New baby + old cat = jealousy, noise edition
August 31, 2014 2:08 PM   Subscribe

15+ year old cat is displaced from his regal throne by 7 week old baby. How to stop him from meowing as loudly as possible while the baby is sleeping?

We've got a 7 week old baby in the house, and the cat who previously considered me his mama is intentionally stirring up trouble.

The first night we had the baby home, he stood on the bed above the sleeping baby's cradle, and meowed at him as loudly as possible, repeatedly in a series. We reacted, and he learned that meowing at the baby is a good way to get attention.

Mind you, he gets what we think is adequate attention. He still sits on my lap while the baby is napping, and I follow him to his favorite parts of the house to get petted in/on several times a day. At 15 years old, he hasn't been one for "play" for years, but my lap is his happy place. He's purring on it right now.

He just doesn't like it that whenever the boy cries, I drop everything and respond. He used to be #1 around here, now he's #2, and having a hard time with it.

Waking people up is his new pasttime. He'll wake the baby from naps, he'll wake all 3 of us from sleep at 5am, he'll wake just the parents by pouncing on us in bed... It's as if he knows sleep deprivation is the worst he could do to us right now.

He doesn't stop his series of loud meows in response to shushing, spray bottle, being picked up, or having a spit rag tossed at him from across the room. What else can we try to stop this behavior in the moment?! What can we try to prevent it?

He doesn't pose a threat to the baby, and we're not getting rid of him. Just sayin'.
posted by nadise to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Does he have a "jackpot" treat?

Then each time the baby cries, baby gets attention and cat gets a jackpot treat. He learns that baby crying = happy nibbles.

Also maybe some ssscat by the crib?

You have to white-knuckle ignore him when he tries to wake you up. (I know, it's epically tough.)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:35 PM on August 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Have you tried Feliway yet? I tried it in desperation to stop one cat picking on the other incessantly, and not only did it do that, but it chilled my cats WAY OUT about being around children and noise.

Another option is to put the cat in "time out" in a bathroom or storage room or somewhere every time he starts yowling, and let him out when he stops. The practicality of this will depend on how persistent he is, how far away your farthest close-able room is, and whether you can catch him. This typically takes a little longer to work as a form of conditioning (than the "spray bottle in the face," say), but they WILL quit waking you up at 5 a.m. if the outcome is always that they have to go sit in a bathroom alone instead of sleeping on your bed. (My vet assures me it doesn't hurt them to be stuck in a bathroom, which to a cat is a perfectly adequately-sized magical wonderland of smells and things to climb on.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:45 PM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Feliway diffusers in your most frequently used rooms. Feliway collar if that's possible.

Jackpot treats when the baby cries. Cat can then correlate baby fussing with good things. Keep doing until the cat is more accustomed to the noise and attention, then phase it out.

I'd probably keep the cat out of the baby's bedroom and your bedroom, for the time being. Protect your sleep!

Keep in mind this WILL calm down. He's only had 7 weeks to get used to this, and you've been preparing for 9 months+, and had him for 15 years. He will sort it out -- something to keep in mind. You aren't necessarily getting used to this for the rest of his days, just tolerating it until he chills out. Sometimes things seem like "Omg how am I going to live with this forever???" when you're in the deep end of sleep deprivation. But this won't be forever, promise!
posted by barnone at 3:11 PM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

We had a similar issue with my cat (a Bengal, so very loud and chatty!) and I had the additional fear that aside from roaming the house in the middle of the night yelling, I was also concerned she might sleep with or on top of the baby - it's a known suffocation risk.

I dealt with this by making the bathroom into her bedroom. She has a cozy bed with toys on top of a high, dark shelf. It's warm, comfortable and she can see everything. She gets fed and put to bed at 7pm, same time as the kids. It has the additional bonus of keeping wildlife safe as she's not roaming around outside, and now she's used to it, the cat goes in there without a peep.

In winter and on other days when she's had enough, she goes to sleep there all by herself, just for a break and to get away from kids pulling her tail. Your kitty will get used to the baby but it will take time. In the meantime, get the cat her own spot and put her there whenever she needs time out. Congrats on the baby, and FYI, the cat is the one toy they never grow out of or get bored of! Eventually they will grow to love each other.
posted by Jubey at 4:33 PM on August 31, 2014

We've tried Feliway, and that didn't have any impact at all on our cats.

We don't have a Jackpot treat, and I'm not sure I understand why a treat when the baby cries = not waking us up at night. I'm afraid that instead I would be teaching him to find ways to make the baby cry.

This cat hasn't ever been food motivated, and doesn't like traditional treats. I'm happy to try the assortment of freeze-dried proteins to try and find his Jackpot treat, but then I'm still not sure how I would use it to stop a behavior rather than reinforce one.

Thanks for all your suggestions! Keep em coming.

BTW, just so I'm Cat Thread Compliant, this is the offender.
posted by nadise at 4:54 PM on August 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'd set up a special kitty place where kitty goes during naptime and bedtime. It's a wondrous place with windows and toys and hidden treats.

I'd also try feliway, give it a two pronged approach.

Cats can be assholes sometimes.

Try a bit of 'pride time' every day. You your partner, the baby and the cat all hang out in bed together. The kitty gets a couple of treats, you pet everyone and watch something fun on tv. Then kitty gets put to bed, baby gets put to bed and the grownups go to bed.

We do this at our house and it's brilliant. When Husbunny gets up to go to his room, Malcolm immediately claims his warm pillow as his sleeping spot. Eartha maintains her spot at the foot of the bed.

I don't hear a peep out of them until 7 am, breakfast time.

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:55 PM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your cat is adorable! How could anything so darn cute ever be any bit of trouble?


If you've tried plug-in feliway but not the spray, try the spray (or vice versa). If you bought the expensive stuff, try the cheapo stuff (or vice versa). Our cats respond to the cheap spray but not the expensive spray or (cheap or expensive) plug-ins.

If that doesn't work, Bach Flower Rescue Remedy for animals might help to chill out kitty.

Also: Have you taken him to the vet to find out if this new-found meowing isn't health-related? We had a cat who suddenly started meowing loudly and inconsolably from time to time and it turned out to be a serious health problem, but we assumed it was just his being temperamental because it coincidentally developed around the time we moved. If your kitty developed something around the time you brought home the baby (or if the stress of a new family member exacerbated some underlying health problem), best to find out sooner rather than later. (Or maybe the vet can give you some kitty valium to get you through the rough spot!)
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 6:13 PM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

The treats are for when baby cries spontaneously, not when the cat makes him do so. Since punishing the cat for meowing at baby doesn't seem to work, the hope is that lowering his stress about the random commotions that bring you running might help. Those two things do seem to be separate issues, else why wouldn't the cat be extra quiet in hopes that baby slept all the time and therefore he got maximum attention?
posted by teremala at 6:35 PM on August 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you look at my history, you'll see I recommend these cat treats to everybody with a distressed cat. My cat was struggling with competing with a new kitty, and was generally anxious. I was really skeptical of a herbal treat, but I've been amazed at how it changes pets. Annabelle got way more relaxed and happy, and would remind me to give her them if I forgot. My dad's neurotic dog is also better able to get out and about without his anxiety kicking in.

I would imagine your cat would experience less stress, which would be ideal in your new circumstances. I buy the dog treats and break them into cat sized pieces (more for less money).

Also, you might consider prioritizing the cat if it is convenient. Let the baby cry for an extra ten seconds and really pump up the lovin' before you head off to soothe the baby. I'm not advocating neglect, just making sure your cat doesn't feel totally dethroned. It worked with cats/cat interactions, I assume babies seem like really noisy kittens who don't use a litter box. :) Good luck!
posted by gilsonal at 7:56 PM on August 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

When our cats feel alienated, we feed them side-by-side (closely supervised), to remind them that good things happen in each others' company. Ruthless Bunny's suggestion of 'pride time' sounds right on the money.

Attention (not food) is your INCREDIBLY ADORABLE cat's jackpot. The trick is not to make attention a cat vs. baby competition. One way to do this could be Mr. Nadise petting the cat while you attend to the baby, or vice versa. Another is to exploit the cat's differential threshold for attention: cats signal their friendship with each other through subtle cues like hanging out in the same room. While you're holding the baby, can you move around the house following the cat? If the baby's presence makes the cat yowl, introduce this practice gradually while the cat is being showered with attention by the other spouse.

It probably wouldn't hurt to have the baby join you at cat mealtimes.

Remember, it could be worse. Your baby could have a needy human sibling.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:23 AM on September 1, 2014

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