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August 28, 2015 3:01 PM   Subscribe

Why does the kitty try to murder us on the stairs?

I know, cats. But we are catsitting my sister's utterly delightful kitty while she is traveling, and Hoover has a thing where, if we go down steps and she is there, too, we usually have to do a little dance:

1. Human edges towards the first step.
2. She sits next to the stairs and doesn't move.
3. Human edges a little more towards the edge of the first step.
4. She looks at the human, but doesn't move.
5. Cautiously, human puts one foot on the first step. Human asks if she is trying to kill us today.
6. She trills, but looks vastly more interested in staring at the blank space over the human's shoulder. In fact, Hoover may begin to groom herself.
7. Reassured that she does not mean to kill today, the human lifts the other foot and starts to swing it forward to put it down on the second ste --

She is particularly intense about this in the morning, where we go from the top floor of home down to the basement to feed her. And while she does it, her tail is straight up with a 90 degree bend at the very tip, and she is trilling while her tiny legs work frantically down the very steep stairs in our house, so I'm guessing it's friendly? At each landing, she wants to repeat this.

Do other people's cats do this? And what is going through Hoover's/their delightful tiny walnut-sized cat brains when they do?

I have not yet asked my sister whether Hoover does this at home, but plan to.
posted by joyceanmachine to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
All three of ours do this. I assume we just trigger excitement when we go downstairs; it's where we keep food, most toys, lightbug, and Outside, so really I can't blame them for thinking that downstairs is just… whoa. Maybe they'll get food! Or a toy! Or go Outside! OMG, cannot deal.
posted by Nyx at 3:11 PM on August 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mine does something like this. He definitely likes to be on the stairs with me. I don't know why. Another one of mine likes to run up to the landing and lay down to be stepped over before jumping up and jostling me to get to the top first. I relate it to their desire to be underfoot when stuff is happening.

Hoover is a cutie.
posted by irisclara at 3:13 PM on August 28, 2015

Mine have tried to kill me in more or less this very way so often that I've sorta come to the conclusion that it's just What Cats Do. Maybe they think they're showing their love, or maybe they're actually homicidal sociopaths. Who knows.
posted by holborne at 3:19 PM on August 28, 2015

That bike-flag tail means it's definitely friendly (or at least "Notathreat!!Notathreat!!" as our scaredy-cat's tail translates to).

We have no stairs, so our cats merely attempt to win the Who Can Go Through The Door First? stakes, enough so that I always pause at the threshhold when entering the master bedroom because if I don't I will trip on a cat.
posted by telophase at 3:21 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Store some treats up high, at the top of the stairs, where you can reach them but she can't. Whenever you go down the stairs, get a treat, let Hoover smell it, then throw it down the stairs. Eventually, she should start running down the stairs whenever you approach them.

This shouldn't take too many repetitions to work. I think it's worth doing even if the cat's only there for three days.
posted by amtho at 3:23 PM on August 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

I've always guessed that maybe they just really really love running down the stairs. Like a kid who loves riding their bike down a certain hill so every time they go there they have to high-tail it (no pun intended). Just a guess.
posted by easter queen at 3:33 PM on August 28, 2015

And what is going through Hoover's/their delightful tiny walnut-sized cat brains when they do?

I think it's just MY HUMAN MY FOOD PROVIDER THEY HAVE RETURNED FROM THEIR DORMANT STATE HUZZAH kitty glee but honestly it could very well be deliberate attempts at murder. Cats are #1 most baffling. sometimes in think there are bees inside their heads.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:47 PM on August 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Some cats are just like OH BOY RUNNING, and the stairs are an especially good course. And if you pause and make eye contact before descending the stairs, she might think you're playing a fun game where she has to get you before you go all the way down.

Next time, while you have her attention but before you take a step, try throwing a toy down the stairs. That might get her OH BOY RUNNING reflex going and get her out of your way.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:54 PM on August 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Squirt bottle of water! Encourages kitty to RUN AWAY!
posted by a humble nudibranch at 4:19 PM on August 28, 2015

My cat does this, though she likes to hang out on the stairs in the first place so she doesn't usually kill me in the process, as she's already ahead of me. I expect it's because a large human coming down the stairs means that food will soon appear.

Being decisive about the stairs seems to convince her to go ahead down without a lot of drama.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:14 PM on August 28, 2015

My earlier comment may have seemed not to address your particular problem, but: if the cat is waiting until you get to the first step to throw herself across your path, then toss the treat down _before_ that point.

Also: make sure you teach her that the treat is _far_ away. You may have to start by tossing the treat a shorter distance, so that she learns to recognize "throwing" as a thing. Soon, though, she should watch for your toss (or even anticipate it) and get the heck away from you in anticipation of the treat.
posted by amtho at 7:57 PM on August 28, 2015

I think it's the same part of their brains that make them try to squeeze through doorways ahead of you.

Back when I lived in a two-story house with a cat who liked to fling himself at my feet at the top of the stairs, I got into the habit of scooping him up and carrying him down. After a few weeks of this, his annoyance of being unceremoniously dumped at the base of the stairs overcame his desire to trip me and he wandered off to go torture something else.
posted by jamaro at 8:04 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Holy crap, don't use negative reinforcement (spray bottle) on a happy excited cat. Use toys or treats as was suggested.
posted by Nyx at 9:16 PM on August 28, 2015 [14 favorites]

Because cats show love by trying to kill you. No, for real. I used to have a Bengal that loved to try to trip his Daddy when Daddy went down the stairs. In fact, it became a game, where Daddy would run down a few steps, then back up a couple, then down again, with Bengal kitty chasing him and bapping at him. One day, this caused Daddy to trip and fall down the stairs. Bengal kitty was so proud! After months of trying, he had brought down a human!

He managed to do it twice more before we moved into a single storey house.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:42 PM on August 28, 2015 [11 favorites]

Sounds like maybe in addition to general catness, she may have come to associate your going down the stairs with her feeding time.

I used to live in an apartment with a long, narrow hallway, and my dear departed Danny the Cat's favorite hobby was Getting in Front of Me and Walking Reeally Slowly.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:42 PM on August 29, 2015

My in-laws cat does this. (In fact, I think the other at tries to do this going up the stairs.)

It started after they got stepped on a bit (maybe their tail or foot) when they were younger.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 1:16 AM on August 30, 2015

Thanks, folks! My sister says Hoover doesn't do it to the same extent at home, so it sounds like she specifically associates us going down our stairs with FOOD and FUN and HUMAN ATTENTION and LET'S GET THE DAY STARTED.

MexicanYenta, your comment the Bengal kitty made me laugh and laugh and laugh. I know some cats that are part-Bengal, and I can definitely imagine how smug and pleased and thrilled one of them in particular would be to bring down a human. What a great hunter she must be! How skillful! Pet her, human holding its head and making groaning noises!
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:57 AM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

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