Help me keep the cat upstairs
March 13, 2014 11:05 AM   Subscribe

I need a temporary, cheap, tall, easy to move barrier at the top of my narrow stairs.

For several reasons, I need to limit my cat's access to the downstairs portion of my grandma's house. I live upstairs in the equivalent of a 3-bedroom space and all his stuff is up here. He has many comfy spaces which he enjoys and everything he technically needs, but because he is a cat he is not satisfied with being cut off from the roomy first floor. We've been letting him downstairs during most of the day, but he really needs to be kept upstairs with me at night and when no one is around to check on him.

To my great surprise, this 14 year old cat who has kidney problems, a slow swagger, and carefully chosen steps can climb and jump pretty ably when motivated. I put together a 40” gate using metal cube storage panels and he can climb this. I put a box of about the same height up and he can apparently jump it. My very elegant solution is to stack them and this works so far, but it's not the most user friendly and it's ugly (it's secured so nothing can fall over). It would be wonderful to have something easier to use so my grandma wouldn't have to rely on me to open and close it.

The upstairs is partially heated by downstairs airflow, so simply installing a door is not an option. Also, the opening is pretty narrow at 28.5 inches. The solution needs to be extra easy to use so my grandma can do it without much help. Preferably something that acts somewhat like a door or can be easily moved/unhooked/rolled away by humans, but not by cat.

Every baby gate or expansion gate is too short. The tallest I've seen is about 42.” I would like to aim for something 55”+ that he can't climb. I was looking at this as a possibility. It would completely cover the opening, but it's just a flimsy screen. He doesn't try to get through window screens, but he could probably learn how to get around the sides even with the Velcro? I've seen the indoor electric fence-ish barriers, but I don't want to zap my old man cat and he's allowed down sometimes so that would be pretty confusing for him. I've also seen vinyl accordion doors, but the inexpensive ones seem flimsy and they cut off airflow since they're top-hung.

I'm looking for creative ideas. Are there products I'm not thinking of that act like extra tall expansion/retractable gates? I've thought of window shades installed sideways, but haven't seen many wide enough ones. The cheaper the better! Also, if it involves cutting wood and building something, we don't really have the means to do that.
posted by rawralphadawg to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How about a cheap/lightweight screen door?
posted by chowflap at 11:07 AM on March 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

I was thinking that you could build a door shaped item out of 2 x 4's and chicken wire. Put it on wheels, so it can be wheeled over the opening at night, and rolled away during the day.

It preserves air flow, I will effectively block the the opening and kitty can use it as a jungle gym at night.

Your kitty is gorgeous, btw!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:13 AM on March 13, 2014

A retractable screen door? (side-coiling instead of roll-up like the one you linked to, plus it has a bit of frame to prevent him from getting around it)
posted by misterbrandt at 11:18 AM on March 13, 2014

Maybe two baby gates, stacked atop each other, combined with this Ssscat deterrent thing to prevent investigating the door area at all, which I have no personal experience with, but recently saw recommended elsewhere on Metafilter?
posted by jessicapierce at 11:20 AM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm wondering if a screen panel might work ....

Can you ladies sew? I'd go to Lowez or Home Despot or something, get some 1" pvc pipe and some corners and make your own folding screen, two or three panel. Make the panel frames (cutting PVC is not too hard, glue the pipes to the corners), then sew some panels on them (keeping corners minimally exposed) out of some sheerish material from Goodwill or yardsale bedsheets or something. I'd also (on the bottom rail) fill the bottom rail with some sand to weight it down a little bit if it's too unstable as two or three panels alone.

Alternatively, make one panel just about the right width (again with the PVC and the cloth) BUT then take some metal washers from the hardware store and glue them (maybe use those 3M hook things) and put them at four or six points on the wall (split evenily on each side) and then matching magnets on each side to snick it in and out of place.

Another thought - get light wooden dowels. Sew them into the panel size of your choice on the sides only. One side have affixed to the wall with a few eye holes or other loop and zip ties, the other side with magnets on the panel and gluing some washers on the wall for them to stick to?

part of all this depends on how hard he will try to bump it.

Magnets -= big strong "rare earth" kind, not cheap craft store. Washers = metal circles that magnets will stick to.
posted by tilde at 11:24 AM on March 13, 2014

When my parents' dog was a puppy, they just used a big piece of plywood as a 'gate' to confine her to one area of the house and leaned it against the wall when not in use. It would be less climbable than most screen or chicken wire options
posted by torisaur at 11:26 AM on March 13, 2014

Not sure if this is the exact right size, but what about one of those rope or plastic netting barriers they make for the beds of pickup trucks? They 're long and narrow and made of tough material, and are often set up to be used with bungee cords. I see a difficulty with sealing the sides, but you have the same problem with the screen door thing you were looking at.
posted by Diablevert at 11:28 AM on March 13, 2014

I've used light bamboo/rice paper folding screens affixed to walls with hook/eye for a similar purpose
posted by wayward vagabond at 11:29 AM on March 13, 2014

I personally would install some sort of door (even plywood with basic hinges and a hook-and-eye closure, and get a space heater. A motivated cat will climb anything else.
posted by radioamy at 11:34 AM on March 13, 2014

What about a lightweight trellis, either one meant for actual garden use or a decorative backdrop thing like this?
posted by jessicapierce at 11:35 AM on March 13, 2014

A bifold screen door (just a quickly googled example) would be another option for movable screen door -- It can fold to against the wall when open.
posted by brainmouse at 11:37 AM on March 13, 2014

How about a pass-through baby gate (pressure or hardware-mounted) with a cardboard or similar extension mounted on the top?
posted by Lyn Never at 11:41 AM on March 13, 2014

Lyn Never, maybe the selection is different at brick and mortar stores, but I searched and it seems that Amazon and BRU don't carry pass through baby gates that will fit in a 28" wide opening.
posted by tilde at 11:47 AM on March 13, 2014

I'm sorry, I didn't realize there were pictures.

I put together a 40” gate using metal cube storage panels and he can climb this.

1. Get more panels, make it taller.
2. Put panels at a right angle or T shape to stabilize it at the "main wall" side. Doesn't have to go all the way up.
3. Pin/duct tape some kind of filmy material/curtains/cloth from a yard sale/ tag sale / good will / jumble shop so he can't get his paws in the holes to climb it. I can draw over your picture with a paint program to illustrate.
posted by tilde at 11:54 AM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and also once you get it set up with a right angle (should NOT be on the stair side), tie some ballast to it so he can't just drag it open.

I'd say a couple of socks with rice or sand (slip on sand less, I hope, than busted rice everywhere) in them, tied to the lower right (main wall, not half wall) side near the "T" intersection.
posted by tilde at 12:13 PM on March 13, 2014

A louvered door might work, or maybe you could find some recycled tall shutters. the trick would be finding a way for humans to open them from either side.
posted by mareli at 12:25 PM on March 13, 2014

Taking two of the ideas above and combining them - a cargo net/PVC screen. Make a frame out of PVC pipe, make sure to give it pipe feet so you can fill them with sand for stability. Attach a cargo net to the PVC frame. Voila! Since the cargo net is stretchy and unstable it might also deter the climbing.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 1:24 PM on March 13, 2014

I tried this for my cat: PetSafe Pawz Away Indoor Pet Barrier

He was peeing in my roommates room (her cat lives there) and in the bathroom so I set it up in the hallway. He stopped going around there.

If you read the reviews they are mixed because I guess some cats overcome/straight up ignore the slight shock. Long-hairs especially seem to be more immune.
posted by wcfields at 1:54 PM on March 13, 2014

I use two stacked, standard baby gates for this job.
posted by charmedimsure at 6:43 PM on March 13, 2014

Maybe something like this Cat Gate -- it's taller than standard gates.

It's a little expensive, though, and you may be better off mounting a hinged trellis to the wall or something.
posted by Dimes at 3:39 AM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Coming at this from a different direction, maybe you can deter him from climbing whatever you've got. Cats tend to hate aluminum foil and those plastic chair mats with the pointy parts facing up. If you've got either you can attach it to the top of your present door/gate.
posted by desjardins at 11:10 AM on March 14, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions! My dad ended up being game for building a simple door so we have a 5-foot plywood door with self-closing hinges, and if necessary I'll add a magnet. I'll paint it when it warms up and it'll come down when the cat is no longer with us. As for airflow issues, there's a small gap on the bottom and a big gap on top and we're not seeing too drastic of a temperature change, but we'll figure that out if necessary. So far so good; the cat hasn't even tried to open it because...

...I discovered that what he really wants from downstairs is the dog's water bowl, which is raised and he apparently vastly prefers this to his own water bowl (which is identical, just a tiny bit smaller and not raised). I swapped the dog's bowls because she couldn't care less and the cat no longer tries to break down the door in the morning even though he does still like to do some exploring and snoozing down there when allowed. He's happier upstairs, I have peace of mind that I can contain him if needed, and my grandma has access to the upstairs with just a push.
posted by rawralphadawg at 12:15 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

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