Loud cat owners, how do you live with your cat?
February 6, 2018 3:46 AM   Subscribe

I work at home, in an apartment. My cat meows, loudly. So much loudly. I think he's bored and seeking play time, but I have to work and at the moment I have an eye tic and several more pages of work to get done. How do I make my cat happier and quieter?

Our cat, a black & white European shorthair, is relatively new to the house (we got him in August, he's about 8 or 9 months old now), and really a lovely cat except for the fact that he's so vocal. It's a 70m2 apartment, and he doesn't get to go outside except on a leash, as we're on the third floor and have no way of giving him free access to the outdoors (plus we live next to a busy road and tram line). I would love to play with him more, but I have to work, and I'm running out of ideas for entertaining him. Cat-owning hivemind, what have you done to keep your cat friends happy and stimulated? We have tried the following:

- Ribbon dancer toy: loves to chase it, gets the most exercise from chasing it up his cat tree and over chairs etc, but also gets lazy and stops after 15-20 minutes.
- Ball in track toy: will not engage with it unless I'm on the other side rolling the ball towards him.
- Motorized mouse on a track toy: played with it for a few months, ignores it now.
- Big windows sills to sit on and look out of: barely cares.
- Cat tree and various hidey holes to hide in/on: spends most of his time on the floor or near us.
- Leashed walks on the roof/outside: seems to enjoy them, gets scared easily and wants to go inside after 15-20 minutes.
- Feather on a stick: used to chase it, seems to prefer ribbon.
- Puzzle feeder: just arrived, haven't used it.

I only have so much time in the day to play, and when he's meowing at me or coming over and scratching at the back of my office chair, it's hard not to get frustrated. I grew up with cats and raised one from a kitten (she was an in/outdoor cat), but I haven't had to deal with this much neediness. What am I missing and how can I change what I'm doing to make us both happier? Disclaimer: I know cats are weird, but I'm just hoping for ideas here. (Cat tax in the form of his Instagram account)
posted by wakannai to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Adorable! He's still pretty young and will likely chill out as he gets a bit older. Maybe try spending more play time with him at night before bed? Is he getting enough food?
posted by misanthropicsarah at 4:01 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

My cat likes YouTube videos of birds and squirrels.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 4:13 AM on February 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Another cat? Young cats prefer to bother other cats and it seems to have a good effect on the older kitties involved. A 15-month-old tortoiseshell of my acquaintance is pushy enough that a 13-year-old sofa dweller started chasing her and jumping on things for the first time in 8 years. And yes, they calm down eventually. You have the equivalent of a hyperactive six-year-old.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 4:19 AM on February 6, 2018 [15 favorites]

I have the same problem and have never fully solved it, but I do manage to work out a lot of temporary fixes.

1. Using feliway cat pheromones helped a lot for months, until one day it didn't. But we had months of peace.

2. I take a break and exhaust her by chasing her up and down the stairs. She gets lazy way faster than you would expect. This is the only method that works consistently.

3. I've just learned that during a conference call she will always meow because everyone else is talking so she will too, dammit! If it's a real concern, I have to barricade myself in a room and do what I can to muffle the sound.

4. Find a creative way to let her think I'm playing with her. For example, temporarily moving myself and my laptop to the floor seems to be enough for her to think I'm actually paying attention to her.
posted by tofu_crouton at 4:24 AM on February 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

FWIW, she's an only cat, but I once had a needy cat who had a sister and had a good relationship with her.
posted by tofu_crouton at 4:34 AM on February 6, 2018

Earplugs and/or white noise in headphones to block the meowing. Of course she might then escalate to physical interruptions but if it’s just the noise sometimes, block it?
posted by NoiselessPenguin at 4:48 AM on February 6, 2018

Some cats have ridiculously specific preferences when it comes to toys. You may have started small and worked up, but have you tried him on small battable objects in a wide variety of materials? Really: try *everything* you can, in a variety of sizes: hard mousies, stuffed mousies, balls... My current beast will only play with bottlecaps and two very specific types of ball. These, despite their ridiculous packaging, have been a big hit, and have largely stopped her four-in-the-morning-knock-everything-over sprees.

Sometimes the vocalising is due to a desire to stalk and hunt, and small battable objects which can be pursued and then carried around like trophies of victory seem to fill that niche for some cats. If you find something he likes, stockpile a bunch and just leave them all over the house. (He may eventually train you to play fetch, though; mine's doing that currently.)
posted by halation at 4:49 AM on February 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

You still have a kitten! He’ll grow up and fall asleep eventually.

For what it’s worth, though, the only thing that has ever affected the neediness level of my cats is getting another cat. Even if they aren’t best friends, the level and type of attention they seek from humans changes very quickly.
posted by something something at 5:01 AM on February 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

Seconding another cat. It's been a foolproof solution for me, and I've had two cats in 45 and 55 square meters. It really takes a load off, plus the furballs are so much happier together that it's a delight in and of itself. While it's a touch more expensive on the food and litter side, it is definitely easier to have two cats than it is to have one.

Caveat being that, of course, it depends on the cats' personalities and how well they mesh. I have a laid-back floof who turns 10 this year, and he does well with gentle (as in non-dominant) zoomy cats. I suspect my floof would not be happy with a cat who tried to dominate him, so I don't even try. He really adores his sweethearted companions.
posted by fraula at 5:03 AM on February 6, 2018 [7 favorites]

Not all breeds calm down significantly with age. (How do I know, you ask? I have a Bombay; your boy sounds similar in temperament to mine, and mine's well over ten.)

Otherwise, I concur with the above references to second cat and, especially, floor time. I read somewhere that it's slightly uncomfortable to cats to be constantly looking up at us, which makes intuitive sense to me. When my Bombay yells at me, and I crouch in response, it usually quiets him momentarily. And when either of us lays on the floor, it's a guarantee that one or both of our cats will lay next to or in front of us, and be content (unless we are doing something to rile them up, like using a pencil). Somehow this works even better than stretching out on the bed; I guess maybe they feel that bedtime mostly means human sleep time.

As fraula mentions, the second cat route is a slight gamble. Their personalities can clash—especially, in my experience, if one cat is significantly older than the other. Our older female cannot abide our Bombay.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:34 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

How about the occasional catnip? If he reaches a fever pitch, give him some catnip and it will probably knock him out for at least an hour.
posted by greta simone at 6:05 AM on February 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Have you tried a laser pointer? If he digs that, they have automatic versions! You turn it on, and it makes the laser go for X amount of minutes. My cat loves it.
posted by Fig at 6:41 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

The old saying is something like it is less work and more fun to have two cats than one. It's true that there is a chance that they won't get along, but most animal shelters will allow you to temporarily foster cats to ensure that they are a match with your family before going to full adoption.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:18 AM on February 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

Nthing get your cat a cat.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:42 AM on February 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

I know this problem all too well, except my noisy one is 16 years old. He's been this way all his life and getting a second cat (and eventually a third!) did not change him at all. Part of my problem is that I rewarded him early on, and he never forgot it. The only way to deal with negative behavior is to completely ignore it but that ship has probably sailed for you.

For short periods, mine are entranced with videos for cats. This one is nearly 8 hours and the noise of the video doesn't distract me; they're nature sounds so I actually find them soothing. You may have to protect your screen somehow but mine have never damaged one.

Would an in-house cat-sitter be too distracting? I'm thinking some teenager could tire him out in another room while you work. Is there a neighbor - who does not have a cat - who could take him into their apartment occasionally?
posted by AFABulous at 7:54 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

What not to do....
put your cat in the bathroom when they want 'to talk'.

I did this when I was trying to do a phone interview and my cat was a kitten. I heard howling all throughout the interview. Came in after and he had somehow fallen into the toilet, lol (I did get the job by the way).

I honestly have learned when working from home - cats will hear you talk on conference calls and think you're talking to them. Obviously they want to answer. I learned if I get up and pace around my cat knows I'm "talking to the walls", like he occasionally does randomly (like just walks around an talks to random furniture or rooms).
To each their own ;)
posted by hillabeans at 8:26 AM on February 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Your kitten will most likely calm down as he gets older but depending on the cat this can take a couple years and doesn't always happen, so I think it's totally reasonable to invest in some measures to curb the noise at the moment even if patience wins in the end.

The 15-20 minute and then tired or scared thing sticks out to me. I would say that is a very normal time frame for cats to be high energy. Can you try adjusting how you play with him so you spread that period of high energy out? Start with something that engages him in a mellow way for about five minutes like watching the trackball toy, then ramp him up with the ribbon toy for five more, then bring it down to the floor or couch for something where he's just watching/stalking and not actively chasing, then ramp it back up for five minutes of high energy, back down for five more mellow minutes, then run him as ragged as you can, give him a reward and then engage in some grooming. This more closely hews to how a cat would hunt, say, a rodent outside that manages to escape a few times, and spreads out the quality time with you to a full half hour without always associating time with you with noisy zoomies and screaming. It takes trial and error and figuring out the indicators of when your cat is beginning to tire but can be done.

Getting your cat a cat can backfire, as I've experienced. My lovely fluffball used to patrol the house and yowl in the echo chamber of the guest bathroom at all hours - that particular yowl that means "calling all nearby cats, please report in, where are you" - so eventually I got him a cat and while the first cat is relatively silent now except when communicating directly with me, the second cat *does not shut up*, and he didn't make a peep for two weeks when we first brought him home. It didn't really backfire as a whole of course because neither cat is lonely and I love them both to pieces, but in terms of noise levels there is no cumulative difference. If you have the means though you could still think about getting a second cat just because since yours is so young he will be much better able to adapt and there are always wonderful cats who need homes.

Anyway, you can try tuckering out his brain in addition to his body. The cat puzzle box things can be good for that, also videos if he's visually or sound focused (I've had about 50/50 success with cat videos, half the time since there's no smell it's like the stuff on the tv doesn't exist). Also try a puzzle feeder ball. You can find these in a bunch of different configurations, the one I linked to is adjustable so you can ratchet up the difficulty over time. If it's too messy to leave on the floor it can live in a large box or a sheet tray or you can build little bumpers for it out of cardboard or wood so it only stays in the kitchen area or whatever. It might seem weird but by giving him crunchy food exclusively in a way that he has to work for (and not limiting the puzzle toys to just "treat" food) it will help him fill his day without you being as directly involved.

The other trick is one also used on human children. Cats get bored with toys but fear not! Put them away in a box and swap them out for different styles of toys. Then, a month later, swap the old toys back in, one or two at a time. Suddenly it's a brand new thing to be excited about! So put away the toys he doesn't play with right now so they're no longer part of his existence. If it's feasible, give them a wash before storage so when you bring them out again they smell weird and like they're a new thing in the house so he'll investigate.
posted by Mizu at 8:41 AM on February 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

Don't play with him when he meows. Train him to use a different signal. It will drive you crazy at first because he will escalate his behavior trying to get it to work, but in a few days he'll realize meowing & scratching at you doesn't get attention and it should taper off. Pick an alternative acceptable behaviour of his that you are happy to have as a signal & respond to that or only start to play when he's quiet & leaving you alone.

Do you have a spot on or by your desk where your cat can sit quietly? Encourage your cat to sit there quietly when it does that's when you give him a pat. Give him random pats through out the day. Quiet kitties get attention.

If using toys, swap them out regularly to keep them interesting, cat nip toys can help depending on the cat. Some it gives the zoomies some it just makes happily mellow.

If you want to tire your cat out, regular little 5 minute clicker training sessions during the day. Cats can learn tricks too and learning new things tires them out plus your undivided attention will make him happy.

Sorry none of this is a quick fix. :(
posted by wwax at 8:49 AM on February 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

My cat was an absolute monster whenever I tried to work from home. When I sat at my desk he would chew on my computer cables (and my feet) and just wander about being loud (SO loud, my god the lungs on him) and wanting attention. If I tried to settle him on my lap or in the easy chair in the far corner of my office he'd be up and being terrible again in no time at all. Finally, after months of this, I accidentally stumbled on the solution... I pulled the easy chair up to my desk beside me. That silly cat wanted to be near me, literally within arms reach, without having to give up his independence by being on my lap. From then on he would sit beside me quietly on "his" chair.

Obviously my cat is not your cat, but hey, it's worth a shot.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 9:41 AM on February 6, 2018 [12 favorites]

Agree with everyone else that said to get another cat. I recently added a kitten to be a companion to my 1 1/2-year-old cat as the older one was treating me like prey and biting me a lot, even though I am his chosen person. New kitten solved everything. And they love each other and the little one copies everything the big one does. It's been fantastic for me and them. And it got another kitty out of a shelter. :)
posted by poppunkcat at 10:06 AM on February 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

My two do well when they're literally within arms reach, yep. My desk is next to a shelf unit & they have a dedicated shelf for naps (and a step stool so they can get up there, sigh). I'm on video conferencing all day long and I can adjust the webcam to include them or not.

Particularly loud cat will yammer for about an hour after breakfast, but will sometimes be soothed when I put her under a blanket on my bed. She falls asleep for hours.
posted by travertina at 1:39 PM on February 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Warning, if you get two Siamese cats they will LOUDLY meow at each other from across the house when anything new happens. Or when scared or exploring a new house. Their normal meows are less like a tsunami alarm.

I find tucking one of my cats under a blanket in on the bed or couch works well, the other will sit in a box near me and nom things. Like Sparrow my cat wanted to be within like 2 feet of me, so I threw a teeshirt in a box and one toy and she will nap there most of the time with no problem.

Treat balls are good for shutting up your cat, although they do make noise and one of mine tries to throw it at the wall. Repeatedly. Keep it in another room

Try training them to paw your foot while working to get attention and love. Treats can help that, but they can also decide your desk is meow central. Set up a desk barricade or double sided tape on the edge to keep them off it if they decide treats = sit on laptop
posted by Liger at 9:41 PM on February 10, 2018

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