Sweet, fuzzy, vicious: how do I stop my cat from killing everything?
June 18, 2016 5:26 PM   Subscribe

My young, vigorous male (neutered) cat is an extremely proficient killer. How do I get him to stop?

I've done everything I can think of —he's wearing a bell AND one of those ridiculous clown collars that are supposed to be more visible to birds. Nothing is keeping him from killing birds right and left and leaving them on the carpet or the bed (sparrows and hummingbirds, so terrible) and from bringing in live rodents (two this week!) He's indoor/outdoor, of course, and I don't think I can change that. He was a stray, a kitten of the streets, and the likelihood of me turning him into an indoor cat is pretty much nil. I've tried keeping him indoors, but he became hopelessly neurotic and I felt even worse about his misery than I do about the wildlife. Cat's gonna cat, I know, but how can I get him to cat a little bit less?
posted by pleasant_confusion to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You mention a clown collar, but have you tried a cat bib?

I have not personally tested these, as all my cats are indoor-only.
posted by ZeroDivides at 5:31 PM on June 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

How is he getting the birds to your bed? Is there a cat door that he can freely use? If so, get rid of it and let him in and out yourself. It won't stop the carnage, but it will keep it outside.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:46 PM on June 18, 2016

Ethical cat owners build their cats runs, spend time and resources to enrich the environment of their cats, and keep their cats enclosed. The cats live longer, healthier lives, and native fauna survives. And neighbour relations are not strained.

If you are not in a position to enrich the environment of your cat, you may need to consider the welfare of the cat as a higher priority than you have previously.
posted by taff at 5:47 PM on June 18, 2016 [40 favorites]

You're mostly going to get the advice to keep him inside. I used to feel bad about keeping my neutered tom inside. He had to have surgery when another tom (un-neutered) beat him up, and then he got hit by cars. Twice. The first time he hid under the house to see if he was going to live, and only came out once he was pretty sure. That took a long time for recovery. The second time he didn't survive and I cried over his dead body. I keep my cats inside, and I recommend everybody do that (especially since one of my current cats I rescued from outside, where she was starving and begging food in the city; she had obviously been someone's pet because she's a little love).
posted by Peach at 6:02 PM on June 18, 2016 [20 favorites]

Ethical cat owners build their cats runs, spend time and resources to enrich the environment of their cats, and keep their cats enclosed.

Unethical cat owner checking in here.

Try a noisy bell on his collar? What about giving him more food? Maybe he's trying to exchange "gifts" for food? Also, this problem may resolve itself as he gets older and lazier.
posted by paulcole at 6:03 PM on June 18, 2016 [16 favorites]

Can you compromise and build him an outdoor enclosure of some sort? Google "catio" for ideas.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:06 PM on June 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

They really can get used to living inside. It's a rough couple of transition months but it's really the best solution. If your cat has access to prey, he's going to try to kill it. That's what cats do.
posted by something something at 6:06 PM on June 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I grew up with a cat like this. She was vicious and super efficient and a tiny death machine, but with people she was a love bug who wanted belly pets, purred constantly, and always wanted to meet everyone new.

Not much could be done about the murder. One time we were having a party and she had been put outside where she promptly caught a male cardinal (nearly the size of herself) and proceeded to pluck it, still alive, right in front of our sliding glass porch doors. I would come home from school greeted by meticulously lined up rodent guts, like modern outsider cat art.

How we dealt with it involved a few things.

There were no cat doors. Her classic inside no outside no inside no outside doorway hovering allowed us to check her for fresh catches and often we'd end up distracting her with a toy or food to get her to drop some poor lizard or whatever before she came inside. She seemed to understand that inside was not the place for her kills and that the doorways would be where we'd see them, so she'd leave gifts for us there. This understanding came with time.

She wore a bell around her neck. This didn't do much (as evidenced by her kill count) but it kept larger smarter things away (squirrels, crows, other cats) who could actually hurt her. It also helped us because if we heard distinctive jingles we could tell she was playing with something still alive outside.

Ironically, getting bird feeders and having good window vantage points to stare at it as well as outside helped cut down on the murder. She got a lot of her jollies just staring down the birds instead of actively catching them. This didn't do much about rodents, bugs, and lizards, but it helped with the dead birds and squirrels. In hindsight it was a stimulation thing - it was Cat TV for her and she only killed something when she was bored.

We validated her prey and gift impulses with toys inside. She seemed to be attracted to red fuzzy things, especially balled up socks, so all of those were eventually sacrificed to her. We would play act the process, her stalking and killing the socks, her carrying it around and crowing, her bestowing the socks upon us at the foot of the bed or the couch or the middle of the stairs. We'd reward her for a job well done with play and pets. I don't know if it made a difference in how much she actually killed animals but she seemed to be able to get the urges out inside that way.

She was best friends with our dog and would often roughhouse with her. She'd bring our dog dead animals outside, and if our dog was trying to catch a bug she'd step in and actually succeed. I think if she hadn't almost always had a dog to play with she would have been a complete hell terror to us.

As she got older she didn't become less murderous. She lived 18 years and even with hyperthyroid making her constantly thirsty and even skinnier she'd catch all kinds of things.

In conclusion, stimulation, stimulation, play, play, play, boundaries.

In a different universe we would have been able to build an elaborate catio with bird feeders right outside and lots of climbing structures. I think she might have eventually been able to be indoor+catio only, but it would have been an arduous process.

Luckily we lived in a place with no lack of wildlife and no uncommon species. The weirdest thing we ever saw her bring down was a common rabbit. If we were in an area with endangered species or a wildlife preserve instead of horrible suburban sprawl, however, we would have prioritized very differently because I have no doubt she would have hunted much more wild animals.
posted by Mizu at 6:27 PM on June 18, 2016 [21 favorites]

Also unethical cat owner - I like Mizu's suggestions, but to add to it, can you get your cat it's preferred toy type that is similar to the animals it is after? Seems to like birds...so lots of toys with feathers? Possibly dipped in cat nip as an enticement?
posted by Toddles at 6:42 PM on June 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I adopted a young stray from the streets, and after spaying and deworming and de-earmiting, decided she was not going to be going outside again, ever. She pined and fussed and threw deeply histrionic fits of sulking for a few months and then got over it. Because food was inside, and also petting and attention and another cat to boss around who tolerated her ninja-style cartwheel attacks with more grace than she deserved.

I redirected her killing instincts to catching treats thrown down a hallway, and lots of playtime with rabbit fur cat toys. She got attached to one of these, a white one like her, and took to carrying it around in her mouth like a kitten. Very cute.

If your local fauna are no match for a belled and collared cat, either build him an outdoor playpen, or keep him inside. It's not going to kill him to adjust, whereas if you keep letting this go on you run the risk of your sweet kitty decimating your songbird population, not to mention getting seriously injured or killed. Give him some valerian tincture (google the amount to give him or ask your vet) to chill him out until he accepts his new lifestyle. He'll be fine.
posted by ananci at 6:42 PM on June 18, 2016 [11 favorites]

I've had several previously outdoor only feral cats and they have all gotten accustomed to living inside. Do they make an break for the door on a regular basis? Yep. But cats like habits and consistency, after a few months he won't actually be expecting to be let outside anymore. But he'll always hope.

Google songbirds and domestic cats, if you'd like some jaw dropping statistics on the massive swathe cats have mowed through North American songbirds. Cats cannot be trained to stop hunting- it is intrinsic to them. But outdoor cats can become indoor cats, and very happy indoor cats- you just have to not cave in.
posted by arnicae at 8:01 PM on June 18, 2016 [11 favorites]

Keep him inside. Cats can adjust. I've transitioned indoor-outdoor cats to fully indoor and it worked fine. If he doesn't go outside, he can't kill the neighborhood wildlife. And if he's indoor-only, odds are he'll live longer and you'll get to enjoy his company longer.
posted by Lexica at 9:52 PM on June 18, 2016 [7 favorites]

Mizu's suggestions are all good ones from a cat welfare perspective, but I note that they seem to have done nothing to actually stop the killing, which is what you're asking about here. So they're not bad things to do, but they seem unlikely to reduce the carnage.

Really, all you can do is keep your cat inside. If he goes out, he will kill things. That's all there is to it.

Every indoor/outdoor cat I've ever had (four) has killed things, and the indoor-only cats I know also kill things if they find them inside, which leads me to believe they would also kill things outside if they were allowed to go out.

I grew up with indoor/outdoor cats and used to think it was cruel to keep a cat indoors all the time. Now I have indoor-only cats, and they truly do not seem to be any less happy for it. They have spots where they can look out the window, which they like to do (watching the bird feeders is a favorite passtime for one of them) and lots of stuff to do in the house. They spend most of their time looking for comfortable places to lounge and playing with their humans. Both of them are street rescues, so it's not like they don't know what outside is.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:14 AM on June 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Unethical cat owner here as well. "Cat a little bit less" is indeed possible. A lot of the energy they expend killing can be redirected.

Similar to Mizu above, I find that when I regularly play with our little fuzzy angel of ninja death there are markedly lower body counts outside.

As in: play with fuzzy ninja = no bodies, no play with fuzzy ninja = bodies.

And I mean PLAY- high speed chases, throwing & smacking all the things, hide & scare everywhere. Do it 'til they tucker.

(Bonus: mini workout for you too!)
(Extra bonus: Super Fun!)
posted by jammy at 7:42 AM on June 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Take the cat out on a harness and lead daily for a few minutes. No wildlife suffers and kitty gets some fresh air and time outdoors. Cats really do live longer if kept inside, even grumpy used-to-be-outdoors cats.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 10:34 AM on June 19, 2016

Our most aggressive killing machine loves this: it is a little cat bed held up by massive suction cups that suctions onto the window. She paces, uttering little growls of aggression, and occasionally pile-drives the window and has massive amounts of fun. It has not fallen down once, even when we mis-installed it at an angle and even when it had to accommodate 35 pounds of feline fury at one time.

RichardHenryYarbo makes a good cat about longevity and indoor vs outdoor. WebMD (along with the SPCA and a host of others) suggests the difference is startling: cats who live part of their lives outdoors have an average lifespan of 2-5 years, while indoor cat can live up to 12-15 years. One of our feral buddies spent his first 3 years living a very hard life on the streets of Oakland - when we got him, he had contracted FIV (the feline version of AIDs) and was a pretty sick kitty. He adjusted to indoor life, albeit indoor life with FIV, which is very serious, and lived with that support to the ripe old (for a FIV+ kitty) age of 11.

Also, I can't believe that no one else has pestered you for it yet - but please post pics of your furball! He sounds adorable.
posted by arnicae at 10:41 AM on June 19, 2016

All indoor/outdoor discussions eventually merge at quality of life issues, so there is no real resolution. An indoor perq for your kitty probably might look like a catio. I like travel tubes along the juncture of walls and ceilings: tunnels, if you will, with viewing ports and access platforms. Short of that, creative laser chasing and hunting games with a resident human will keep your furball well stimulated. That and lots of cuddle time.

As a non-ethical cat tender I am happy to be the host human to several rescue cats, all of them previously feral. Although cats are not usually considered herd or pack animals, one or two cats often bond quite nicely, and amuse one another when the human is away. We have enough room for four felines to each make their own space about the house and grounds. We have a fenced yard that keeps out, well, dogs. Raccoons and possums and such don't respect fences, but the fence gives our cats a safe place to claim as their own. Instead of a lawn we have a complicated rock garden, with numerous hidey-holes and bushes.

I'm not sure all cats can be successfully be lured away from the joys of killing, and I'm pretty sure that--without a lobotomy--none of them can be turned away from the thrill of the chase. One of our rescue cats still ventures out into the yard in the spring in search of small snakes, the bodies of which she brings in for our inspection....she's about ten years old. The youngest member of the tribe, whom we call "The Little Bastard," brings in small live mammals, which we retrieve and liberate. The birds he catches are consumed outside. The other two rescue cats don't bring anything to show us, but I have no way to know if they hunt, and I've not seen any remnants about the yard. They all have a food-on-demand feeding schedule, and full-time access to a cat door.

In sum, my version of happy-land for indoor kitties would be some form of catio, to hell with what friends and neighbors think, the more elaborate the better. Let the kitty hunt only in his dreams, but do give him ways to practice his cat-skills.
posted by mule98J at 12:16 PM on June 19, 2016

This NYT article has advice from cat guru Jackson Galaxy about walking a cat on a leash, with recommendations for walking jackets, which many cats find more comfortable than harnesses.

Jackson Galaxy's TV show My Cat From Hell is also an invaluable resource for ideas to enrich the environment of an indoor cat; Jackson himself can be a bit New Agey woo, but his suggestions for improving cat behavior and lifestyle are usually spot on.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:26 AM on June 23, 2016

A word of caution about the aforementioned cat window beds: my cat also adores his window perch, so I second the recommendation! But I made the mistake of first hanging the bed on a window looking directly onto a bird-filled tree, inches from the glass. My large, heavy cat then managed to crack the window glass by lunging at a bird perched right outside.

The broken window is now kept covered, and the cat perch moved to a more distant window, where my fat monster cat can happily watch the birds without being tempted into diving through glass at close prey.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:51 AM on June 23, 2016

Thanks, everyone. As an "unethical" cat owner (and not a prison guard), keeping him inside was totally off the table. I've upped the quantity and quality of our play time, and that seems to have stemmed the tide of sad little birdie corpses and live rodents being delivered onto the living room carpet. He's been spending less time murdering and more time snoozing out in the yard (under the lavender bush, mostly), on the neighbors' sunny porch, and on piles of clean laundry, so I count this as a success.
posted by pleasant_confusion at 9:43 AM on July 14, 2016

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