i can haz sanity?!
December 11, 2011 1:18 PM   Subscribe

My cat is eternally bored and wantonly destructive... and it's driving me insane!

I have two cats, both of whom I adore for completely different reasons. One of them is a big, lazy fuzz ball, who spends most of his days lazing around in the sunshine or rubbing his head on my feet... and the other is a wiry little mischief-maker with boundless energy and a knack for pushing every last one of my buttons, preferably when I'm trying to sleep or get some serious work done.

He's incredibly smart, and has the perseverance of a Trojan warrior. He especially enjoys making loud sounds... He'll put his paw under the sliding pantry door and pulling outward over and over again to make a banging sound. He'll pull books out of the bookcase one by one and start ripping the covers off. He'll sit on top of the bookcase and bat at the pictures or plates hanging on the wall so that they scrape back and forth. He rips posters off the walls. Sometimes he'll just climb on top of the kitchen cabinets (you know, the ones that are even higher than the refrigerator) and rub his paws up and down on the wall to make a scratchy sound. If all else fails, he just walks around the house aimlessly and meows.

It really seems like he's bored most of the time that he's not sleeping. I make time to play with him (laser pointer, feather dangly stick thing, catnip mouse toys, and such) several times a day, and I brush him, which he enjoys. He always has fresh food and water. According to several routine vet visits, he's in perfect health. (Although, I did have to take him to the vet once because he swallowed a big clump of thread, and he couldn't throw it up. I think he might have some sort of pica... he also loves shredding paper, which I know is common in cats, but I think he ends up ingesting a lot of it too.)

But sometimes, even after I've played with him for thirty minutes or so... he'll stop playing and walk off, and I'll think I've tired him out... but as soon as I sit down to get back to work or something, he starts complaining again or rubbing his paws loudly on the wall or knocking things over.

He doesn't get along particularly well with my other cat because he's sort of a bully. He plays aggressively, always chasing him and jumping on top of him and biting him and such, so my other cat tends to avoid him. Occasionally I'll see them curled up together, but usually he's cornering him and making him hiss or cry (in pain, I think), so I have to break them up.

I understand that a huge part of this is my fault for unintentionally "rewarding" him by reacting to his shenanigans... any reaction is a positive reaction for him if attention is his goal, right? I've tried clapping my hands loudly and saying "NO!" ... he doesn't even react. Shaking a box of coins worked maybe twice, and then stopped. Same with spray bottle. He actually seems to like it. And of course, it's really, really hard for me to just ignore him... because it's SO loud and annoying and distracting!

What should I do? I love this cat and feel committed to him... I rescued him from the shelter when he was a kitten, and he's about 2 years old now. But I thought he would grow out of some of these destructive behaviors, and if anything, they've worsened. He really seems to love me too... when he's sleepy, he'll voluntarily curl up with me and purr and such.

But the attention-seeking behavior is driving me and my roommate absolutely crazy. Fortunately he doesn't bang on her door at night... he singles me out. It seems like most of his bad behaviors happen in FRONT of people... like we'll be watching a movie in the living room, and that's when he'll start pulling books out of the bookcase. But books are never off the bookcase when I first get home or anything... it's something he obviously wants to do in front of me. Same with pulling pictures off the walls. I don't come home to a destroyed house... he starts doing it when I get home.

Please HELP ME. I want him to be happy! Part of me feels really guilty that he has to be an indoor cat, because I figure he'd have a lot more stimuli and fun outside, since he's so active. (My other cat is afraid of everything, particularly the outdoors.) But I live in an apartment surrounded by roads and cars and dogs, so I don't feel that that is a viable option.
posted by happyjuice to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You didn't mention if he's neutered or not.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 1:39 PM on December 11, 2011

I have a similar situation: big older lazy fluffy cat, younger aggressive mischief maker. Anything is a toy: my pens that I left out, etc. He constantly jumps on the older, more mellow cat when he has just settled down.

Sit down in the living room to watch a movie: bang. Bang. Bang, bang BANG! He is sitting inside a cupboard, whapping the doors with his paws, perfectly able to get out, mind you.

One solution seems to be bendy straws. He and the other cat both love to play with bendy straws, until they chew them up too much on the ends. The other is a woaven sort of cat ball with a bell inside and a feather attached to it. He loves stuff that he can pick up and play with, like a mouse.

My older cat went through this stage when he was a youngin'. And he still likes his play time. I say, "oh, hai, where is your toy?" And we go off to hunt down Favorite Toy together. If lost, I compromise with a milk ring. We had to play endless games of fetch with milk rings when he was a youngin'.

My understanding of males and in particular if they have a coon mix (which mine do), is that they mature later. Kitten till four years old. Goofy behavior. Likes to hang with people and pad forever.

Frankly, I give mine canned food with gravy. The "prime fillets" kind. In addition to special dry vet food and fresh water. It somewhat keeps them at bay. And I introduce a new toy once in a while and I talk to them. A lot. The little one seems really interested in whatever I bring home from the grocery store, so I tell him what each item is, before I finally get frustrated and gently nudge him off the counter island. Enough is enough. And he's pretty amenable to any correction.

In short: cats are weird and he wants more attention, especially when you are not paying him any attention. Until he decides it's not to his benefit, whenever that magical moment shall be. My other solution was to put a fleece blanket on one of the living room chairs and now that is his chair. YMMV because hey, it's cats!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 1:56 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

My housemate got his cat one of those little plastic balls that you put the cat's dry food inside, then it chases the ball around and cat food comes out one pellet at a time. He got it to keep her from whining at the food bowl all the time, but it also seems to have lessened her boredom/acting out.
posted by rivenwanderer at 1:56 PM on December 11, 2011

I had a cat once who would become more rambunctious and energetic the more we played with her. If we stopped playing with her as much, she went crazy less often. Not saying you should just stop playing with him, but maybe not as much. And don't feel guilty about him being an indoor cat. Give him a box big enough for him to jump into, preferably with top flaps. Put a toy in the box.
posted by wondermouse at 2:24 PM on December 11, 2011

Also, don't feel bad about spraying him with water when he's pulling things off the shelves. Closing him in the bathroom by himself for a few minutes when he's really going crazy can help to calm him down too (assuming there's nothing he can destroy in the bathroom). It's like putting a kid in time out.
posted by wondermouse at 2:27 PM on December 11, 2011

I'd think about toys that the cat likes but doesn't take too much energy from you to entertain it with. Laser pointer, if you can use it from the couch, might be a winner. Some motorized toys (my cat loves the hell out of "thing in a bag" -- it's a little vibrating thing that goes into a paper bag; when he has successfully destroyed the paper bag, it goes into a new one -- endless entertainment) might be worth considering.

The more you wear him out, the less destructive he'll probably be.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:32 PM on December 11, 2011

I clicker-trained my adult cat for a while. It seemed to work better than play; he was more motivated because he was getting about half of his meals in clicker treats (I fed dry food, and clicker trained before mealtime). This also means the cat is getting lots of attention for doing things you want, which is awesome. I did about ten minutes a session because that was what he'd stay interested for.

I would also physically stop the cat from destructive behaviors (he also ignored spray bottles). Usually picking him up, putting him on the floor / in another room, and walking away did the trick.
posted by momus_window at 3:58 PM on December 11, 2011

I wouldn't do the bendy straw thing because of the hazards of plastic shrapnel and the general unsuitability of plastic leaching, but there are loads of great self-occupying toy ideas above that might help.

Although it seems that he wants your undivided attention rather than toys, so maybe those won't help at all. You can do the water squirting thing (key is to not speak or make a big deal, just squirt, which ends the attention loop) or you can senselessly verbalise to him (this works for some cats because they think you're paying special attention to them). But he may just keep doing this. Some cats respond well to "kitty time out", and some interpret it as kitty internment camp and become more nuts once free. Only trying these things will tell you what works.

I'm assuming he's neutered, since you adopted him from a shelter. Have you tried dried valerian? It works kinda like catnip but more mellow (works differently for humans and should be used sparingly for both). Or perhaps Feliway? I was surprised by the effectiveness of Feliway in our formerly-multi-cat household. It really did soothe the savage beasts and was worth every shiny dime.

One thing you might try with him is harness-training. I've had several cats who really enjoyed this experience once they get through the weirdness of being on harness itself. They liked being able to go outside and roll around or pounce in the grass, but, more importantly, they liked seeing the "other room" beyond the front door and the variety it presents. It had a calming effect on a couple of hyper kitties in my past care. One of my needier kitties really enjoyed being driven to the park and allowed to wander on harness and visit with people (but do keep kitty away from dogs and over-curious kids, and never try to pick kitty up when scared or you will become a pincushion with nerves - crouching over kitty protectively and holding the lead close to your body should be sufficient).

Finally, does he have "kitty TV"? I don't mean literal TV (necessarily), but a big window he can look out to see what's going on in the world, enjoy the flitting birds, and otherwise embiggen his horizons. That's been a sanity-saver for many of my crazier felines. I do know of a few folks with similarly tilted cats who put on TV shows, 'net broadcasts, or videos to keep them distracted and amazed. YMMV.

Whatever you do, good luck!
posted by batmonkey at 4:07 PM on December 11, 2011

Have you tried catnip? I've found that if I give my cats some when they're driving me crazy, they wear themselves out writhing around for a while and then sleep for hours.

(Also, you have not included the obligatory picture of your cat.)
posted by MexicanYenta at 4:18 PM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'll second the harness training, with reservations. One of my cats, who is seven years old and still has as much energy as she did as a batshit insane kitten, is harness trained. She loves it. She'll see me get the harness down from its spot and come running. The drawback is that once they get a taste of the outdoors, it's all over. If you neglect to take the cat out for his daily walk(s), he will be even more insufferable than he is now. There will be howling at the door, clawing at the windows, etc. This behavior escalates during nice weather.

What I do in nice weather is get a book, put the cat in her harness with a retractable, 20 foot leash, and hang around in the yard for two hours reading while she frolics and attempts to catch birds. It's my relaxation time, and she gets to work out her nervous energy. It also helps if you don't mind being known as "that quirky cat-walking person" of your neighborhood.
posted by indognito at 5:14 PM on December 11, 2011

As the housekeeper for a number of cats, I would also say that some cats can just mature late, so two is not necessarily all grown-up yet. One of ours came from a shelter at about a year old and spent the next couple of years frantically chewing everything she could fit into her mouth (including fingers - not at all agressively, more like an affectionate nibble-based teething, but it could still sting and that's why I suspect she ended up in a shelter once she was past the cute kitten stage). She just seemed to grow out of it after that, so I suspect your young man will as well. Aggressive play is also a part of that process - it will calm down.

And yes, it is attention-seeking (another of ours does exactly the same sort of thing when he wants fuss - he'll knock things off things and then sit there expectantly while we grumble at him, because of course all he cares about is HAIRLESS BEIGE APE ATTENTION!! and that's exactly what he's getting - he neither knows nor cares that it's negative, of course). And nth-ing catnip.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 5:55 PM on December 11, 2011

My cats used to enjoy honeysuckle stick (not my cat, but a cutie nonetheless).

Strangely, my older, less playful girl would get quite cracked out on in. And my younger, hyper, a LOT like your description, boy would finally chill out.
posted by it's a long way to south america at 6:42 PM on December 11, 2011

I keep a lot of stuff around that I don't care about, as a decoy, so that my naughty two-year-old high-energy cat can discover and ruin it. She doesn't care a jot about toys that are intended for her, so I leave out rolls of paper towel, milk rings, newspapers and magazines, etc. She gleefully shreds them to little tiny bits, I sweep them up while she ecstatically purrs and rolls in the debris, and everyone is kept marginally sane.
posted by kataclysm at 8:05 PM on December 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

It might be worthwhile to consider getting him....a kitten to play with. Or a neighbor's kitten (if you have a neighbor with a young kitten, the kitten might not be too freaked out if he visits). If you try the "visitor" route, you still will need to be careful about introducing them, and the kitten would have to have a pretty particular, laid-back but smart and focused, personality.

Seriously, it sounds like you having another cat will lead to greater sanity all around (if you're near Chapel Hill NC I might be able to help you out with that).

One toy that can help occupy smart cats is the cardboard box cat puzzle. Get a small toy that the cat likes, something light and grabbable like a furry mouse or a special sock with a knot in it (to make it distinct from non-toy-socks), find a box, and cut a large hole in the box. The cat can learn to fish around in the box to get the toy. Great! Now you can make a new box that's a little more difficult - slightly smaller hole, different hole placement, etc.

You can also use small boxes with cat treats inside.

Have fun - you have a great cat there.
posted by amtho at 8:13 PM on December 11, 2011

Maybe he wants to go outside?

Cats are not happy living their entire lives indoors, no matter what people like to believe.
posted by spitbull at 3:59 AM on December 12, 2011

It took until age four for my spasticat to start to mellow; until then, the secret was to play hard. Laser pointer-fueled dash across the room! Throw toys back and forth to cause him to run as fast as he could to catch them.

One of the pheromone collars also helped calm him down without having to place diffusers around the house.

"Kitty TV" for him was cracking the window enough for him to sit against the screen - it's amazing how tired he gets after "just sitting there" for a couple of hours.
posted by bookdragoness at 5:48 AM on December 12, 2011

Feliway diffusers may help calm him down a little bit. Clicker training is what we did, using this book, with our somewhat needy cat to solve some meowing and jumping-up-on-things behaviors we wanted to curb.

The idea of treat balls is a good one - some cats definitely enjoy puzzle-solving more than just "toys". Here is a video of our cat, Marlowe, enjoying a cardboard egg carton "treat box" that my husband made for him.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:52 AM on December 12, 2011

« Older a more pleasant job I can support myself with...   |   French language songs in Spotify Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.