Can a predatory live with its prey?
February 16, 2011 11:15 AM   Subscribe

Can I keep a kitten, three birds, and a mouse all in one apartment?

I live in a 500 square foot studio apartment with three birds and a pet mouse. The birds are mine: two parakeets in one cage, and a Green Cheek Conure in another. The mouse was a pet my sister could no longer care for, so I adopted it with the hopes of finding it another home; so far no takers. He lives in the bathroom in a small cage. A few days ago, my sister found a kitten outside and “rescued” it. A wonderful, sweet thing of her to do… except that she can’t keep any animals at the place she is living. So now I’ve got it. My original plan was to find it a new home ASAP (its a kitten, surely someone I know will want it, right? WRONG!). So now I’m trying to decide what I should do here. At the present moment, it takes relatively little interest in the mouse and birds (apparently it isn’t old enough to have a killer instinct yet). However, I’m keeping it shut in the bathroom when I’m gone as a precaution. Obviously, it does not enjoy this; I would just feel so bad if anything happened to any of the other pets while I’m gone that I don’t feel like I can let the cat roam free while I’m gone.

I was talking with a coworker who also owns birds and cats and lives in an apartment. She thinks I can keep the birds and the cat. The cat will grow up with the birds, and the birds are all pretty bossy and aggresive (however, none of them are very big at all). I’m not sure if that’s a realistic idea or not. This would also mean spending a lot more money, because I would want to invest in very sturdy cages, and I would also need to take the cat to the vet (we don’t know its age and gender, eventually it will need to be fixed, etc.) I’m not really sure how I feel about that at the present moment.

I rent, and although I’m in a pretty stable situation right now, I will probably move to be closer to my school in about 6 months time. So what do I do here? Bring the cat to a shelter and leave it to an uncertain fate there? Keep it shut up in the bathroom all day and hope someone I know decides to take it soon? Or actually try to integrate it into my tiny home?

I guess I could switch things around so the birds live in the bathroom, allowing me to close the door between the cat and the birds, but the birds are used to sitting by the only window in my place. There is a huge mirror in the bathroom, so they would have that to look at, but I’m not really sure if that’s a fair trade. The conure also likes to spend lots of time out with me on my shoulder. So the cat would have to be shut up in the bathroom when the bird is out.

As is probably apparent, I'm already emotionally attached to the kitten, otherwise I probably wouldn't be asking this question. He's so GD cute!
posted by wansac to Pets & Animals (20 answers total)
What does your lease say about pets?
posted by TheBones at 11:17 AM on February 16, 2011

I had birds and a cat at the same time when I was a kid, and I have also had pet mice and a cat as an adult. I guess I'm unclear on what danger the cat poses to the caged animals. We had finches in the cheapest pet store cage available and the cat never got to them, for example.

One thing you could try is to hang the birdcages from the ceiling of your apartment. If they aren't on surfaces where the cat can sit there and poke at the birds or potentially push the cage over, then that makes it safer.
posted by cabingirl at 11:24 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lots of people do manage it. Keep a spray bottle handy for a fast check if the kitten shows an unhealthy interest in the other animals - I normally disapprove of training by punishment, but I've had to resort to it lately with an unruly cat and it works pretty well for stopping unwanted action immediately and from a distance. Because your space is small you must be fanatical about cleaning up after them and overall hygiene (i.e. try not to let one type of animal get into another animal's feces).
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 11:24 AM on February 16, 2011

I have friends who have 1 cat, 1 bird, 1 mouse, and are planning to add 1 corgi to the mix, so there's anecdotal evidence that it can work just fine, depending on the personalities of the pets involved.
posted by MsMolly at 11:28 AM on February 16, 2011

Sounds like you have a handful of a natural predator/prey situation there. The only experience I've had with cats/birds didn't end well for the birds, and the theory anyway was that it was mixed company.

At the time of introduction, both cat and bird were almost full grown, (we received the birds as an "unwanted" present when the cat was about 4-5 years old) and the cat never touched the birds physically, but the birds were shortly found dead in their cages.

We had a few hardcore bird lovers who came over back then, and had noticed the cat just staring staring staring staring staring staring staring staring staring staring at the birds for hours on end. Much to the chagrin of the birds I can only assume. After the Final Tweet, the same people tsk tsk-ed about mixing the two species and attributed the birds' demise to stress due to being mentally munched on a minute by minute basis. I know that some birds are flightier than others (pun intended), and parakeets may be a braver bird than, as with most non-professional answers, YMMV. I can only offer my personal experiences.
posted by Debaser626 at 11:32 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

@ TheBones: At the current place, I can have as many pets as I want. At future places I might move to, I have no idea, but in my area it would at the very least require a pet deposit at most places.

@L'Estrange Fruit: Cleanliness is one issue that I forgot to mention. My birds are already crazy mess makers (apparently scooping your food out of the dish and tossing it on the ground is lots of fun). A cat at the very least adds a litter box and lots of hair all over the place, and possibly worse than that.
posted by wansac at 11:36 AM on February 16, 2011

Anecdotal evidence: my rats and my cat got along just fine, in the sense that they more or less ignored each other. The cat stuck his nose up against the cage a few times early on, but after one of the rats bit him, he learned pretty quickly to leave them be. Rodents can defend themselves enough to intimidate a cat, especially a cat who has had no experience hunting. Granted, rats are much larger than mice which adds to the intimidation factor, but indoor cats with no hunting skills are sometimes huge weenies.
posted by illenion at 11:47 AM on February 16, 2011

The question is whether this cat will be able to live peacefully with these birds and mouse. I'd make sure you play with him a lot, preferably with toys that resemble snakes and bugs (shoelaces, tiny things on the end of wands) rather than toys that resemble mice (mice) or birds (feathers). Have him out in the room when you're there and observe how he reacts to the other creatures. Keep in mind that he will change behaviors a lot as he grows up; behavior will probably be mostly stable at about 2 years old.
posted by amtho at 11:58 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think it is possible for them to co-exist if you train the kitten that the birds and mice are no-nos, but there's so much potential for things to go wrong. Even a well trained cat can have its crazy moment where instinct takes over and I have read stories of where even dogs ate pet birds. Really, it's how much risk you want to assume, just as when you have pet birds, you assume the risks of living with a flighted creature (ie, open/closed windows, frying pans). I wouldn't do it because I know it would cause me too much anxiety.

I don't think it's fair for the birds to live in a bathroom either, so I agree with you that it's not a fair trade. I would be less concerned about kitten + conure, and more concerned about kitten + budgies. If your budgies don't fly well, there's a chance that if they accidentally get out the cat will go after them. Personally I'm of the mind that the other critters were there first, and should get the better deal :-) I'd love a dog, but I don't want to stress out my birds, so I'll just have to wait until they pass on. If animals were more predictable, it would be a much easier decision to make!
posted by Calzephyr at 12:07 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have four cats and a dog and had three rats (the rats have died due to old age). They got along fine. The cats would get their noses too close for rat comfort, rat would jump at cat and cat would flee for his life. The dog mostly ignored them.

As long as the caged pets are in decent cages there shouldn't be a problem. Hanging the cages is a good idea as well.
posted by deborah at 12:36 PM on February 16, 2011

I think that Debaser626 makes an important point. Your other pets may be physically safe from harm, but the constant presence of a predator is likely to cause them a great deal of stress. For what it's worth, I also feel that 500 square feet of space is not ideal for a young kitten who would love nothing more than to be able to run around and play all day.

Have you approached any cat rescue organizations? Even if they can't take on any additional animals (which seems to be the case with most these days), many will let you bring your kitten to their adoption events.
posted by kitty teeth at 12:52 PM on February 16, 2011

I thought my cat and parakeet were happy coexisting until one day I came home to find the bottom half of the bird cage torn off (the top half was still hanging from a hook in the ceiling) and the apartment littered with little blue feathers. To reach this cage, which was 13' from the floor and 12' from the nearest piece of furniture, the cat apparently learned to levitate. To my amazement, the parakeet survived this attack but the bird was nude and very freaked out for a very long time. After that, the bird lived in the bathroom where it was sunny, warm and most importantly, cat free. We won't speak of the incident involving another cat and a hamster.

All cats have the instinct to hunt. Some chose not to exercise it.

I agree that depriving birds of the window isn't a great thing. If I were to get birds again (not likely into my 4 cat household, but if), I'd keep them an aviary enclosure, with either double walls or wire spaced closely enough that a cat couldn't nick wire-hanging birds with a claw as most cats carry Pasteurella multocida in their saliva, which causes life-threatening infections to birds, rabbits & rodents.
posted by jamaro at 12:57 PM on February 16, 2011

I have cats and a green cheek and in hindsight, I wish we didn't have both. Our cats aren't terribly interested in the bird, and his cage is out of their reach. I don't have to worry about it when we aren't home. But the bird doesn't get as much out-of-cage time because of all the drama it causes with the cats. I have no doubt that if the bird were walking around on the floor, one of them would think he was something fun to play with. So they have to be locked in another room when the bird is out, and they yowl and scratch at the door and have ripped a big hole in the carpet by the door.

On the flip side, the bird actually hurt one of the cats. His cage was on the kitchen table while I cleaned it, and my daughter let one of the cats escape from her room. I was at the sink and the cat was just sniffing around, and was bit quite hard on the nose.

I'm sure it works out okay for some, and it's not terrible for us, but without a better way to provide our bird with time out of his cage, our situation has been much less than ideal.
posted by upatree at 1:22 PM on February 16, 2011

I've done it, but it's not easy, and it can be fatal for the prey animals. It sounds like the bathroom is the only room with a door, meaning that you have a studio? That will make it a lot harder. I've had the most success with this when I had a separate bedroom where I could keep the rodents.

I note that two of your animals came from your sister, who forfeited them into your care. That's not a good habit, but I'm sure you're working on her about that. (Try a squirt bottle and a firm "No!")

If I were in your shoes, I would gently but firmly point out to my sister that I love her, and I love that she loves rescuing animals, but I can't keep this one. It's dangerous for the other animals, and unfair to all of them. Therefore, she needs to find the kitten a home.

Think of yourself as fostering the kitten while your sister works to find him a real home. I suggest Craigslist, and super cute pictures. Have your sister manage the listing, respond to questions, and be involved in choosing the new home. It will be a pain in the butt, which will hopefully do her some good.
posted by ErikaB at 1:45 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I lived in an apartment (I guess much bigger than a studio) with a friend who had four cats, a squirrel and five birds.
No issues. The bird cages were on stands and the cats didn't seem to pay any attention to them.
The squirrel (orphan) was in a massive cage in another room... but still, the cats didn't really care.
It really depends on the cats involved and where the caged animals are placed.

Put up ads on craigslist in the free section... and keep asking friends if they're interested.
posted by KogeLiz at 2:53 PM on February 16, 2011

I have kept many small rodents (gerbils and dwarf hamsters) and a fair number of parrots along with cats. One reason I no longer keep rodents is that too many were killed by the cats, even when I had taken significant steps to make the cages cat-proof.

The parrots, on the other hand...we have a jenday conure, a cherry-head conure, and an African gray, and the cats pretty much don't care about them, and vice versa. We have a whole theory about how they don't flutter the way sparrows and other little bite-sized birds do, but that could just be hooey. The cats start out interested and then lose interest pretty quickly, in our experience. It can be important to know where the cat is, or lock it away, when the birds come out, because if the bird flies unexpectedly that can attract the cat's attention in a bad way. upatree is right that having a cat or cats in the house is a factor that can limit the birds' out-of-cage time, so that's something to think about.
posted by not that girl at 6:20 PM on February 16, 2011

also - cat saliva is very dangerous to birds - the smallest scratch and the bird is likely to develop a nasty infection. The birds really should have the window if they enjoy it - some birds will go a little funny if they have too much mirror time. My Dr. Buzzard gets really territorial and bitey if he gets to see himself in a mirror for too long; moving your birds to the bathroom may drive them a little crazy.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:33 PM on February 16, 2011

I have personal knowledge of 2 experienced bird owners who in the past 12 months have each lost a parrot (1 budgie, 1 Indian Ring Neck) to a friendly family pet cat. Both were devastated and felt that their cats weren't interested, were too fat, lazy, etc.

I love cats and have 2 of them. I also love birds and have 0 of them because I don't think I could handle losing one lifelong friend at the paws of an another.
posted by screamingnotlaughing at 1:45 PM on February 17, 2011

@screamingnotlaughing: Do you happen to know the circumstances of the parrot deaths? I.e., did the cats manage to break into the cages, or did the cats get the birds when they were out of the cages?
posted by wansac at 7:58 PM on February 18, 2011

i don't know the details on the loss of the IRN but the budgie was a case of leaving a cage open for less than a minute while leaving the room and not being worried about the "lazy" cat.
i'm not saying that it can't be done but to have a cat and a bird requires amazing vigilance. Personally, I know I can't be 100 percent so i'm never going to chance it. I strongly suggest finding a home for your bird(s) or your cat.
posted by screamingnotlaughing at 9:56 PM on February 20, 2011

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