Intruder Alert!
September 17, 2012 9:41 AM   Subscribe

With a new neighborhood comes new neighborhood cats, and one of our indoor cats is freaking out. What do we do about this?

We have two indoor-only cats (Max and Doppler), and they love hanging out in the windows and looking outside. When we adopted them we lived on the second floor with no good view of our neighbors' windows or the street from their favorite windows, and the local cats were always far enough away that they never caused any problems.

Our new place is on the first place and much closer to both of the neighboring houses. There are indoor cats in both of those buildings, but there's also a small black cat that wanders around our back yard and occasionally hangs out on our deck. The stranger cat seems friendly and I don't mind it being in the yard, but Doppler absolutely flips his shit every time he sees the stranger cat. He will run from window to window, howling, and occasionally have his tail puffed out and back arched. Since he started noticing the neighborhood black cat, he has also begun howling at the neighbors' indoor cats when he sees them in their windows.

Is there something we can or should do when our cat starts freaking out? I'm inclined to just let him be, but when he starts yowling at 2 in the morning... it's difficult to ignore. Any ideas?
posted by backseatpilot to Pets & Animals (16 answers total)
My childhood cat never stopped doing this. The only thing we could do was make sure the blinds were shut so he wouldn't catch an incidental glimpse, but if he was On Watch and his turf was invaded, he screamed bloody murder every single time.

(Also, I learned the hard way not to approach him from behind during one of his rage-outs. Poor startled kitty tried to take my arm off.)
posted by restless_nomad at 9:44 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Feliway? The plug in kind. It might help them to remain calm.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 9:48 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Our cat Megan has a gentleman caller who comes to hang out in our backyard - his name is Elmo. Elmo has never been anything but calm and patient, but Megan goes completely bonkers when Elmo shows up. We didn't do anything in particular with her, other than to reassure her verbally that everything is "OK".

Yesterday, Elmo came around for a visit, and the door was open. Megan still had a puffy tail and mowled at him, but she let him get less than a foot away without swiping him or attacking him. Progress made!

Let Doppler work it out for himself - he'll realize eventually that the other cats pose no threat, and he'll stop freaking out.
posted by LN at 9:53 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is normal. You need to watch out that he doesn't start urinating on boundary areas (near the door, near the window) to protect his territory - my cat started doing that when a neighbor cat started coming close on our deck. Feliway diffuser is a good idea.
posted by matildaben at 9:58 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

My cats used to get all excited at cats outside the glass. The best was when one of my cats had a fight with the outside cat - both of them were yowling and pawing at the glass and then both stalked away, probably sure that they were the winner.

For the most part, mine eventually chilled out about it after a while. Have they sniffed the exterior stranger cats through screens?
posted by rmd1023 at 10:06 AM on September 17, 2012

We've tried Feliway on both cats before for previous issues, and neither of them are receptive to it unfortunately. The windows are too high for the outside cat to get near them, but we have a leash and harness for the cats (which they both hate, natch) and I've been toying with the idea of bringing our cat outside to meet the neighbor cat. Is this a terrible idea?
posted by backseatpilot at 10:09 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not such a good idea. While it's often possible to manhandle a couple of dogs who decide to shred each other, it's not so easy to manhandle pissed off cats. You can do it, but you'll pay for it big-time--well you know.

The ideas above, letting the cats get used to each other through the window, seem workable. It's worked for us. After they stop freaking, then you can try to let them face each other through the screens.
posted by mule98J at 10:16 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't have a response to your original question, but I would never introduce my cat to a strange outdoor one. Feline AIDs is a thing; it spreads through scratches and bites, and vaccines aren't 100% reliable. They can also catch viruses from one another.
posted by plaintiff6r at 10:22 AM on September 17, 2012

Feliway has always been useless with my cats, too.

I have a friend with a cat who had similar reactions to stranger cats, and the cat clawed and bit her pretty severely on a couple of occasions when she tried to interfere. I would be wary of both trying to introduce Doppler to the other cat and/or getting involved with him when he's worked up. Cat bites very frequently get infected and it could turn into a whole big mess.

I think your best bet is to simply try to block access. Maybe get some smoky glass to place across the part of the windows he can see out of?
posted by something something at 10:23 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

but we have a leash and harness for the cats (which they both hate, natch) and I've been toying with the idea of bringing our cat outside to meet the neighbor cat.

I've heard that cats can slip out of harnesses when they're sufficiently motivated.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:37 AM on September 17, 2012

Yeah besides the illness angle, one of my friends lost her indoor cat for a few days in the middle of winter because they took her outside in a harness and she freaked out when she smelled a dog. Thankfully she ended up fine, but it was pretty scary there for a while.
posted by brilliantine at 12:01 PM on September 17, 2012

I'd just try to ignore it, and let the cats work it out through the window. If the yowling at night is a problem, close the shades before going to bed.

Eventually, your cat will probably just decide that the outdoor cat is part of the scenery and not worth getting excited over.

What I would not do is let the indoor cat out, or the outdoor cat in, or really do anything else that makes the outdoor cat seem in any way threatening or "real." The goal is for the indoor cat to just get bored with the outdoor cat and stop regarding it as a threat to its territory (which is the inside of the house). Anything that threatens the indoor/outdoor dividing line is probably going to set you back to square one.

Oh, and be careful leaving windows open with just the screens in place. A suitably motivated cat can go through a window screen... especially the nylon ones, but even the metal ones can be detached from the frame with enough force.

My current cats occasionally yowl or race from one window to the next in order to glare threateningly at the neighborhood outdoor cats, but as time has gone on, the outdoor cats have to be much closer to the house to get the same response that they used to.

Sometimes the outdoor cats seem to walk right up to the window in order to provoke a response from my cats (perhaps they find it entertaining?); in that case I'll turn on an outside light or open the door and scare them off. Watching the human scare away the invader seems to reassure my cats that All Is Well.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:37 PM on September 17, 2012

My cat goes apeshit whenever he sees another cat in the yard, too, running from window to window exactly like Doppler. It's just the way some cats are. I try to run the cats out of my yard, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:34 PM on September 17, 2012

but we have a leash and harness for the cats (which they both hate, natch) and I've been toying with the idea of bringing our cat outside to meet the neighbor cat.

I've heard that cats can slip out of harnesses when they're sufficiently motivated.

This is pretty rare with a good harness. With a regular harness, my cat slips out in 2-3 minutes. With a cat walking jacket, we've only had one slip-out in 4 years of cat walkies, and that was mostly my fault (the leash wasn't attached properly).

But yeah, Sammy Katz goes apeshit when his "nemesis" walks by. He's gotten along with other cats in the past, but they've always been female. Introducing him to his nemesis while on a leash just revealed that my cat is pretty much an asshole--hissing and spitting at the other cat from a distance of 6 feet away while the other one just rolled around on the ground, chillaxing. I've found that closed windows helps significantly, but doesn't cure the problem.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:03 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Something else I thought of about Megan and Elmo. Elmo is very friendly with us, comes and asks very politely (for a cat) for food at our back door. We've usually put out a bit of kibble for him, as Megan doesn't like it much. So I've patted Elmo quite a few times, and come back in the house smelling of him. I've even patted Megan afterwards, although the first time I did that, she recoiled like I'd applied an electric shock.

But now she's not as freaked out about Elmo, I think in part because she knows that we're OK with him, and she has smelled his smell combined with ours. This, I suspect, is like a reference letter for cats.

Maybe Doppler needs a reference letter to play nice with the cats outside?
posted by LN at 2:06 PM on September 17, 2012

We have 2 groups of neighbors who've recently moved in on either side of us (students, sigh) and between them they have 3 new cats that they leave roam outdoors at all hours. Well, now there's only 2, since apparently the little ginger boy got lost/eaten/strayed about ten days ago - they came knocking on our door asking about him. Boulder is full of predators, busy roads, well meaning cat people who don't think to check tags/microchips and shitty drivers. Any one of these could have disappeared their ginger kitty, and it's too bad for these kids, but them's the breaks.

Anyhows it's been a rough month for us too since our cat has gone apeshit bonkers at the CONSTANT CATFIGHTS IN OUR OWN FRONT YARD from this crew sorting out boundaries. Argh. What I can tell you has worked has been a combination of my husband's ire, a 5 gallon bucket, and a quick-reloading Super Soaker.

They (mostly) stay out of our yard now, at least while we're around.

Fortunately for us Marlowe has not resorted to territorial / boundary marking indoors, although he is leash/harness trained to go on walks with us, and has taken to spraying in a couple spots outside in protest. And it does get better over time as we have found that (at least in our case) the indoor cat will eventually gets bored with the game and/or learns that the outdoor cats can't get in.

We won't walk him outdoors if we see the other cats at large. We do have an extremely good harness (a custom fitted Mynwood walking jacket) and a bungee leash; he's hit both pretty hard multiple times (squirrels! other cats!) and in 2 years he's yet to wriggle, jump, lunge or back out of it. We always keep the loop end of the leash firmly wrapped around our wrist for just this reason. And although I've harness trained a lot of cats, not all of them willing at first, not all cat/human combos have the patience or willingness to deal with harness training, so ymmv.

So my vote for your specific issue is a Super Soaker, a pissed-off wielder, and time.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:50 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

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