How to Acclimate a Cat to Bedtime Rituals
March 12, 2014 2:14 AM   Subscribe

A kitty has joined my home as of 48 hours ago (photos eventually, pretty sure a coworker is on here and I need to preserve anonymity right now). She's 7 months old ish and now that she's made a fantastic turnaround from being huddled in a corner to triumphant queen of my entire apartment, I need to start getting her acclimated with some things so we set some behavior boundaries right away. Help!

I made a big mistake and let her explore my room AND sit with me on my bed while I fell asleep. I don't want her sleeping with me on my bed because in general sharing a bed with anything makes me claustrophobic. She has seen how wonderful my bed is and loves pouncing on me under the covers any time I move. No bueno. I gently moved her off the bed and out into the living room where she has taken up residence under my couch. I now feel guilty but I am determined to make this stick no matter how cute her mouse like meow is.

How do I get her to sleep outside my room without bugging me, and what's the best way to redirect her pouncing without scaring her so that she gets my body isn't a toy?

The shelter told me she was a mellow, low key cat. Clearly now that she has her very own human this is not the case. Sigh.
posted by These Birds of a Feather to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Re. the sleeping outside your room thing, I think the key is to be consistent. Every. Single. Time. Maybe have a pre-bedtime ritual with her if it makes you feel better. If your kitty tries to pound on the door or cry, just ignore. If you let her in or pay her any attention, it will just escalate in the future. If you shut the door and ignore her, she will (hopefully!) learn and sleep reasonably quietly in a spot of her choice outside her bedroom.
posted by ClaireBear at 2:35 AM on March 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm sure you'll get some good advice, but be prepared for a significant amount of effort. The rescue organization I know here won't even allow kittens (< 1 year old) to be adopted without another young cat as a playmate. They say that the only thing that can keep up with a kitten is another kitten :) And they do get lonely, especially if you'll be at a day job (do leave a radio playing to help the kitty not feel so isolated).

I've personally known two people who had to return kittens who were really rambunctious (one had a baby also, though, and the other got exceptionally energetic kitties and worked all day).

Your best bet would be to get the kitten very tired before bed; make sure there's somewhere very warm and attractive for the kitten to sleep (a truly awesome cat bed); and, if you don't want her to wake you up early in the morning, either set up an automatic feeder or create a cue for feeding time (we used the harp sound on an iPhone). That way, the kitten learns that waking you up won't make the food come any faster -- the food comes from the cue sound.

Would you be OK with the kitten sleeping in a cat bed at the foot of the bed?

If she's happy under the couch, you could also put a snuggly cat bed under the couch.
posted by amtho at 2:36 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Close the door, that's all there is to it. If you start doing this now, she'll be used to it very soon. You'll never be able to teach her not to sleep on your bed if she has access to the bedroom.
Get her a nice cat bed and put it in the living room.

Don't feel guilty. You're offering her a home, so you are Good People. Congratulations on your new feline friend!
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:40 AM on March 12, 2014 [9 favorites]

If you really don't want a cat on your bed then your room has to be off limits at all times. Cats assume space, so your bedroom has to off limits forever. You can't, IMHO, have it so that the cat understands "bedtime" is a qualitatively different scenario to "daytime"

Kittens love beds. They love things under covers. They don't grow out of this. My 8 year old kitty thinks changing the sheets on the bed is the acme of excitement. They are also strongwilled little things. You do need to exercise them to wear them out or they'll become restless, disruptive and possibly destructive to your soft furnishings. Cat owners tend to think twice before buying expensive curtains. Get toys and a laser pointer. Cats need less management than dogs but they do need your time. Kittens especially.

Sometimes being consistent and shutting your door is not enough. Your kitten may meow outside your door all night. You may need to put her in a different room, put in a litter tray, bedding, food and water and lock her in each night.

On a different tangent, I am unashamedly a cat on bed person. It is not without its downsides, but few things are more snuggly than a cat and one of the best things about owning a cat, IMHO, is a good morning cuddle and all round cuteness. I appreciate you think differently and would caution it is really hard to let your cat sleep on or down the bed and then decide to put them elsewhere but thought I'd at least throw the other side of the coin out there. Mrs MM, who really, really likes her sleep, has more mixed feelings on cats on beds, but is the first person to go find the cat if she hasn't appeared by the middle of the night. In short: once your cat start kipping on your bed regularly you both Might decide it's too hard to go back to separate sleeping quarters.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:35 AM on March 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

MuffinMan makes some excellent points, but just to provide an alternative perspective (because Cats Are Weird): my cat (who now lives with my parents) has free rein of the house during the day, including the bedrooms. He even naps with my mom in my parents' bed in the afternoon. He seems to be aware of the time and the routine, because after my mom eats lunch, when she starts heading upstairs, he runs up with her and jumps into her bed (whereas at other times of the day, he might lazily watch her go upstairs while staying downstairs in the sun). He would love to sleep in the bed with my parents at night, but unfortunately my dad will not have this, and my cat can't handle being upstairs at night without bedroom access (he will rattle the door for hours and cry). So, before my dad heads to bed, he shuts my cat on the other side of the house (where he has food, water, his litterbox, an armchair that he loves, and a heated kitty bed). Again, my cat seems to realize when it's time for this, because after my dad uses the bathroom and brushes his teeth etc. in the evening, and then comes down to put the cat away, as soon as my cat sees him he runs and tries to hide or wedge himself behind/under something (whereas my kitty doesn't do this at other times of the day). All this is to say that that I think cats (or at least my cat) can have a sense of different scenarios and that they are allowed different things at different times of the day. This isn't to say that they like it, of course. My cat has been shut on the other side of the house at night for a few years now, and he probably protested for a year (cried), but he seems basically fine with it now once we actually put him there. As I said above, the trick is consistency and also providing a reasonably attractive alternative (heated cat bed, etc.).
posted by ClaireBear at 3:54 AM on March 12, 2014

Frankly, it's probably easier to acclimate yourself to having a cat in your bed than to acclimate your cat to your pre-cat bedtime rituals. Cats want what they want and almost always beat humans in a contest of wills.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:18 AM on March 12, 2014 [15 favorites]

Also, one more point of caution, should you decide that you're actually fine having her sleep in the bed with you: in my experience, cats don't sleep through the night well. Your kitty may cuddle with you for a few hours, and then decide it's PLAYTIME!! (cats are crepuscular and seem to like to sleep for a few hours and then be active, and then rise and repeat). My cat, for instance, enjoys cuddling with me and napping for a few hours, and then he wakes up and wants me to wake up too and play, so he pounces on my blanket-covered toes, sits on my head, or taps my face until I'm awake.
posted by ClaireBear at 4:24 AM on March 12, 2014

I've never met a cat who can understand a schedule other than VERTICAL = FOOD TIME.

You'll have to shut the door and deal with the crying and scratching until she gets used to it. Keep the door shut all the time, even when you're not there.

She'll grow out of her kitten energy eventually; I can now shove my legs under my eight-year-old cat under the covers and he doesn't pounce, he just glares.

But truly -- it is almost certainly easier to get used to a cat on your bed than to try train a cat. If you go that route, keep a spray bottle on your night stand for a good squirt when she gets too frisky.
posted by mibo at 4:32 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would recommend that you keep your bedroom off limits at all times rather than just at bedtime. I had cat(s) for 14 years at my old house and we kept our bedroom off limits. The cats got it. I would point out that we were usually only in the bedroom at night for sleep or to get changed. We did not hang out in the room otherwise so it was relatively easy to set the limit.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:53 AM on March 12, 2014

If possible, I recommend having two doors between you and cat. When mine were kittens who decided that 2am was rambunctious on-bed playtime and that lumps under blanket receive claws, I would put them in a room two doors away to prevent the scratching and crying.

Since there wasn't a human immediately on the other side, they wouldn't even scratch and cry at the door they were stuck behind until they heard human activity the next morning. The room they got shut into had an attached bathroom with litter and water.
posted by bookdragoness at 5:15 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you make her a cat bed or a nest, put an old article of clothing of yours that smells like you (maybe wear it for a few hours) in/on it. If she's black, it should be white, and vice versa, because cats always gravitate toward the one sweater/shirt on which you'd rather they not sleep. ;-) The smell will comfort her and help her settle down.
posted by tully_monster at 5:16 AM on March 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Tire her out before bed with vigorous feather-on-a-stick playtime.

IMO the kitten stage lasts two years so of course she will pounce on you under the covers. You cannot take the kitten out of her. But an automated morning feeder might give her something else to be interested in.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:19 AM on March 12, 2014

I've seen a few cats who belonged to extended family I was staying with for more or less long periods of time to grasp the fact that they could be on/in/under beds and in bedrooms during the day but that at night, bedrooms were off limits. That may include picking cat up and removing from bedroom and closing door behind you.

Whenever there were general changes in the home that unsettled established patters such as my coming to stay for a week or a year these cats then tried to cry their way into bedrooms at night for a short while.

This was generally ignored or resulted in cat being confined to the other end of the house (with all creature comforts obviously) they soon stopped again. Your cat may be different of couse.

Whatever you do don't feel guilty - as long as cat's creature comforts are met not getting to play with you at night won't reduce their quality of life.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:21 AM on March 12, 2014

When we first got Eartha and Malcolm, (it's not set to private any more) they slept in the bathroom on a big, fluffy cat bed. Then they worked out door-knobs (I'm still mystified by that.) I tried sleeping with them, but kitten rambunctiousness was SUCH a hassle. So we locked them out at night and after a few nights of meowing, they accepted their fate and slept elsewhere. (On the white living room sofas.)

Our move from the house to the apartment was VERY traumatic for them. So, now that they were older, and less bouncy, I figured that poor kitties needed me, and let them sleep in the bed with me. Eartha sleeps at the very bottom of the bed every, single night and she purrs with delight.

Malcolm has always been the jerk at night. He wakes up, walks all over me, paws me on the face, and wants me to wake up to pet him.

For some reason, it doesn't bother me anymore.

So, the short answer is to play with kitty before bedtime, perhaps put a couple of treats in the lovely kitty bed in the living room and say a lovely good night, before turning in.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:47 AM on March 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

We kick our cats (gratuitous picture) out of the bedroom at night. They were unamused at first, and one of them spent some time hiding under the bed at bedtime or crying outside the door, but she seems to have acclimated pretty well to it. These days, she only cries at the door if one of us sleeps in especially late - and she doesn't want company, she wants to watch the birds from the bedroom window.

It helps that we have two cats. If they get lonely, they can always cuddle up together. Keeping just one cat can be hard.

You are the human. You need to sleep at night so you can go to work and buy cat food. You should do your best to meet your cat's needs, but you have a right to set limits, too.
posted by catalytics at 5:52 AM on March 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yah, you have to be firm and set a routine while the cat is new to the house and youngish.

We let our cats have evening TV time with us in the bedroom early on, and then, when it was bedtime, we would take them to their beds in another room and give them a snack and tuck them in. (LOL, I know, it's embarrassing even typing this. But literally, this is what happened.) In the morning, we'd open our door, and eventually they'd get breakfast. (Never start feeding them first thing when you wake up, because they'll figure out "wake them up? Get food!")

But most importantly, they learned to leave us alone over night. (An automatic dry food feeder really helps now; it goes off about 6 a.m. to give them a snack and keeps them from the impulse to wake us up for food.)

When reminders were needed to not disturb us in the morning or overnight, we set up a Ssscat at the door. (HARSH I KNOW BUT.) It's also fine to be very clear with the cat (hissing, hand-clapping, etc.) that attacking you on the bed isn't a game that you play.

After a year or so, this transitioned nicely to them being in the bedroom overnight. They both now sleep at our feet like dogs, and don't make a peep over night. They literally won't go anywhere on our bed above our knees. I'm still amazed, but it only worked because they were Not Allowed in the first year.

Your cat is young and wants to play, and things moving under things are very very exciting. Like people said above, giving the cat evening playtime will help. But most of all, your cat can learn a schedule—in fact your cat will learn to behave on a schedule either in a good way or an evil way early on, depending on how you communicate what happens when. Bedtime is going to have to equal SO LONG time for a while.

(The downside to this training is that I can never take a delightful afternoon nap with a snuggling cat—or so I thought! The couch turns out to be the magic space where me and the cats can get down together. They understand it's not the bed, and our behavior there together is totally different. Everyone wins, yay cats.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:08 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would just make sure to be consistent - don't let her sleep there ANY night. Ignore her if she tries to get in...I know it's tough....You might want to also make the bedroom off limits completely during the day time as well.

I had to do this with my cat when my boyfriend and I moved in together. The cat slept with me every night before that, but my boyfriend is a light sleeper so we couldn't have the cat in the room at night. I felt bad for the cat, but the humans deserve an uninterrupted night sleep (Really. So please don't feel too bad for the cat). We got a baby gate for night time(he's not much of a jumper) and kept the door closed during the day. While he cried the first few nights, he seemed to get used to the arrangement quickly. He's unusually respectful of boundaries, and not a cuddly cat. We never let him sleep there at night, but he's so good during the day we sometimes let him in for naps...ymmv on that one but we haven't had any problems at night.

Good luck!
posted by Shadow Boxer at 6:47 AM on March 12, 2014

When I got Bergamot he liked to pounce on my feet under the covers. Every time he did it I moved him off the bed. It was a pain at first because he did it a lot. But I kept at it and he pretty quickly figured out that he shouldn't do that on the bed.

We also have a night time routine. I go to bed around 10 and my husband goes to bed around 12. So at 10 all the toys get put away, the lights get turned off or put on low until 12. This is the signal to the cats that it's time to settle down. It mostly works. The cats usually are quiet for the entire night until I get up at 6.
posted by sadtomato at 6:54 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

It might not work at the moment, since the kitten is young and wants to play, but my mom tells me the best present I ever got her was a microwaveable heating pad and a kitty bed to go on top of it, because the lure of the warm, warm bed got the cat off of her.
posted by telophase at 7:55 AM on March 12, 2014

we got mal as a kitten and tried for months to do the strict no cats in the bedroom at night thing by closing the door. we were woken up every few hours by him mewing and crying and scratching and throwing himself at the door. finally we gave up and gave in and once he got a tad bit older (he's 2ish now) he started just sleeping at our feet for a few hours and then amusing himself until we woke up. every few weeks he still wakes us up an hour or two early by pulling open curtains, yanking stuff off shelves, or his new move is to slowly scratch down the wall like it's a chalk board.

i have very rarely met a kitten that could be described as mellow - more mellow than other kittens, perhaps - but your cat is a baby/toddler and will act like one. i heavily nth the idea of a vigorous play time right before bed. we run mal for 20ish minutes (he also gets 2 or 3 other guided 20 minute play times throughout the day - but he's super high energy).
posted by nadawi at 8:05 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Closing the cat out of your room is going to get you nothing but endless cries, scratches at the floor and at the door, and your cat trying to open the door with its paw.

Easier way and what I ended up doing with my two kitties was to - every single time - take them off the bed and say "ahh!" to associate that noise with something I didn't want them to do. Going to sleep and they cuddle? "Ah!" I take them off the bed. On, and on.

So what ended up happening? I would, naturally, find the cats on the bed when i got home, or when I was in the other room, but when it was time for me to go to bed, they would make themselves scarce. But, in the morning, when they saw that I had woken up, all bets were off and they came on the bed to get me out of it.

Not 100% compliance, but I take what I can get.
posted by vivzan at 9:34 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

We close the door at bedtime and exile the cats to the other side. Come morning, they get hungry and start shoving their little paws under the door and generally being annoying. Enter SSSCat. Best $20 I ever spent. It WORKS and we can now sleep past the crack of dawn. We don't even turn it on anymore; they are so afraid of the canister that they steer clear regardless.
posted by baby beluga at 9:55 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

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