second cat as a playmate. My best friend has a cat who, when younger, would engage in random attacks on any undefended legs or other body parts. My friend, who didn't have my defensive reflexes, spent a few months with permanently scratched up shins. The cat wasn't really hostile, he just liked to play rough. When my friend added a new cat to the household, the cats had a grand old time playing rough and tumble wrestling, and the humans were spared. The cat in question has been a sweetheart ever since.

Of course, if your cat is genuinely hostile towards everyone else, your situation may be different. I'd try a visiting animal first, before you make any committments to a new critter.
posted by tdismukes at 8:11 AM on April 19, 2005


Another vote for a second cat. Even in the absence of a child, a second cat is a wonderful companion for the first.

A contrarian view on declawing: We have three cats. When I lived alone, I had two. Rubber tips would never stay on, they refused to use a scratching post (neither likes catnip) and the one who liked to abuse the furniture would freak out at the prospect of a clipping. I got them both declawed at ages 8 and 5 (or thereabouts). Neither seems to care, and there's no behavioral change other than the more hyper one will occasionally "knead" something out of instinct. I don't regret the decision at all.

Getting rid of the cat isn't an option.

Yes it is. Children change everything.
posted by mkultra at 8:22 AM on April 19, 2005


Armitage- is the cat by any chance not neutered?

She is neutered.

How long have you had the cat?

About 5 years. She was a weeks-old stray, found starving and literally hairless somewhere in Red Hook (Brooklyn). She's a very happy cat with no interest in the world outside our apartment. She just doesn't seem big on sharing the world inside our apartment with anyone but us.

Yes it is. Children change everything.

I know. I was just trying to preempt the obvious "get rid of the cat" suggestion.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 8:37 AM on April 19, 2005


I have an adopted stray semi-psycho cat, and she has twice lived with other cats (roommates), and that has only made her more skittery. She is used to me and very affectionate, and once she gets to know other humans, she is pretty good with them (much better than she once was), but she saw other cats as much more distinct enemies for some reason - hissing, hair on end, that kind of thing, like she was really afraid.

Anyway, that's just to say that you should try to get a sense for what motivates your cat's craziness. I believe mine had a tough street life for a while before I found her & she's just scared of what she thinks might hurt her, and every now and then still reacts with that instinct. But as others have suggested, yours might be trying to play, or might have a disorder of some sort, or some other cause. If you can get a sense of the underlying cause, you might have a better chance of deciding how to handle it.

As for me, I clip her nails a couple times a week, which is never the most relaxing thing, but at one time it involved two people and lots of blankets, and these days it's just a question of a little patience & lots of comforting squeeze/hugs. She still tries to get away, but I no longer fear losing blood.
posted by mdn at 8:51 AM on April 19, 2005


I believe mine had a tough street life for a while before I found her & she's just scared of what she thinks might hurt her, and every now and then still reacts with that instinct.

That's my theory too. She'll sleep in the crook of my arm on her back with all four legs in the air, so she certainly has a context in which she feels safe. She might decide the baby smells like us and be perfectly happy, but if we go the declawing route, it seems to make more sense to do it before she blames him for it.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 8:57 AM on April 19, 2005


We have a psycho cat who attacks guests regularly and even attacks us on occasion. Clipping her claws is not an option, as even at the vet, the procedure involves a tranquilizer, the vet and two assistants, heavy leather mitts, and one of those cone-shaped collar things (and still doesn't happen without a lot screaming, wrestling and feline urine).

When we brought my daughter home last March she was going (if she even looked funny at the baby) to be shipped out to my friend's place in NJ, where they've got 7 acres and a ton of cats and dogs.

And... she's great with the baby. It's the most bizarre thing. She tolerates grabbing and pinching and even when she swats at the baby it's with her claws retracted. Obviously, they are still never left alone together, and one of us is always right there ready to intervene, but even a psycho cat may surprise in its ability to figure out who it shouldn't mess with.
posted by jalexei at 8:59 AM on April 19, 2005


One of my cats, who admittedly isn't psycho but has lately taken to swatting and biting strangers, treats our downstairs neighbors' 2-year-old with the utmost patience, even when she gets poked in the face and overzealously patted. You might be surprised by how psychokitty reacts to your baby.

Or it may cause even more problems, but I'm looking on the bright side.
posted by me3dia at 9:01 AM on April 19, 2005


Oop, missed your comment on preview: it sounds like your cat is pretty good with you, so have you ever tried nail clipping? You press the middle of the paw so that the claws all extend, and then you clip off the sharp tip, making sure not to clip too close to the pink (just like your own nails). If you've never done it before, it's sure to make her a little antsy (or possibly batshit crazy) at first, so be prepped to handle that (as I say, when I began doing it I had to wrap her up entirely so that only the one paw being clipped was out at a time), but mine has gotten quite used to the process, and it's not such a big deal anymore. One important thing is that you remain completely calm and comforting. She will sense if you're feeling stressed about it and respond to that as much as the actual process, so be sure to act like everything's normal and under control.
posted by mdn at 9:02 AM on April 19, 2005


She might decide the baby smells like us and be perfectly happy, but if we go the declawing route, it seems to make more sense to do it before she blames him for it.

Don't worry about that, because cats can't make this kind of logical connection. In a cat's world, "cause and effect" applies only to direct causality - the effect must immediately follow the cause, or the cat won't understand the connection. That's why yelling at cats after the fact won't change their problem behavior. Fortunately, this means that you can see how the cat reacts to the baby before you resort to declawing. Like m3dia and jalexi said, there's a good chance the cat will be fine with the baby, and you can control their interaction until you're sure if this will be the case.
posted by vorfeed at 9:44 AM on April 19, 2005


This sounds like my life, minus the pregnancy. I have a psycho cat who is the sweetest, most affectionate cat in the world except where visitors to the house are concerned. My house got broken into last fall while my husband and I were at work. When we got home to check out the scene, we were greeted by an injured cop who had been attacked by our cat.

If you haven’t taken the cat to the vet for a work-up, I would do that first. Have you discussed medications, like kitty Prozac? We discussed this with our vet but decided against it, as it can make cats with aggression problems worse. But it might be right for you.

Several of my cat friends recommend the plug-in dispenser from Feliway, although I personally have not tried it.

I would not declaw, as it can just make your cat more neurotic and bitey. I would also not get another cat until you are able to work our your cat’s aggression problems. We have three cats, and trust me, companionship has not helped. (Of course, it hasn’t made things worse, either.)

I would consider hiring a pet behavioralist. My husband and I have worked with a team at our local shelter for free and our vet recommended a few people locally who do home visits and retraining. (I’m working up on scraping up the cash to explore that option.)

The cat may very well accept your baby. My sister stays with me frequently and our cat has completely adjusted to her.

Good luck.
posted by Sully6 at 9:54 AM on April 19, 2005


I like jalexei's approach. Your cat may accept the baby as a member of the "tribe," but have a back up plan in case he doesn't. Our cat wasn't a psycho, but wouldn't leave the baby's stuff alone after we'd set it up. Cat hair in the crib, in the basinett, changing pad, you name it. Once we brought home our wailing pink bundle, the cat never got within 20 yards of him or his stuff.

After the baby is born, be sure to bring home an article of clothing or something the baby has touched so the kitty can smell it. This works better with dogs, but cats may still be comforted by the advance warning.
posted by whatnot at 9:55 AM on April 19, 2005


I strongly second the get another cat suggestion. Although my experience with lone cats is certainly anecdotal, in every case the maladjusted and/or hostile cats are ones in single cat households and in the cases when other cats have been introduced it's shown a normalizing response.

In one case the cats became very buddy-buddy and in the others the originally lone cat at best ignored and at worst was standoffish with the others... but still showed behavior improvements. Four observations does not a proof make but I'm inclined to think it works.

I can only speculate whether it's a matter of actually getting to observe other cats acting cat-like or just having company around all the time. But I really think it's sad for the animals that spend 2/3 of the day alone and/or never see another of Their Kind.
posted by phearlez at 10:16 AM on April 19, 2005


Sully6's advice is on the money. My first choice by far is for you to find a good feline behaviourist and discuss the problem and possible solutions (including medication) with someone who might actually be able to help (I'm surprised your vet hasn't suggested this to you). Declawing is not a reasonable option for a cat like this, as others have mentioned, she will just start biting, will likely become even more aggressive, and that's going to be a far worse situation than you're in now. I would definitely not get another cat, it's unlikely to help and might make things even worse (I have known psychokitties who lived alone, but also ones who lived with other cats, I think it's faulty wiring, not a need for companionship, that's the problem).

I do think you have to consider pretty carefully what your priorities should be here. If a behaviourist can't help your cat, I think the only other reasonable option may be to consider putting her to sleep. This is not a happy situation, but placing a baby in jeopardy is obviously not acceptable, and I don't know that even I would wait to see if the cat accepted the baby first (what if you follow jalexei's approach and still the cat's first reaction to the in-the-flesh baby is to attack? Are you willing to take that risk?). I'm sorry, the cat's wired wrong, if medication doesn't help, I would seriously consider euthanising her, there are thousands of cats without issues like this (which threaten human beings, including one you'll be in charge of keeping safe from harm) in dire need of homes. If this was a dog who had a history of attacking people, would you need to think twice about it? Some animals, for whatever reason, just can't live well with people, and cat bites and scratches can be life-threatening (I know someone who lost a hand because of an infected cat bite). I commend you for looking for a solution, and I'm sorry you have a psychokitty.

phearlez: cats are not pack animals as a general rule, they more often fight with "their kind" than anything else (except mate), and it's extremely rare for truly wild cats to live in groups (except for cats like lions).
posted by biscotti at 10:22 AM on April 19, 2005


Here's my mileage with Soft Paws, or those nail caps everyone is talking about. First, our cat has had them since she was a kitten and physically had large enough nails to cover with the smallest Soft Paw they sold. She didn't like it much at all initially, now she's only luke-warm. It's good to massage your cats front paws daily to prepare her for it. They are very possessive of their tools.

Before you apply the caps you have to cut the claws, we do it immediately after she wakes up and is unsure what is going on. This is a two person job. I hold her and move her head while the wife does the cutting. If shes still sleepy we'll start fixing the nails. Sometimes we can do both paws, sometimes just two or three nails. It really depends on the mood of the cat at the time. Lets just say, if you have a psycho cat the superglue, the time limit, and the forced extension of the nail will be interesting. It could take many days to get a complete set on.

After you get the soft paws on, they start falling off. Sometimes they last three, four, five weeks. Sometimes they last three, four, five days. Basically, it's a rinse and repeat forever process, one that takes dedication and determination. We think it's worth it.

Of course, this won't stop your cat from being psycho. She'll still attack people, just without the claws. Ours goes full tilt against screens, and still scratches furniture, she just falls off.

We haven't tried the back feet. She really hates her back feet being touched. We figure we'll leave those as an 'if she ever gets lost' mechanism of defense. They use the back feet well in defense. I still have bad scars from when I had to hold her down while she was choking and had soft paws on the front..

Best of luck!
posted by sled at 10:29 AM on April 19, 2005


If a behaviourist can't help your cat, I think the only other reasonable option may be to consider putting her to sleep.

May I suggest making her a primarily or entirely outdoor cat instead, if things should get to that point?
posted by redfoxtail at 10:37 AM on April 19, 2005


We use the soft claws available at drsfosterandsmith.com -- and we use the Klaw Kontrol bag we got from there as well. Rasslin' the cats into the bag is way easier and more trauma-free than trying to apply a whole set of soft-claws solo. We got bright colors so that we can tell when the claws drop off, and that's worked out well. Overall, we are massively happy with the claw covers. They stay on decently long, are not hard to replace, and they have saved us even with our non-psycho cats' wear and tear on the furniture. We don't do the back claws, either, but if you could restrain the cat safely, trimming those should not be a huge issue. Good luck. Declawing at more than a year old is a sketchy propositon at best (according to my vet).
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:40 AM on April 19, 2005


Please, please do not declaw your cat. As scratch's link points out, declawing is equivalent to removing the first joint of your fingers. Without her natural defenses, she will become even more psycho.

Trim her claws.
posted by Specklet at 10:57 AM on April 19, 2005


A few more thoughts: You may inadvertently be increasing your cat’s aggression by arming visitors to the home with a racket. I know it’s for their protection, but it is undoubtedly cementing the association between visitors and harm in her head. One suggestion from the animal behaviorist I consulted was to keep a jar filled with your cat’s favorite treats at the door. When a visitor stops by, have them throw your kitty a nosh and then you praise, praise, praise her. You want to even bring out some favorite toys for her to play with. (I know this is kind of a PITA—“Hello, Mr. Roofer, would you please feed and play with my lunatic cat so I can re-train him?”--but I did have some success with the technique.)

I was also advised to work on decreasing my cat’s general anxiety. It sounds like your cat is pretty happy with the two of you, but if there are things that set her off or stress her out, work on lessening them. Also, if you’re planning on going out of town, I would consider hiring a service that can deal with your cat rather than friends who might freak out if she attacks. I took this route when my husband and I were out of town recently. The woman we hired came over several times to feed and play with our cat, in hopes that he would adjust to her presence.

You may also want to consult the folks at PetBehaviorProblems.com, a site run by veterinarians who will do phone and e-mail consultations with you for a fee. The site was recommended to me by my vet.

Finally, I know a few posters have taken pot shots at you for supposedly putting your kitty before your kid, but I think it’s admirable that you’re trying to work on your cat’s problems rather than simply abandoning her at a shelter, where she would probably be considered unadoptable and euthanized.
posted by Sully6 at 11:00 AM on April 19, 2005


I'm sorry, the cat's wired wrong, if medication doesn't help, I would seriously consider euthanising her, there are thousands of cats without issues like this

Hey, she may not be 'wired' wrong. She might just be sort of anxious or defensive. It all depends on details here, but I'm sure armitage shanks won't put his child at serious risk, so I really don't think we need to advise the last resorts. Dealing with animals can be complicated, but presumably they won't be leaving their baby home alone with the cat at any point, so there's a chance to see if adjustments will work or if more difficult decisions have to be made.

As others have said, the cat may adapt to the child. My cat has adapted to two different roommates with relative success; she's not great on first meeting or with, and I can imagine, for instance, an unfamiliar 9-year old who didn't respect her space being problematic. But this cat will meet the baby as a baby, and may adapt to it as a new member of the family, before the kid starts getting fresh :).
posted by mdn at 11:11 AM on April 19, 2005


You have no moral (or legal) choice not to keep the baby. If the cat is aggressive toward the baby, you have no choice except to let the cat go. Start out with a new kitten, so it and the baby can grow up together.

Taking the cat to the humane society undoubtedly means it will be kept for a while and then put to sleep. The cat sounds too aggressive for you to ethically give it to a friend. Possibly an enemy?

Feral cats are a menace to birds, even if this one is neutered, you can't just let it go.

A sack, a stone and a pond are too cruel, but one way or another you may have to face the problem.
posted by KRS at 11:34 AM on April 19, 2005


There is no reason to jump to extremes. Suggesting euthanization or getting rid of the cat is improbable, not to mention rude. This man obviously loves his cat. The cat is not "feral" as it can clearly be loving and affectionate under the right circumstances. With a little creativity and patience, I think this problem can be solved.
posted by crapulent at 11:48 AM on April 19, 2005


Suggesting euthanization or getting rid of the cat is improbable, not to mention rude. This man obviously loves his cat.

Dude's got a human baby.
posted by xmutex at 12:00 PM on April 19, 2005


Yes, and clearly he knows what his options are and is not going to choose his cat over the safety of his infant child.
posted by crapulent at 12:22 PM on April 19, 2005


Actually, xmutex, I was planning to have the cat and the baby sleep in a crib together. Why do you even bother posting? Is it an involuntary muscle reflex?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 12:27 PM on April 19, 2005


jeeezus, people. What crapulent said.
posted by mdn at 12:32 PM on April 19, 2005


You've got a feline cat. You must give the child up for adoption.

Huh? What? Oh, right. Sorry. My crazy cat seemed to mellow out to strangers after a few visits, so I bet it won't be long before your cat is as lovey dovey with the baby as it is with you & your wife. At first, it's going to be just an extension of whoever's holding it, right? Since it likes you already, it won't be long before it's just part of the family.

If not, there are kitty antianxiety drugs and such to help you out, too.
posted by boo_radley at 2:02 PM on April 19, 2005


phearlez: cats are not pack animals as a general rule, they more often fight with "their kind" than anything else (except mate), and it's extremely rare for truly wild cats to live in groups (except for cats like lions).

biscotti - yeah, I know, I never would have thought it would have an impact on a cat but every extreme behavior cat I have heard of or had experience with was the only cat (and usually the only animal) in the household and my personal experience and that of others I have spoken to about it has been that in every case the cat becomes less nutso with the addition of another cat/cats to the house.

I'm not saying that they necessarily got along well with the other cats or never fought, I'm talking about extreme behavior like attacking visitors, pissing on beds, etc.
posted by phearlez at 2:52 PM on April 19, 2005


Hey, she may not be 'wired' wrong. She might just be sort of anxious or defensive.

Of course, that's why my first choice by far is for Armitage Shanks to get the cat to a behaviourist asap. However, we're not talking about a cat who avoids or hisses at strangers, we're talking about (from the description) a cat with an established history of attacking people to the point that visitors need to be armed with a tennis racket for protection. I do not mean to be a doomsayer, but in my experience such cats are not often successfully rehabilitated. However, the sooner you get to a behaviourist, the sooner you can try to fix this.

Turning the cat into an outdoor cat should not be considered, this is far crueler than having her humanely put to sleep.
posted by biscotti at 3:03 PM on April 19, 2005


Another vote for Soft Paws here. We have three kitties (yes, we're crazy cat people) all under the age of 2 years, and they all have their claws. We just bought a new couch. The cats started scratching at the couch, so we went out and got Soft Paws. Yes, it's a pain in the ass, and a two-person job, but when they've got those vinyl caps on their claws the sofa is out of harm's way (and it protects people, too).

Granted, we're not trying to grow baby humans in our house, so that part isn't a concern (yet), but I know plenty of parents who had a cat or two first, and while there can be some territory issues at first, the vast majority of cats want absolutely nothing to do with tiny screaming humans.
posted by salad spork at 4:54 PM on April 19, 2005


Turning the cat into an outdoor cat should not be considered, this is far crueler than having her humanely put to sleep.

I don't want to get into an extended off-topic argument here, so I'm sorry to even carry on this much longer, but I can't let this remark go by uncommented-upon. Obviously much depends on where you live and what the environment around your home is like, but I strongly disagree with this statement. Many, many cats have full and happy lives outdoors. No cat has a full and happy life after being put to sleep. To say categorically that it is crueler to put any cat to sleep rather than send it outdoors is a rash overgeneralization.
posted by redfoxtail at 7:08 PM on April 19, 2005


Yes, but to put a cat who's been nothing but a housecat all of his life outside is, IMHO, cruel. The cat isn't prepared to live out there. He will be totally bewildered and frightened, and, in what little way cats have, will probably hate you for throwing him out of his warm house and making him sleep in the bushes.

Armitage Shanks is taking the right approach. When you take on a pet, you are taking on a dependent, even if it's a crazy one. So you try to find ways to help that dependent get better so that you can all be happy. Hopefully, the behaviorist combined with some claw-blunting and treat-bribery will help. I know I wouldn't want to make this decision.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:42 PM on April 19, 2005


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