Feline floor folly.
August 1, 2005 7:09 PM   Subscribe

My kitty won't walk on the floor, and much of the ground outside.

I went on a three-week vacation in June, during which time my indoor/outdoor kitty Livia was inside my apartment the whole time, as my petsitter was afraid to let her go outside for fear of her running away. Upon my return, I discovered Livia has developed a strange tic: she no longer wishes to walk on the floor inside my apartment, instead choosing to make leaps, some of them death-defying, from high object to high object to reach her destination. Outside, she'll maybe walk on the ground, but she prefers prowling the tops of fences, something she's rarely done before. I thought, "well, maybe there's fleas or other bad buggies in that there carpet." Exterminator says no. Vet has no clue. I've been trying to break her of this odd behavior--mainly because I don't want cat fur all over my dining room table (her new favorite perch, when it used to be under the coffee table) and have had no luck except to make her angry with me. Any ideas? I don't want her to hurt herself, and it's entirely possible she could if she, for example, tips over the baker's rack that holds my books and DVD's.
posted by WolfDaddy to Pets & Animals (14 answers total)
The cynic in me says to weight her down with a heavy vest or something.

This site, however (scroll down to "King of the Mountain") suggests the tried-and-true squirt bottle.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:20 PM on August 1, 2005

Damned live preview. It also says that double-sided tape may work even better.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:21 PM on August 1, 2005

Have you asked the sitter if anything odd happened during your absence? Cats respond very quickly to any kind of negative reinforcement--when my female cat was injured a few years ago, necessitating weekly trips to the vet, she soon came to the conclusion that me in coat and shoes = vet. It took two or three months for her to unlearn that association. Is Livia interested in treats or catnip? That might help bring her back down to ground level.

And cats also develop weird habits for reasons that cannot be penetrated by the mere human mind.

In the meantime, is it possible to cat-proof the high objects? After the aforementioned female cat injured herself (by, as it happens, miscalculating a jump onto a high object...), I moved the furniture around so that there would be no "steps" from lower to higher points of call.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:31 PM on August 1, 2005

WolfDaddy, I wonder if there is some security issue for your cat--she feels safer up high than on the ground, perhaps? I'm just thinking of my experience with one of my cats. He's very intimidated by my female cat, so he rarely likes to relax or sit or eat off the floor, for fear she'll sneak up and attack him. Perhaps something happened during your absence to spook your cat and now she feels vulnerable walking along the ground?

If this is the case, I would try the praise and treat route rather than aversion therapy, like double-sided tape or squirt bottles. If she has an irresistible treat, try throwing it on the ground and praising her when she comes down to eat it. If she has a favorite toy, try luring her to the ground to play with you. Hopefully, with positive reinforcement, she'll adjust back to normal.

If you still have problems, here's some information on pet behaviorists that you can contact for advice. (This may be a service your local welfare society offers as well; the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago has staff that do free consultations.)

Feliway is a plug-in product that dispenses some sort of scent that is supposed to alleviate pet stress. I've never tried but some say it's helped their pet.

You could also try the water bottle or squirts from a compressed air can. If she's afraid, though, it may just make her more neurotic.
posted by Sully6 at 7:32 PM on August 1, 2005

Maybe the sitter inadvertantly stepped on or kicked the cat.

About two years ago, I was sitting cross-legged (at the computer, natch) with the cat at my feet looking at me expecting something (I forget what), and I uncrossed my legs to stand up and in the process kicked her in the head. I mean, I heard the hollow thunk as my socked foot hit her chin in a solid uppercut. She ran off and for six months she would bolt whenever I sat in that position and made the slightest move. Two years later, she still jumps a bit and looked scared if I do it suddenly.

I'd say ask the sitter if something like that happened, with no accusations or retributions. You're just trying to figure what's gone loopy with your cat.
posted by intermod at 8:55 PM on August 1, 2005

I have asked the sitter--and unfortunately there's a bit of a language barrier; I can deduce most of her spanish, but I have to usually reply in horrible spanglish or english and sometimes I'm not sure we're making each other fully understood.

However, I DO know that for the first several days I was gone, she exhibited formerly-extinct attention-getting behaviors such as pulling CD's off the computer desk, ties off the rack, and sweaters off the hangers. Once she got used to the sitter, though that stopped.

The day before I got home, the sitter called and told me kitty had knocked over the computer monitor. Which, while it's a lightweight LCD thing, still might have been traumatic if it actually fell ON her.

But it's up on a desk, so that would make me think she'd be scared of high places.

And, as an added bonus, she has NO problem with the floor when she's hungry. Her food and water bowls are, after all, down there.

I'm starting to think she developed this behavior out of nothing more than boredom. The sitter would feed and water her and play with her a little, but certainly not as much as her full-time owner would. So I think I'll try breaking out the toys (something I've been too busy to do regularly--ever notice that the amount of work you have to do when you get back from vacation is usually an amount of work equal to twice or more than the length of said vacation?) and trying to get her to play a LOT more than I have been since I got back.
posted by WolfDaddy at 9:14 PM on August 1, 2005

My cat is a drama queen too. She once had a phantom limp only displayed at opportune times.

If the vet can't find anything wrong her with and there's nothing wrong with her feet or the floor, I'd agree that she's expecting a whole lot of suck-up attention from you, and if you came back from a vacation and have been on long work weeks ever since, you've probably pissed her off even more. Apologize to your jealous little feline mistress and give her attention 'till she cries uncle.
posted by desuetude at 9:25 PM on August 1, 2005

Is there any chance she's not spayed, or that she's recently graduated from kittenhood to raging hormone-hood?

In my experience (I used to show cats in a former life), cats and altitude issues, particularly female cats (even spayed, but worse if whole) is often a matter of staking out territory -- either staying prepared to inflict (or avoiding suffering) a "death from above" attack.

Could it be possible that the sitter "brought along a friend" -- another cat, or even a dog, at some point during your absence? If so, she might suspect that the stranger is still around and might pop up at any minute.

It's even possible that a new cat outside (or even an old one that's gone into heat) could be the cause, since you mention she goes outside.

If she is whole, spaying her might help the behavior (and will certainly get help with other odd hormone-inflicted behavior that whole cats acquire over time).

Otherwise, I'd tend to put it down to "eccentric and mostly harmless" -- use a spray bottle to keep her off stuff that you're concerned about, and hope that she'll mostly grow out of it.

Oh -- and if she's a fairly small and agile cat, be careful of the tops of doors; I've seen several that could and would jump to the top of an open door and park themselves on it, which can be dangerous to you or your cat should you decide to move the door suddenly...

(on preview -- another possibility is some overly aggressive playtime behavior with the sitter or someone else -- some cats really resent "got your feet / got your tail" kind of games, or rapidly swished tease toys smacking them in the feet, etc.; if that was the cause, time and patience are probably your best bet)
posted by nonliteral at 11:02 PM on August 1, 2005

It really sounds like boredom issues, coupled with seperation anxiety. Cats can get stressed out when their person goes away, particularly if they have a strong attachment to them. They then display this by doing attention getting/destructive behaviours that they may not have displayed before. I think it's the cat's way of saying that all is Not Right in their little walnut brain mental world, and the resultant behaviour is a way of making sure that they are getting at least some attention from their human.

My cat developed Attention Bulimia. Yes - for attention, she would throw up. It took a lot of training on our part to learn to ignore her when she did that.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:20 AM on August 2, 2005

i'd also work on getting a better sitter...perhaps one that you can communicate with to whom you can explain that you're okay with the furball being outside as well as inside
posted by radioamy at 1:08 AM on August 2, 2005

Hmm.. Cats really don't change their behavior so radically for no reason. If the vet checked her out, then the only medical reasons would be fairly unlikely and hard to diagnose, like something neurological. So my best guess is that something either happened or didn't happen. Something traumatizing involving the petsitter or knocking something over while alone. But this seems too bizarre to just be boredom. I had a cat who had to be confined to a bedroom for months, because she didn't get along with the other cats in the house, and she started playing with her water bowl, splashing it everywhere. That's boredom. But a cat going that far out of her way to avoid the floor is something else. That is, I'm assuming that like most cats, she used to spend a good amount of time lounging around on the floor or carpet?

Well, feel free to dismiss me as a busybody, since I'm going to give you advice you really didn't ask for, but personally, if my cat changed that much, I would find a new petsitter. I'm not sure I really understand the value of a petsitter who, unless I'm misreading the situation, would not be able to communicate with a veterinarian (and me) in the case of an emergency, anyway?
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 2:41 AM on August 2, 2005

Does she have claws, and are they regularly clipped? Our cats tend to avoid the carpeted areas of the house when their claws are long, since they're apt to get stuck.

Or if the sitter let her claws grow long and she got stuck once or twice, she might have picked up the habit.
posted by mmoncur at 7:52 AM on August 2, 2005

I agree it's a sudden change, but I've never had a cat that didn't prefer up over down. I'm tempted to buy a cheap bunkbed just so they'll go sleep up there instead of on my feet on the bed or the top of a dresser. There is no table too cluttered or sofa back too uncomfortable. One of my cats has now decided she lives outside, where she sleeps on the patio table or a narrow tree branch. I had always assumed it was simply cat physics: a cat will be drawn to the highest available surface, and will push things off of it if he has to.

In the boredom or insecurity of you being gone so long, she may have just discovered the pleasures of altitude. I would probably avoid that petsitter in the future and keep an eye out for anything scary on the floor, but in the end cats are deeply weird and you never know what notions they'll take up next.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:32 AM on August 2, 2005

Ding ding ding ding. We've got a winner! Took cat back to the vet -- I've never had a cat who's needed me to trim their claws, but Livia's are extraordinarily long and sharp -- and while looking at (and trimming) her claws, he found one of them to be slightly infected at the quick (or where the claw retracts into the skin). A trim, some antibiotics, and she's relatively back to normal! By which I mean she's at least walking on the floor again and has retaken interest in her toys that are ground-based and is willing to run across the floor to chase them.

Thanks mmoncur and everyone for their input. It was really helpful!
posted by WolfDaddy at 9:26 AM on August 4, 2005

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