Bean, bean, the magical cat
September 24, 2012 8:33 AM   Subscribe

I know, I know. Cats are weird. But can you help me manage my crazy little kitten's craziness?

Bean is just about five months old; I've had her for a month and change. She's a love, the sweetest Bean around. Except when she's being Mean Bean/Perplexing Bean. Things I need help with:

1) How do I signal to her how much claw/tooth is acceptable when playing rough? I've been trying out the advice in previous kitten AskMes - going limp, saying NO and ending playtime - and nothing seems to get through to her. If I go limp and act hurt, she takes it as a signal that QUEEN BEAN HAS KILLED ALL THE FEET, COMMENCE FOOT CONSUMPTION. If I yell NO and withdraw, she goes about her business but starts with the super rough play immediately and without compunction as soon as she sees me again. She has plenty of toys, I play-hunt with her as much as I can, I trim her nails. She did grow up with littermates, and it seemed like she used to be better about gentle biting and wrestling when I first got her, but she seems to be forgetting quickly.

2) She's an indiscriminate and powerful pouncer. That's fine, except when it's onto my face in the bed. After one too many face scratches, I've started kicking her out of the bedroom at night, which I would rather not do - will she eventually grow out of trying to POUNCE ON ALL THE THINGS, or is there something I can do now to discourage human-specific pouncing?

3) Man, she likes to suckle on earlobes, moles, any fleshy protuberance that might resemble a nipple, up to and including...nipples. She gets super into it, and it's very disconcerting. I tried letting her just go to town on my ear once with the hope that she'd stop eventually once she realized it was milkless, but no dice. Will she grow out of this, too? Is there anything inoffensive to me but gross to her that I could put on things I don't want sucked on before we snuggle down?

4) She is STANK. I've always found kittens are stinkier than cats, presumably because of the massive quantities of super rich food they eat, but Bean transcends all stinky kittens I've ever known. She's the master of the SBD, and her poo is super rank (I scoop right away). She mostly eats Before Grain wet food, and I leave BG kibble out for her during the day. Is there anything I can do, particularly about the gas? The vet didn't seem concerned and said she would stink less as she grew up a little.

She's really a very sweet, very smart, super-affectionate cat, I swear. She loves people and isn't shy about anything. She's awesome, and I adore her! I would adore her even more without wet earlobes, face scratches, and random stinkbombs, is all.

please help.
posted by peachfuzz to Pets & Animals (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can only really answer #4, but my personal catmonster was King of the Farts for the first few months we had him. Real room-clearers. He did, in fact, grow out of it after three or four months. We went through a lot of scented candles in the meantime. He hasn't let one rip in over a year now. If it matters, he's always only eaten wet food (wellness brand).
posted by troika at 8:41 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

As for the play-time in bed, we've had to banish our kitties from the bed because Malcolm enjoys arising at four and making sure that we're ready to amuse him. (We are not.)

I really wanted to sleep with cats too, but since I mostly want to sleep, the cats must fend for themselves in the wilds of the rest of the house.

I don't suggest playing rough with Bean. Gentle pets and strokes. You don't want to encourage dear Bean to maul your hands.

You have a very sweet kitty. I sometimes miss our kitten times.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:47 AM on September 24, 2012

This may not help in the short term, but for future reference I have found the absolute best way to raise kittens to be very obedient cats is to be owner of a well-behaved dog and adopt the kittens when they are extremely young, so that they imprint on the dog as their mother and take on dog characteristics.

As a consequence, my first cat understood concepts like "fetch", "heel", "give a paw" and would take walks with us without needing a leash.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:50 AM on September 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

One of our cats is super into nursing, probably because he was separated from his mother too early (found under/in a car). He loves to lick/suck on fingers and sometimes forearms, especially if they are wet (ie after the shower). He grew out of it a little, but at 5 years old still enjoys it (although he seems to realize quicker now that he's not going to get delicious, delicious milk out of my fingers). I don't have any broad cat-training tips, but I'd say: find something that your kittie enjoys sucking/chewing on, and then discourage her from doing so on you.
posted by Phredward at 8:50 AM on September 24, 2012

What a cutie! Ours is a couple of months older than yours and I think the gas phase is ending. We have been giving him an over the counter probiotic digestive type supplement that has also calmed down his stinky poops. Kitten Belly seems to be a thing.

I have had restrain myself from rough play with him, giving him a dog toy instead. And tiring him out is super important. But hands down the most effective way we found to stop the toe-chomping is a coffee can full of pennies. Kitten finds the sound unpleasant, and after three nights of keeping it by the bed and shaking it immediately when he bit a foot, the foot biting stopped. Sometimes now he will get carried away and nibble, then immediately back off and look bashful. I highly recommend this.
posted by Theophylactic at 8:52 AM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I should also add that over three months I have seen pounce-madness decrease - he still likes to play, but is either focusing the urges or not feeling them all the time. Do you have routine play times? I think that worked for us, but it's hard to know how much of it is natural mellowing-out.
posted by Theophylactic at 9:00 AM on September 24, 2012

Cat training requires lots of repetition and consistency. You must model the same behaviour every time you interact with her, actions, words and consequences. Cats, kittens in particular, are beings of little brain and though cute can take a while to learn things. Doing things too differently each time confuses them. Consistency is very important.

1. If I yell NO and withdraw, she goes about her business but starts with the super rough play immediately and without compunction as soon as she sees me again.

I don't find playing dead helps to much. It's not a strong enough consequence in my experience. Withdraw, take the fun wiggly toys away, put her down, say "No". Bean learns that rough-housing means fun time is over.

One other trick I use, my nuclear option, is a tap on the forehead above the eyes, with a strong "BAD cat!". It's no more forceful than a strong tap and mostly serves to get their attention. Following this they will get picked up and put out of the room.

2. Same strategy, same response. Post-ambush, say "No", put her on the floor away from the bed. If she continues, do lock her out of the room for the night. That can be really scary though---you may have to let her back in after a while. I'd certainly let her back in the next night.

3. I wouldn't encourage this. She's not fully weaned. As before encouraging the behaviour will not make it stop. If anything, it will encourage it. Mama cats deal with this by pushing kittens away when they try to suckle. That's worked for me as well.

4. Kitten digestive systems aren't the best and kitten food is really high protein. This fortunately doesn't last forever.

Cats are receptive to learning their whole lives and will do new stuff all the time, learning from you and from watching other cats. We have a 17-year old who has recently been picking up a whole bunch of new things watching us a couple interact. She's still learning even as a senior citizen. Amazing animals.
posted by bonehead at 9:06 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, cats can learn roughly a dozen words/stimuli from you. I try to use a very limited number of bad kitty words with them: "No" for stop that! and "Bad Cat!" as the nuclear option, you better watch out cat!

"Down" is another you may need to use too, I'm guessing. Whatever works for you is great, just keep it simple and consistent. Cats don't understand synonyms.
posted by bonehead at 9:15 AM on September 24, 2012

Yes to repetition and consistency, with clear consequences. With cats, that means a loud noise ("no!") and no more playing in the immediate aftermath. (Never punish a cat physically, it will only increase their aggression and make them feel unsafe.) At the very most, you can gently put your finger on their nose when saying "no". This is what mama cats do, although they do more of a thwap than a tap. Since you're fifteen times bigger than a mama cat, however, you can dial it down to the gentle finger-on-nose. Kitten will get it. With my kittens (former now, they've all grown up), sometimes all it took was just the finger-on-nose. They're very well-behaved, conscientious adults now, I'm happy to say.

The stinkiness will pass in time. I still remember my most recent kitten's stink-bombs, heuargh :-/ you have my sympathies.
posted by fraula at 9:24 AM on September 24, 2012

One other trick I use, my nuclear option, is a tap on the forehead above the eyes, with a strong "BAD cat!". It's no more forceful than a strong tap and mostly serves to get their attention. Following this they will get picked up and put out of the room.

This is what I do. Sammy Katz hates it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:25 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

hands down the most effective way we found to stop the toe-chomping is a coffee can full of pennies.

I clap my hands for this, mostly when someone is somewhere they shouldn't be. Of course the blender defender is the ultimate in cat deterrence noisemakers.
posted by bonehead at 9:38 AM on September 24, 2012

Shout and use a spray bottle.
posted by meepmeow at 10:01 AM on September 24, 2012

Another option for (1) is to change the play from you onto an inanimate object -- we have some wrestle pillows for this, but when our kittens were young and pointy, we used a large ball of socks (a pair of ski socks was about the right kitten opponent size) so that they could "wrestle" with that while we held it and moved it about fiercely, but *none* of the pointy parts were aimed at the holder -- that is, we *never* accepted any biting or scratching of our own parts, but it was ok if they wrestled with each other or with this wrestling toy. I recommend a zero-tolerance policy with (2) as well, until such a time as the cat can tell when you're inviting play versus just, you know, sleeping.

(3) not all cats do this, but most of them that do only partially outgrow it. you might be able to turn it into a snuggling thing -- letting him nudge in under your arm, say, but not specifically suck. feh.

(4) has nothing to do with being a kitten or their diet -- it's about the amount of nervous energy that even an apparently calm kitten/cat is getting out of being someplace new. In my experience, all adopted cats and kittens have farts and/or really horrific smelling poops for about 2-3 months, so you're not out of the woods yet. But you'll get there. (It's a cruel irony that this period corresponds to much of the time when you might enclose them in your bedroom for protection from pre-existing animals. whee.)
posted by acm at 10:02 AM on September 24, 2012

I used to have a cat who was weaned way too early. He'd suck and knead his tail incessantly. It was very cute when he grew up, if a bit strange. If it's a problem, check with the vet to see if this is safe, but you might want to try a dot of hot mustard or hot sauce on whatever she's after to deter her. I know of mothers who have done this with their kids to end breastfeeding when they're getting too old for it, and it works like a charm. I would imagine that just the scent of it would be a deterrent. Or bitter apple spray, they sell it at pet food stores.

I used to have a kitten who LOVED to play rough. It was all good fun, except when he got older and continued to attack. He became very aggressive. As a kitten, he'd climb my clothes while I was washing dishes and sit on my shoulder. As an adult, he'd be attacking my feet every time I walked by (read: "KILL!"). Eventually he became an outdoor cat, as he was quite the mouser. I'd nip this in the bud - especially if you want to keep her indoors. Nthing the pennies in a can and spray bottle ideas.
posted by luciddream928 at 10:32 AM on September 24, 2012

First of all, Bean is absolutely gorgeous! When training a kitten (we've fostered many) I was surprised to note over the years that hissing at them when they misbehave does actually work. Apparently it's similar to the noise of disapproval mama cat would make before she'd discipline her babies more severely (with a bite or a swat). Anyway, Mr. Adams was always the one who encouraged rough play with kittens, but if they got too aggressive and bit (as opposed to a nip) he'd lean toward the offending kitten and "SSSssssss!" very loudly. They always not only stopped but also ran away many steps.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:36 AM on September 24, 2012

Bean is so cute!

He sounds a lot like my Digby with #1. What I'm doing - and it seems to be working well so far - is I hiss like a mama cat when he gets a little too rough - it really does work for me. I also I bought him a little stuffed animal to try to transfer that biting energy to as well and if he gets to rough with me, it's like tag-team wrestling and I tag in the stuffed toy.

For #3, Digby took a liking to a fleece blanket I have and made it his own. He kneads and sucks on it and drags it around the house. It seems to satiate him and he's not doing that to me. Maybe find something for Bean with that same texture that he can make his own.

Finally, Digby is also a toe/foot biter - think Mort from Penguins of Madagascar - I've found if I wear my slippers he mostly leaves them alone - if I go barefoot around the house, he's got moving targets and loves it. He will even wait at night to when I pull my feet out of the slippers and swing them barefoot on to the bed and go after them - it's a race to get them under the covers and to safety! I have NO idea why he likes my feets so much. :::shrug:::: Cats - go figure.

Good luck!
posted by NoraCharles at 12:55 PM on September 24, 2012

How much tooth/claw is acceptable when playing with a human? None.

Keep at it, and be consistent -- one month is not enough to train a kitty. My guys were fully trained to not claw/bite humans or electrical cords in six months. (My method was a loud firm "NO!" followed by complete withdrawal of attention for five minutes.)
posted by phliar at 2:39 PM on September 24, 2012

You guys! So many good ideas, here (plus I'm kind of depressingly glad to know that stinky kitten is A Thing, not just my kitten being a freak. Seriously, how can such a tiny package of cute be the source of so much evil?). Definitely going to find her more toys she can wrestle and/or suckle.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:40 PM on September 24, 2012

Our Oliver is allowed to wrestle with our hands and feet, but if he bites, we hiss. Worked like a charm, took about two months. At first, he would run when we hissed, but now he just stops with the teeth.

Try some more food varieties to help with the stink.
posted by freshwater at 2:50 PM on September 24, 2012

Cut out the wrestling with body parts, but wear the little beggar down with lots of fishing pole toys, flying feathers, leather shoelaces, string, thrown mice, ditto ping pong balls, those plastic balls with bells inside, small stuffed toys, paper bags to hide in and pounce from on pulled toys, cardboard boxes, etc. Cat charmers are great!

Never forget the attraction of milk container tops, hair scrunchies, pencils, crumpled paper and plastic, and individual pieces of tossed dry kibble. Hide kibble or treats under several Dixie bathroom cups. Toilet paper rolls. Ball of yarn. Paper clips chained (use at least 20, and join them in several places.) Watch she doesn't eat the paper or plastic--some kittens will. Cut 7-8 two inch holes in the sides and top of a shoebox, put various small things in, and tape the box. Take several of your worn socks, rub them under your arms, (yes, disgusting) and tie them together for her to wrestle and claw.

And finally the laser, toy of the gods. The more you direct her fun to other things, and the more you wear her out, the less likely she'll be to tear into you. Rotate toys every week or so to keep her interest high.

Make sure there's plenty of interactive play, but tie things to doorknobs to see if she's interested. There are even motorized cat toys, but I think cats need to be played with. You can grow cat nip and cat grass, if you have a windowsill she can't get onto. Ah, yes, windows. Put a cat hammock on the sill and a stick-on bird feeder outside.

You can spend lots of money on toys, purchase this book, or just be inventive. Most anything can be a cat toy.

Stank is a huge itty bitty kitteh thing. Sorry. Their guts just aren't adapted yet. You could try some cat probiotics, if it doesn't get better, but waiting it out till she ages a bit is probably the solution.

The suckling. OMG, the suckling. Good luck getting her to stop. Seems like the ones that live to suckle just don't stop. You might find a blanket or toy she loves, but mostly they seem to want to suckle on your ears, fingers, elbows, toes, whatever, because you are the mommy substitute and the source of all goodness.

Enjoy your kitteh. Hopefully she'll always be one of the playful sort. Cuddlers and snoozers are nice, but a playful cat is FUN!
posted by BlueHorse at 3:40 PM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've had great results training my 2 cats to never use their teeth or claws on me with these 3 strategies:

HISS. This is what their mama cat would do, and they get it, quickly. I had to learn to hiss quietly, cause it was too easy to scare them right into hiding. I would expect that a couple of scary hisses should put an end to the face pouncing.

If a paw comes at you with claws out, grab and gently squeeze the paw (not enough to hurt). It confuses them, and gives the message that this is not a good way to get you to play.

If she chomps down on your fingers or toes, don't pull away. Instead, immediately PUSH into her mouth (gently). She will dislike this and spit you out. You're also less likely to get a bleeding wound this way, since you're not scraping against the curve of the teeth.
posted by Corvid at 6:13 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, totally stop letting Bean use you for a play toy. And when she does a loud OW! and withdrawal of attention is your best bet. Get her bigger stuffies, stuffies as big as she is or almost or even a bit bigger (since she's still growing). She'll be able to fight them and dig her hind claws into them while she hugs and gnaws them to death.

At nighttime you'll just have to shut her out of the bedroom until she outgrows it. Oliver was so bad at it the mister was talking about giving him back. I just laughed at him, told him he just didn't remember how bad kittens were and shut the bedroom door at night. Luckily, most kittens mellow out sometime after their second birthday.

Bean may never outgrow the suckling. Just make her stop suckling you, if it's bothering you, and direct her to something else (a toy, blanket, whatever).

PS: Bean is adorable and has a great name!
posted by deborah at 10:45 PM on September 24, 2012

So the rattle can idea has made a 1000% improvement in my life after one night. It seems the trick is to rattle it just enough to startle her and get her to stop what she's doing, but not so loud that she flees and hides the rest of the night—I'd hate for Bean's sweet, outgoing self to become skittish and scared. Anyway, we had a lovely night, she seems to have caught on already that fingers/hands/toes are not for wrestling and faces are not for pouncing.

On the downside, now I have carry this can around with me everywhere I go. Also, it turns out that Bean farts as though on cue whenever she is surprised or startled, and it's horrifying. Still, the devil you know...
posted by peachfuzz at 8:53 AM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm glad the can worked for you.

Sure hope you're not training her to fart on cue....
posted by BlueHorse at 9:14 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

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