The cat is driving us crazy.
June 26, 2013 3:16 PM   Subscribe

After moving to a new apartment my cat has spent nearly 100% of his waking hours HOWLING at the door. Pacing in front of it. Jumping up and batting at the knob. When we open the door he BOLTS out, down the hallway and to the stairs where he just lays down and looks pleased with himself.

Cat is male, neutered, 11 years old and was recently (less than a month ago) declared perfectly healthy by the vet.

This howling has to stop. People probably think we're doing horrible things to poor kitty. He's not meowing, he's making the same noise cats make when you accidentally step on their tail, and he's so loud! He never stops making that noise unless he's eating or sleeping (both of which he continues to do normally). It's creating a very stressful atmosphere in the house and husband and I are just so tired of it.

We moved in January, behavior started around May so it could be related to the move. We have tried these things:

Giving him attention (he squirms away and runs back to the door)
Ignoring him
Chasing him away from the door with loud noises (he returns immediately)
Chasing him away from the door with squirts of water (he returns immediately)
Chasing him in general/playing with toys in an attempt to tire him out (he lays down in front of the door howling slightly more pitifully than when he has lots of energy)
Feliway (this was the vet's suggestion - no change in his behavior after about one week of use)
Different diet

What else can we try? Or do we just need to pick a tactic and try it for a longer amount of time? The fact that he's so chill once he gets out of the apartment makes me wonder if there's something in the doorway that freaks him right out (the electrical box out of whack and messing with his kitty brain? someone's dog piddled outside of the door ages ago and he still smells it? the baby that lives below us crying non-freaking-stop is annoying him as much as it's annoying us?). The vet says he's healthy, so now what?
posted by lindseyg to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My first thought was scent. Maybe there was a previous cat in the apartment and its scent is in the carpet or on the walls, but he didn't start doing this until four months after you moved in. So my next thought was sound. There's probably something electronic in your apartment or a neighbor's apartment that is sending high frequencies that only the cat can hear. These kinds of sounds are very irritating to a cat and they'll react very similarly to how your describing.

I vaguely remember coming across something mentioned in a previous cat-related AskMe that you plug into an outlet that emits a noise cancellation that can help, but I'm at work and can't dig around to find it. Maybe another mefite knows what I'm talking about.
posted by E3 at 3:26 PM on June 26, 2013

You could ask your vet about SSRIs (commonly referred to as "Kitty Prozac"). If the problem started 4 months after the move, it seems a bit of a stretch for it to be move-related, but who knows.

Does your apartment door lead to a hallway or to the outdoors? Perhaps there is some other animal coming by and depositing a scent?

What happens if you confine him to a room which does not contain the door to the apartment? Does he howl at that door?

If you can, you might try taking him to someone else's house/apartment for a couple days and see how he acts then.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 3:48 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and going on E3's theory about something in your apartment generating a high pitched, irritating noise, try turning off all circuit breakers in your apartment's breaker panel and see whether the cat stops howling. This won't help if the source of the noise is in a neighbor's apartment, but it seems worth a try.

(Turn off your computers and unplug any expensive, sensitive electronic equipment first.)
posted by Juffo-Wup at 3:51 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Could be a symptom of feline dementia (cat Alzheimers). "Inappopriate vocalization" is listed as a symptom. (Affects one third of cats aged 11-14, according to that study)
posted by beagle at 3:53 PM on June 26, 2013

You might give Feliway a longer try. They recommend using it for at least a month.
posted by ottereroticist at 3:58 PM on June 26, 2013

Can you install a catflap?

It will be interesting to see what he does when he can come and go as he pleases.
posted by tel3path at 4:06 PM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would start by getting a harness and a leash and taking kitty for an occasional walk and see what happens. Then proceed to the other options. He might just be anxious because he doesn't know his environment. Having never seen the outside of his jail cell, he feels uncomfortable.
posted by gjc at 4:16 PM on June 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

And try Ssscat to deter him without your involvement in the meantime?
posted by tatiana131 at 4:27 PM on June 26, 2013

That howling, according to my vet, is a "location" wail. And one cause is dementia (it was the cause, in our now-deceased 17-year-old cat). The cat must feel disoriented, and then re-oriented when he reaches that particular place in the hallway. But why? I don't know. My cat also had a history of aggression (toward her sister) and "kitty Prozac" (in her case it was Elavil) helped a lOT but took some time to get started.

I'm not familiar with the medication you mention above, but sticking with it sounds like a good idea.
posted by DMelanogaster at 4:31 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

When we open the door he BOLTS out, down the hallway and to the stairs where he just lays down and looks pleased with himself.

He stops in more or less the same place every time? Is the stairway secure enough that you could let him do it and then watch him for 10-15 minutes to see what happens next?
posted by Lyn Never at 4:32 PM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

We have a kitty stroller, and whenever Little Kiwi starts prowling the front door area and acting like she wants to leave, we take her for a stroll. Cosgrove doesn't care for the stroller, so we don't force her.

I had a cat who had an anxiety disorder that came on when he was a young adult (he chased down and bit his tail -- HARD, hard enough to make it bleed), and he was on amitriptyline for a period of time. After about 8 months, I was able to take him off the drugs and he stopped biting his tail.
posted by janey47 at 4:34 PM on June 26, 2013

maybe some catnip would help. i swear that stuff is like pot for cats.
posted by wildflower at 6:58 PM on June 26, 2013

I have no idea what your cat is up to. My guess would be: being a cat. But these Composure cat chews were recommended by my vet when my cat was stressed and while I was skeptical it totally changed her life. She was always pretty anxious and this allowed her to mellow out without the SSRIs she had been prescribed. The kitty prozac worked, but left her cranky and drooly and was a fight to administer. These are like treats, and if I forget to give her the daily "dose" she reminds me!

I buy the dog sized ones and give her one a day broken up into bite sized amounts. I don't know what is in it, some herbs or supplements, but it has worked well for my cat, and the several pets of friends I've recommended it to. They're affordable enough for a packet that it would be worth a shot at least. If not, they are at least tasty, and who doesn't like treats?
posted by gilsonal at 7:42 PM on June 26, 2013

We had a neutered, male cat that did exactly this when we moved into a new apartment. Our vet put him on fluoxetine for anxiety. The behavior stopped.
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:42 PM on June 26, 2013

Try strolling him. We take our guy for strolls or walk him on his lead and he loves it.
posted by arcticseal at 8:36 PM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wonder if the people downstairs with the baby have an electronic baby monitor with a frequency that irritates your cat, since his behavior levels right out when he gets to the head of the stairs and completely away from the door. I'd be hesitant to consider dementia just yet - it seems much more likely that there's something irritating him in your immediate area. You might strike up a conversation with other tenants and ask if they're having any peculiar behavior in their animals.
posted by aryma at 10:13 PM on June 26, 2013

My girl cat (5 years old) does just about the exact same thing. It seems to be a combination of boredom and anxiety--but if I just go and let her out into the hallway as soon as she starts wailing, she calms down and is chill for the rest of the evening.

Is it possible there are critters in your building's walls? Because from time to time this 'ere cat will paw at the walls like she's chasing a bug. If I open the door, she stalks out of the apartment like she's chasing something, but then gets confused and just rolls around on the floor like some kind of psychotic fainting goat. So possibly your kitty is hearing things and then losing track of the source?
posted by like_a_friend at 10:56 PM on June 26, 2013

Thank you for all the advice. Last night when he started howling we put him on the harness we have for him and let him run around the building on a leash. He went to the usual spot on the stairs and hung out for about five minutes then got up to go wander more.

We did a full lap around the top floor of our building, tail held high in the air, smelling everyone else's doorway, and when we rounded the corner to the hallway where our apartment is he started throwing a hissy fit. Screeching, growling, hissing, puffed up back and tail, the whole shebang. When picked him up he calmed down and did the face-burying thing in my arms (still growling) and I carried him into our apartment where he loafed around then fell asleep on the kitchen floor.

Cats are weird.

We will continue with walks and spraying Feliway and maybe trying the Composure chews to see if that helps him and keep an eye out for any other signs of dementia. It's entirely possible there are critters in the walls of the building that are bugging him, or that someone's electronics are making a noise that he doesn't like. We'll chat with the landlord about how to search these things out. We will also talk to our vet about medication if things continue to show no improvement.

Thank you all again for giving us plenty of new ideas to consider.
posted by lindseyg at 8:22 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wow. Good luck troubleshooting! Hopefully your vet can advise if needed, but from what you're describing it definitely sounds like he is reacting to something real near your apartment/the door. Could be scent, could be sound, could be both.

If you want to check for old animal-urine residue you can get UV flashlights sold specifically for that purpose (I got one at CVS Pharmacy; it was in a package labeled, appropriately, "Stink Finder"). If anything shows up, even if it's not necessarily urine, it might be worth squirting some enzyme cleaner on it. Can't hurt, at any rate.
posted by aecorwin at 12:19 PM on June 27, 2013

Maybe some catnip and new toys, and keeping him in a bedroom for a while. Scent and noise not in human hearing range seem most likely, with general cat weirdness and change also possible.
posted by theora55 at 4:41 PM on June 27, 2013

Just a thought: your last comment makes me wonder whether the problem is really localized around your apartment door, in which case, depending on the layout, you might try a gate that keeps him confined to a different part of the apartment. Might not be feasible, I realize.

Also, if you are using Feliway only in the hand-spray version, you really need to switch to the plug-in diffuser system, and to put diffusers in several locations if the place is large enough and he hangs out in different areas.
posted by beagle at 5:33 PM on June 28, 2013

Uh, could he just want to get out of the flat or a larger territory? He stops howling when you open the door, and hisses when it looks like he's coming back inside, that seems like the most obvious explanation to me. Is it a problem if he runs around the floors?

FWIW, my cat grew up used to a garden, and will meow at the door for hours if confined. He doesn't even get out that much, only hates not being able to.
posted by Spanner Nic at 10:44 AM on June 30, 2013

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