How do I get my cats to stop knocking things over?
December 30, 2011 3:22 PM   Subscribe

How do I cat-proof a bookshelf and desk? My cats like to climb on my bookshelf and desk and knock things off of them, sometimes for fun and sometimes to get my attention. I would like them to stop doing this.

Assume that not storing things on the bookshelf and desk is not an option, and I'm not able to buy storage containers to place on the bookshelf and desk.

I'm pretty sure they view this as a form of entertainment, because they'll look at me, carefully knock an item off, look at it, then look at me again as only adorably infuriating cats can. They do it to get my attention as well, since they like to wake me up by knocking stuff over when they're hungry. I am providing positive reinforcement by getting up and kicking them out of the room (thus providing attention), but I can't exactly ignore them when they're doing their best to break my stuff. I've sprayed them with compressed air and water, but that's just taught them to be scared of the sprayer. They persist in the destruction.

So I am not sure what to do next. I've moved as much small, knockable things off surfaces as I can but I have a pretty small place so there's only so much I can do.

Also: cats are about 10 months, so adolescents. They have plenty of toys and play with each other quite a bit. I play with them during the day as well.
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (32 answers total)
Best answer: If you can line the surfaces with aluminum foil, cats tend to dislike stepping on the stuff - that's how we broke our Tyler of jumping on the kitchen counter. By "line" I really just mean lay down some sheets of it.
posted by Occula at 3:26 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you can acquire some canvas fabric and some velcro, you can just attach it along the border of the bookshelf, effectively sealing it off when you are not accessing it. Not pretty, but they'll sure get bored quickly of the unwinnable game that requires opposable thumbs.

Not sure to do about your desk, though making things more difficult to knock casually off a desk using velcro is always an option.
posted by juniperesque at 3:27 PM on December 30, 2011

Two-sided tape is another texture they don't like.
posted by it's a long way to south america at 3:35 PM on December 30, 2011

A friend has been training his cats with aluminum foil, hot sauce, and a water gun.
posted by DisreputableDog at 4:00 PM on December 30, 2011

Not a solution, but sympathy - my cat does the same thing. Nothing worked - spraying him with water became a totally different kind of game, he ATE the double sided tape (turns out he has a taste for tape, ew, whole 'nother story!), he laid on the foil for naps. And no, he was not a kitten... this is a large adult male cat who was already getting plenty of attention just getting his kicks. It has started to slow down, but it never really stops. My solution was to just take pretty much everything off the desk and slowly reintroduce things as I noticed he was knocking things over less and less, but I'm guessing that may not work for you.
posted by sm1tten at 4:12 PM on December 30, 2011

Best answer: Schroedinger, you've been around the green long enough to know that the hive mind can't possibly answer your question without pictures of the kitties.
posted by kovacs at 4:32 PM on December 30, 2011 [13 favorites]

One thing that worked for my cat (for a while anyway) was to place orange peels on the bookshelf and leave them there for a couple days. Some cats hate the smell of citrus. I imagine you might not want to do this if you had a fruit fly problem but the peels dry out without becoming unpleasant so it worked out well for me.
posted by cheesegrater at 4:42 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine solved this with persistence, an air horn, and looots of spare time.

Have you considered poison? It may only work some of the time, though.
posted by phunniemee at 4:45 PM on December 30, 2011

I vote trying with the tape idea. See how it works out, or if they just start nomming.

And, yes, we require pictures.
posted by Heretical at 4:59 PM on December 30, 2011

These work well.
posted by tomswift at 5:03 PM on December 30, 2011

My cat likes to do this. (Aim hairbrush toward toilet. Success. Flee.) you might be able to train them with air horn/spray bottle conditioning. You could also try lining the edges of the shelves with stick on Velcro. They often don't like the feel of that. And make sure they have plenty of toys/food/attention. Mine only does it when we don't immediately notice his food bowl is empty.
posted by catatethebird at 5:04 PM on December 30, 2011

For the bookshelf, could you mount something across the shelves so that it'd be awkward to get/walk on the shelves? You might be able to do it with just ribbon (or masking tape turned around backwards sticky-side out) tied all the way across the shelves so that there's a barrier about 4-6 inches above each shelf, like:


You could start off with foil or something else hung over the ribbon to make a more annoying barrier.

I don't know what to tell you about the desk unless you want to put your things in shoeboxes or paper bags (and then they'll just lay on/in them). Several pieces of foil might work, but will probably annoy you as much as them.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:21 PM on December 30, 2011

Are you familiar with the translucent plastic or rubber walk off mats that are made to be placed over carpet that have the blunt spikes on what is supposed to the the bottom side?
Home Despot has it in 30" or so widths; it is inexpensive. Place it on the floor along the bookshelf and around your desk. Cats really don't like walking on it, though it will not hurt them at all. If the walk off mats are too mild to be effective for your teenagers, consider strategic placement of cat scat mats with longer, flexible "spikes".

Alternative; clicker train your cats and ask for a better behavior when they're about to head to the shelves/desk.
posted by vers at 5:21 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

oh, vers's answer reminded me. yes I'm stalking this thread for pix. The only surface my cat has ever absolutely hated is those litter mats with the spikes upward, so I'd definitely try that or scat mats. There's also a mat that has some sort of electric undercurrent under it - like static, so not serious, but jarring, which might work to keep them away from the desk area but if they can jump over it you might be screwed.
posted by sm1tten at 5:30 PM on December 30, 2011

Buy books wide enough for the bottom and middle shelves that it prevents them from finding any pawholds on the shelving. This may backfire, as it may provide an alternative scratching post surface.

And yes, pictures are required.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:31 PM on December 30, 2011

Addendum: Place it upside-down/spikes up on the floor etc.
posted by vers at 5:34 PM on December 30, 2011

Toothpaste? I've known cats who will make a face at the smell of toothpaste. (Yes, cats make faces!) Toothpaste that's.. that's... fresh and minty (shudder).
posted by SillyShepherd at 5:47 PM on December 30, 2011

Best answer: Or, crumpled up and not-very-well-straightened out pieces of aluminum foil.
posted by SillyShepherd at 5:48 PM on December 30, 2011

By the time they're on the shelf or desk, it's too late. They need to think that those places are no fun, and nothing good ever happens there.

Every time they even go near the desk or shelf, bad things they hate surprise them - you suddenly need to move there and spray hairspray in great big clouds; or you feel like moving suddenly with stompy feet and want to sing some songs by Journey; or pillows and flip-flops and Whiffle balls randomly land around there. They should be disdainful of those places, not the boss of them. And when you're not around, the horror that is tinfoil might be there. Those places are not fun or safe, and nothing they enjoy ever happens there.

However, other places are full of catnip, boxes, little pink socks and things you care about and don't want them to shed on - so they should spend more time there, especially if they seem like places where they ought not to be.

*grumbles at almost eponysterical post without pictures*
posted by peagood at 6:04 PM on December 30, 2011 [7 favorites]

No solutions either, just sympathy and hoping someone else has a brilliant answer. However, I have been eying this -- a compressed air spray deterrant that's motion activated. I haven't tried it yet, but I have high hopes..

At least your cats aren't knocking over your computer. Yes, thats me. I ended up bolting my Mac to the desk. My cats have also been known to enjoy knocking things into the toilet, occasionally resulting in small plumbing disasters. *sigh*
posted by cgg at 7:09 PM on December 30, 2011

Keep up with the water spray bottle and then leave the water spray bottle on the desk. Maybe they won't go near it.

Another option would be to buy a storage container for the cats but that probably would be considered cruel.

You have to be consistent. Don't allow the cats in the room when you aren't in there to reinforce your territory.
posted by myselfasme at 7:14 PM on December 30, 2011

I bought a bottle of compressed air with a motion sensor to keep my cat from scratching on my door during the night. Works perfectly.
posted by SpiralT at 8:18 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've heard people have good luck with the SSSCat Cat things that SpiralT linked. Also, if you go to the website, the videos are really funny, in a way that only other cat owners can appreciate.

Two more suggestions:

1. Ignore it. No really, as hard as this is to do. They're only doing it because it gets your attention. Ignore it dutifully enough, and they will eventually get bored with the game and stop.

(First I would recommend replacing all the breakables on that shelf with dumb little unbreakable things you don't care about, like small candles and empty soda cans.)

2. I have a Bad Kitty Tin. It's useful in many situations. It is a small metal tin box, from tea. (Harney & Son's Paris, though any metal tin will do. But Paris is a very good tea.) Inside I have a handful of coins, useless house keys, random metal keyrings, etc.

Shaking the Bad Kitty Tin has so far always produced the desired result. (Unlike double-sided tape, aluminum, and squirt bottles.) Best of all, there is enough variance in the noise that you can use it to communicate.

For a big sudden shock, just SHAKE IT SHAKE IT SHAKE IT. Or if kitty is getting near the Bad Thing, you can rattle it just a little bit, as a gentle warning. You can escalate the noise until kitty loses his or her nerve and takes off running.

Use the Bad Kitty Tin when kitty is approaching the bookshelf. It won't take but a few times, maybe a dozen if kitty is particularly stubborn and slow to learn.

Note: many behavioral books advise that you make a shaker can out of an empty soda can or tin can. For whatever reason, I never found that these made a useful noise. Too flimsy, not enough reverb. The metal tea tin is what really did the trick for me.

You may need to experiment until you find the right container to serve as your Bad Kitty Tin. A large Altoids container would do in a pinch, although ideally something larger gets you a better noise.

If you really want to try this method now, and don't have a metal tin... do you have a vacuum cleaner? Because no cat, no matter how determined and arrogant, can stand before the mighty roar of the vacuum cleaner. It is the house cat's natural enemy.
posted by ErikaB at 9:11 PM on December 30, 2011 [6 favorites]

Dust the top of the bookcase with cayenne pepper. Cat will try to clean it off his paws and decide that the top of the bookcase isn't worth the taste of the cleanup.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:18 PM on December 30, 2011

Response by poster: These are great ideas! I'm trying the tinfoil since I had it in the house. Is there any chance the cayenne pepper would make them sick?

Also, noises and compressed air only keep them away if you are standing there with the compressed air at all times, they're sneaky devils.

Oh yes, the required photos: Anatoli and Aneta (as you can imagine from that photo Aneta is the worse of the two at getting into trouble).
posted by Anonymous at 9:42 PM on December 30, 2011

The problem with double-sticky tape is that it's a real pain when you decide to remove it.

To keep my cat off the kitchen table and counter, I got little "alarm" things. Sorry, I don't know the proper name or the source. But they have a motion detector. When the cat gets too close, a cat-frequency alarm is activated. It is not audible to humans, but it is audible and unpleasant for cats.

You also might try basic black pepper. Or set up something else where they are allowed to knock things off.
posted by maurreen at 10:54 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank goodness we have the photos, this has been going all day!! Yes, having seen Aneta's pic, I can tell you are in all sorts of trouble, and quite frankly, think you may have just wasted your question for the week.

I thought ErikaB's bad kitty tin would be like a swear jar where the kitties would have to put money in every time they knocked something off... couldn't quite see how enforcing that was going to be any easier.
posted by AnnaRat at 11:58 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Barrister's bookcase.
Rolltop desk.
posted by Bruce H. at 12:54 AM on December 31, 2011

Thank you for the photos. It is now quite obvious that Anatoli has been reading your Physics book and has been performing active research in the study of classical mechanics, specializing in chaos theory, with Aneta as his assistant/co-conspirator. He has successfully explored the Butterfly Effect, proving that by repeatedly knocking things off shelves and just looking at you he can soon have random internet strangers clamoring for pictures of kitties. You're doomed. Just wait until he decides to hide inside a chair.
posted by peagood at 7:42 AM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was able to get my cats to stay off counters by simply rewarding them when they weren't on them. Most of the time this meant being very attentive and when they jumped up on said counter/shelf, immediately grabbing them, putting them on the ground - or wherever I'd rather they be - and IMMEDIATELY giving them a treat. This persisted for a few days and to this day they don't go on counters, shelves etc.

Disclaimer: I also was able to teach one of these cats to sit and speak so quite possibly not normal felines. But I have a degree in animal behavior so possibly I actually learned something in college... Who knows?
posted by danapiper at 8:27 AM on December 31, 2011

A friend of mine had a problem with her cats getting on her kitchen counters. She bought the little motion detector/alarm thingies that maurreen mentioned. They worked well for her.
posted by deborah at 8:53 PM on December 31, 2011

Response by poster: Tinfoil took care of the bottom shelves! I think I may just keep sheets of it to lay across the desk at night or when I'm not there. The motion sensor stuff looks cool, I will sock my pennies away for that when I have a chance.
posted by Anonymous at 3:25 PM on January 2, 2012

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