Cat driving us batty; we have twins--help!
November 8, 2016 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Our twin boys are 9 weeks old. Awesome! Sweet little Zoe hunts pacifiers and nipple shields relentlessly and desperately wants to be an outdoor cat. She's also attempted to jump into the bassinet a few times. Details below the fold.

We rescued Zoe a year ago (she's 1.5 years old) and really don't want to lose her. The pacifier/nipple obsession is on the boundary of acceptable--we can life with it, begrudgingly, by buying more of both when she ruins them.

There are two additional concerning factors that, as new parents of twins, are pushing us over the edge:

1) While we're not concerned with her intentionally attacking a baby, in the course of her hunting/playing we're worried that she'll accidentally scratch/hurt a kid while doing so.

2) She's completely obsessed with life outside our apartment and takes every opportunity to try to escape--most frustratingly when we're schlepping two car seats, diaper bag, etc. out the door. She's very quick and like the terrorists in that she only needs to be right once. She does not let up on this, ever. When she does get out (less so, but it happens)--if I or my wife are alone with both kids--we're kinda screwed.

Our options as we see them are as follows:

1) Do nothing. Suck it up, continue to be occasionally frustrated and hope the cat grows out of it and doesn't hurt anyone until she or the babies grow up
2) Let her free as an outdoor cat (microchipped, with a bell, continue to feed, etc.). Yes, I know what cats can do to birds and I won't let that happen.
3) Try to find a foster home until she or the twins mature.

#1 isn't going to fly--twins are hard enough
#2 I personally like as I think the exercise/freedom will reduce her stress and exhaust her, but it's November in Boston and the winters of course are cold
#3 is probably the most realistic option but I'd like to find a way to keep our kitty if possible

Anyone else have suggestions or novel ideas we haven't yet tried?

posted by eggman to Pets & Animals (24 answers total)
We exhaust our cat's hunting/playing instincts by giving her as much daytime access to the outdoors as she wants. By the time we lure her in with a nightly packet of wet food, she's ready to pass out.

We also limit nighttime shenanigans by keeping her in our closed bedroom at night, where she has:
* a heated bed (more likely to sleep longer)
* a timed catfood dispenser (so she's not waking us up to feed her)
* a litterbox in the master bathroom

Would such a scenario work for you?
posted by homodachi at 11:38 AM on November 8, 2016 [9 favorites]

I have an outdoor/indoor cat. I know a lot of people are passionately against letting cats outside, but it works for us and I don't think I'd have it any other way.Our cat loves the outdoors, we have a cat door, he comes and go, he's super mellow and loving and still comes home to love on us.

Anyway, I have a 1 year old, and it's been great for her growing up around pets. (we have a cat and a dog.) I was overwhelmed like you at first, more with the dog than the cat pretty much the whole first year, but now both animals and the kid are pretty sweet with each other. I mean there's definitely some humorous banter sometimes, and my daughter has gotten a *tiny* bit scratched, but we've just taught her to be gentle with the animals.

So finding a foster home for a few month might be fine too.
posted by Rocket26 at 11:44 AM on November 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Here's a cat collar that is designed to protect the birds:
posted by metaseeker at 11:56 AM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Does Zoe like you? Because I'll tell you a secret... Cat's usually have a zone outside that's about 3 houses wide. Some will stay only in your yard. They come to the door when called or at dark or when they're hungry. If your cat is bonded to you and the neighborhood is safe enough, meh. Your cat will be fine. Let her out. You can supervise the first few times. It's really easy to train your cat to be indoor/outdoor. Like, really.

So, once I lived on a busier street when my now cat was Zoe's age. She would follow me out front to the sidewalk. As she started to explore the street I supported her underneath but gripped the scruff of her neck (like a momma cat,) got in her face, and told her "No!" I had to do this twice. Kitty stayed away from the street after that. It worked because I normally never yelled at her. Plus she's not dumb. YMMV.

My first cat was indoor/outdoor where I grew up in the Northeast. She would not stay outside long in the cold or snow. Good news - you're in Boston! Zoe will not go far from your door during Winter. Just be relaxed about it. Don't make it a struggle. Right now she thinks it's a game! Stop that. Be relaxed and let her out.

My first cat used to climb the screen door and smack the doorbell. So funny.

You could also install a cat door if you are not concerned about other wildlife. Zoe sounds like a hunter, so be prepared for the occasional field mouse. That's about it.
posted by jbenben at 12:15 PM on November 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

She sounds bored. Especially if the escaping-type shenanigans have ramped up specifically with the arrival of the human children.

Bored cats need more play time/better toys. And the best toy for a cat is....another cat.

It seems crazy on it's face, but two cats aren't really any more difficult than one (when you get to three, co-ordinating vet visits gets trickier). The trick is that you'll need to find one that she's compatible with. I'd think that a kitten would be best (but that makes me weep for the human adults), so maybe another yearling +/- 6 months?
posted by sparklemotion at 12:17 PM on November 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

My rescue kitties had been indoor/outdoor before they came to me and were exceedingly pissed I kept them in doors. For weeks we had escape attempts when I left for work (making me miss the bus, grr).

My solution - I spent a pleasant weekend morning spraying them with the water bottle each time they went near the door. For good measure, I also went outside and with the door shit and the screen door closed, sprayed them from the outside. They totally lost interest after that: the Spray
Bottle Monster took all the fun out.

A second cat sounds crazy when you have baby twins (bet you aren't noticing any economies of scale yet) but really is helpful.
posted by kitten magic at 12:26 PM on November 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

A few minor updates:

- We have another cat--he's a bit older but they do play/hang. We had a 3rd who we lost last summer . . . we can't return to carrying 3 kitties because of the babies--swapping one problem for another
- Spray bottles/water guns are already liberally in use. If she could laugh at us when we drench her she would, and seems to appreciate the shower
- As I said, well aware of birds and would run prevent defense on that

It's true that when she escapes she stays close. Maybe that's the answer . . . I don't know how we'd install a cat door given that we rent. I like the doorbell idea!

Thanks for all the feedback!
posted by eggman at 12:33 PM on November 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just want to sympathize -- having a baby made me have so much less time for giving the cats love, and they really wanted it. It helped that my partner still could give them lots of snuggles. I'd probably let the cat out; being able to shoo them out when they got restless was a big help. You probably can't control what they do to birds, unfortunately, but putting a bell on will be a good start.
posted by slidell at 12:34 PM on November 8, 2016

Oh bummer that she laughs at you when you use the water bottle. Mine hate it so much they scrunch up their little eyes as soon as I show it to them, I don't even have to spray now.

Indoor/outdoor might be best then. If you can, installing a cat door would make things easier for you (though I would fully expect toddler twins to explore cat flap shenanigans, that's a way off yet at least).
posted by kitten magic at 12:41 PM on November 8, 2016

Just a note for outdoor cats and wildlife: all those anti-hunting things don't work. Cats are quite smart and quiet; they will work out how to get around it. Cats devastate all local wildlife, not just birds. Cats wreck gardens, defecate and urinate everywhere, and spread disease. Outdoor cats are at risk from cars, dogs, humans, and larger feral wildlife (coyotes, cougars, birds of prey).

I have been a crazy cat lady for 30 years and I hate outdoor cats. They upset my cats (three indoor rescues) and leave urine and feces all over my yard. I trap them and bring them to the shelter because I am not dealing with someone else's bad pet ownership. Have fun paying the shelter's reclaiming fee!

Your cat needs thirty to sixty minutes of dedicated playtime daily. Yes, that does seem like a lot for a cat; some cats are more active and need to be exhausted, just like some dogs need two hours of exercise every day. You can spread it out over the day so it's six ten minute periods of fun. You can also keep a bowl of high value toys or treats by the door and throw them when you're leaving to at least prevent that.

If you can't make that much time, consider returning her to the rescue. Outdoor cats are not fair to the community, to say nothing of the animal who's life will be at risk.

Don't let kitty and baby interact yet. Way too young. Until the human child has play inhibition, the risk is just too high (unless you don't care about them being scratched). The cat does not need to deal with being hurt by a baby when it is already dealing with a new baby stress.

Try Feliway plugins to calm cat as well.
posted by Nyx at 12:56 PM on November 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I strongly support letting her be an indoor/outdoor cat. My cat never let up with his antics and blood-curdling meows until I started letting him out, and it completely shifted his personality for the better. He was simply so much happier and more relaxed once I started letting him out, and the NY cold never bothered him. The outdoor cat haters will hate, but I am a strong supporter. The fact that cats kill other animals is not a strong enough argument for me, personally. I believe cats have just as much a right to live beyond four walls as any other animal. Good luck!
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 1:00 PM on November 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yes. Feliway.

Zoe doesn't want to go out all day so you really don't need a cat door. For real, the door is a game right now. Let her out. She'll meow at the door within 20 min, most likely. Start when you're home for the day and see how it goes.

Are there bushes nearby your door? If you are away for the day that's where she'll hang out in secret until you come home. Ask me how I know!

Some cats know how to fish and don't mind water. Your cat looks like the one I had that loved the toilet flushing and would sit under dripping faucets for fun. It's a breed thing. Lucky you :))

Anyway, congratulations on the twins! I predict everything will be fine with your new indoor/outdoor cat!!
posted by jbenben at 1:04 PM on November 8, 2016

No solutions, but I wanted to say my cat ate nipples too. One time he ominously left a chewed up nipple IN THE BASSINET. A year later the tables have turned and my toddler is now the one harassing the cat. This too shall pass.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:19 PM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

fresh greens: The main thing some cats want outside is fresh grass or greens to eat. If you haven't already, try having some cat grass available for her to nibble at will. She's probably craving it a lot. Buying "cat grass" gets expensive, so if she's an obligate grass-nibbler, you can keep her in supply by rotating two small pots with a crop of (bulk purchased at Whole Foods or elsewhere) wheat grass.

Grass does not make cats vomit. Sometimes cats crave it when they are already feeling sick.

training: It is possible -- actually, it's pretty easy -- to train a cat to go to a special chair or stool whenever go through the front door. This is a technique developed especially to overcome the behavior you described of the cat dashing through the door when it's opened.

This book -- Clicker Training for Cats -- is where I learned this technique. It's got even more relevance for your problems, too.
posted by amtho at 1:21 PM on November 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Do you have a balcony on your apartment that you could enclose? We did that with our two cats. It was enough for them. We lived in a warm enough climate that the balcony door stayed open all the time for them, even when we were out.

In our current rental we have a cat flap insert in our sliding door like this one and we just have a clothes hanger in the tracks to act as security. For us the cat flap is connected to a tunnel which leads to an enclosure.

A bit more expensive and inconvenient would be replacing a window pane with one that has a cat flap and then replacing it again with a normal pane when you move out.
posted by poxandplague at 1:22 PM on November 8, 2016

Also: the bird killing factor is a big one. Check out the Audubon Society's position on this, or just read a bit about it elsewhere.

Please try to keep her indoors, and if you try everything and you can't, please try to make her harmless to birds and maybe somehow offset your bird footprint :)
posted by amtho at 1:27 PM on November 8, 2016

I have a small dog who loves to run out the door when I'm going out. She's lightening fast and can be at the other side of the condo when I reach for the door knob and yet out the door before me. If it's very important that I get out without her (i.e. I'm in a hurry and need to be able to leave right away without chasing her down to put back inside) then I pick her up and carry her out with me. Then when I'm out the door, I turn around and drop her back inside and close the door.

This may require more hands than you have with twins, but I just wanted to offer that one potential solution to at least one aspect of this problem.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:40 PM on November 8, 2016

Zoe sounds a lot like our Dr. Wily, down to the pacifier hunting. (I still vividly remember waking up to a hrrlp-hrrlp-hrrlp noise, to find her attempting to vomit in the crib with our sleeping newborn. At least she was in the corner?) Wily's four years old and still a needy escape artist, but things are manageable and the baby's now a toddler.

You probably want to throw as much "enrichment" as you can in Zoe's environment, especially things that she can play with independently. She might like having some things to climb (trees, wall-mounted shelves) but make sure they're babyproofed (out of baby bonking/climbing range and untippable). Feeding puzzles are good. We had a birdfeeder outside our window for a while, and the cats loved it, but the birds generally only show up in the spring. TV/Youtube videos of critters might hold her interest. Cardboard boxes are good and cheap for cat adventures: cut a few interesting holes in them and hide a toy inside, switch position/location every couple days. Lasers and wand toys like the Cat Dancer or Da Bird require you to do a little work, but you can wave it around while otherwise zoning out on the couch. (Keep all of these out of baby/toddler reach.) If she responds to clicker training, you may be able to teach her to fetch. If there's a time of day she typically gets complainy, try playing with her before then. For the attempted escapes, have a basket of small cat toys by the door, and throw one for her to chase. And if you really wanted, you could put a cat harness and leash on her and try to take her outside to explore, but this could be a mixed bag (note that in the photo I linked above, Wily is wearing her harness and outside our apartment, but plopped down like she forgot how to cat).

The good news is Zoe sounds playful and outgoing, and will probably be pretty good for the twins once they're a little older. She sounds curious about the babies, and not scared, so she'll probably be good for teaching them how to befriend cats (slow, gentle, give her space etc.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:59 PM on November 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Birds don't associate bells with cat predation, but they do have excellent color vision which you can use in their defense --> CATBIB!

Growing up my outdoor cats were fine in sub-freezing temperatures. They'll pack on pounds and a winter coat. Make sure they have a hidey hole to shelter them from wind and water, let them in at night if it's super bad out.
posted by fritillary at 2:40 PM on November 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

We do what homodachi does, and have also found that their territories are relatively small.

We have a 2yr old, a middle aged cat, and a 1 yr old cat. The two toddlers have a very brotherly relationship - they kinda fight (they like the same toys!), but also play together and sleep together. Kiddo got his arm barely scratched a couple times, and now when young cat is acting feisty/playful he backs away pointing and saying "ow ow ow!". Kiddo and older cat are really gentle with each other, and kiddo has learned to be good and respectful with animals generally.
posted by jrobin276 at 3:04 PM on November 8, 2016

I'm a believer in indoor/outdoor cats as well. Every cat I've known with serious behavioral problems was an indoor-only cat. I think of indoor cats like cats who have been kept in a roomy jail. And I'm a birdwatcher/lover. From the cats I've owned, they're most likely to catch small rodents--birds are the prey of Elite Cats. And while statistically odds are she'll live a somewhat shorter life, her life will be of much higher quality and enjoyment for her, imo. For gnarly winter days, get her a cat house or even a luxe heated cat house! (Put something she has slept on before in it and maybe some soft towels to lure her in.)

Seconding that she'll undoubtedly come in every night for dinner.
posted by purple_bird at 4:39 PM on November 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Would one of those enclosed spaces that you insert in windows give her enough outdoor experience? Granted, you would need to be able to rig up something that would allow you to keep the cold on the outside while Zoe is in the space.

I am, admittedly, pro-indoor cats. And with the babies, I would want to minimize the amount of "outdoors" that cats can track back into the house in the form of fleas, kills, and whatnot. (I don't wear shoes inside. Until kitty learns to clean it's little paws before entering, I'm not going to be happy with an indoor/outdoor cat.)
posted by she's not there at 5:07 PM on November 8, 2016

"its little paws", damn it.

Since I had to come back, I'll add that my cats, Dorothy and Janie, both lived past their 20th birthdays. Wally, unfortunately, passed when he was just 18. All seemed perfectly happy with their indoor lives, e.g., the desire to bolt through open doors passed when they outgrew the kitten stage.
posted by she's not there at 5:21 PM on November 8, 2016

Another indoor/outdoor cat person here. A cat started showing up at my old house last year. I had him fixed and released him, thinking he was a stray, but he never left. When I moved, I took him with me and tried to make him indoor, but he was miserable. I have a cat flap in the window now. He comes in to sleep at night and to eat, but also spends time visiting around the neighborhood.
posted by jhope71 at 10:26 AM on November 9, 2016

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