Cat cannot sleep on bed anymore; how to train her
June 24, 2019 4:02 AM   Subscribe

Our cat has been sleeping in my husband's bed for over a decade. Her geriatric cat health issues mean this can't continue (...just trust me, even the vet agrees). The kitty is understandably very upset about this change. How can we make this easier on everyone (e.g. let us get sleep)? How can you retrain a geriatric cat?

Context: we live in a small one-floor apartment. A sufficiently motivated cat could make herself heard from any corner of the apartment. She is also going deaf so her default volume level is 'loud'.

This is making sleep... challenging.

A bonus level would be getting to the point that she can sleep NEXT TO the bed without trying to get in, because of how the apartment is laid out and the fact that the bedroom door only stays closed if we block it with something heavy.

Do I get her high as hell on catnip? Feliway? What do I dooo?

Please, I'm recovering from a bad summer cold and need sleep, just as this all came to a head.

-Every time we've bought a cat bed she has LOOOAAAATTTHED IT.
-Her ability to eat treats is limited as she's an old cat with lots of dietary restrictions.
posted by flibbertigibbet to Pets & Animals (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Does your cat have any daytime napping spots? I'd suggest physically putting the cat in that location, as you already know she'll sleep there. It may help to put an article of clothing (what you wore that day etc at that location as well.

Every time the kitty jumps in bed pick her up and take her to the other location. Over and over. It sucks.

Intermittent reinfircement is the worst. Do not give in.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:27 AM on June 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

I don't know how agile your cat is, but is a cat tree next to the bed a possibility? One of my cats moved from the bed to the top of the cat tree when we put it next to the bed - I think he likes the height, he has hated every other bed.

We never succeeded in keeping the cats out of the bedroom - even with the addition of tinfoil and an increasingly absurd barricade outside the door. If you can shut her in another room so there's two doors between you and wear earplugs that might help. Maybe try a heating pad elsewhere as well, she might miss the warmth.

I'm sorry about your cat, this is hard.
posted by stillnocturnal at 4:43 AM on June 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

Would it be possible to get, like, some kitty Xanax or something to help mellow the cat out for a few days while you make this change? One of my cats was put on Gabapentin recently to deal with what seems to be chronic pain. And the vet asked me to dose murder cat for a follow-up visit after she fought off four attempts to draw blood for tests.

In both cases, the first day or two they were very, very sleepy and content to be wherever. I wonder if maybe you could start by giving them a dose of Gabapentin or similar and try to build a habit while the kitty is feeling a bit more mellow. Not sure.

But, yeah, not giving in is very key. For various reasons two of my cats don't get bedroom (or downstairs) privileges anymore. The first few days were the worst with one of them sitting at the top of the stairs singing the song of his people for what seemed like hours. (It helped, somewhat, that his kitty blues were less caterwauling and more like a goofy conversation. You have to know him...)
posted by jzb at 4:44 AM on June 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

You did not say WHY the cat cannot sleep on your husbands's bed. Without knowing that my suggestions may be useless. My first suggestion is to make your husband sleep somewhere else and put his used bedding in the location where she can sleep. If he is on the loveseat and the bed is inaccessible, then a pile of his smelly bedding will be her next choice - unless she gets on the loveseat with him. If the problem is that she cries to get at the bed, piling it with stuff so she can't get on it make make her stop wailing - perhaps he can sleep on the loveseat, or under the kitchen table until she has the new habit.

If the problem is the height, remove the bed and have your husband sleep on the mattress on the floor. If she is not allowed to sleep with him, get him to sleep somewhere else. If she's not allowed on the bed or with him, put put his recently used bedding, and perhaps his used unlaundered shirt as near as possible to her regular location and encourage her to sleep on that.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:47 AM on June 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

If at all possible go get some good earplugs that you can sleep in, because she's not going to shut up for at least a few nights no matter what. While you're out, also buy a heated blanket or pad - there's something at many different price ranges. A huge part of why cats sleep with their people is the warmth. Older kitties with health problems often have trouble staying as warm as they'd like. Make a sleeping spot with unwashed pillow cases or laundry and the heating device. I suggest something like an old bed pillow with a heating pad tucked between the pillow and the case. Put it somewhere really easy for her to get to. Also put her there, and gently groom her there, just make it a place where nice things happen. This has to be outside the bedroom because there's really no keeping her off the bed otherwise. Block the door and wear your earplugs. Stay strong!! You are not harming her! It will be okay.
posted by Mizu at 4:57 AM on June 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

An electric heat pad may help if she is used to snuggling up to human warmth. We have two of these heatpads and while it doesn't stop the complaints completely it does reduce them because there is something warm to sleep on.
posted by poxandplague at 4:57 AM on June 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

My husband trained our cat not to sleep on his bed by spraying him with a can of air every time. It was not an easy or gentle process, but it worked.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:37 AM on June 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Honestly, depending what the health issues are, I don't know that I would try to retrain a geriatric cat. This seems pretty rough on her, to a level I personally would not be comfortable maintaining. If meds didn't work, I would maybe consider this a sign that her health issues are interfering with her quality of life in a serious way.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:02 AM on June 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

Another vote for heating pad or some other warm spot. We got one of those fabric cat houses, and installed a nightlight bulb through the top. It gave off just enough heat to be create a little warmth, but not enough to burn our old lady kitty or catching the fabric on fire. She loved it.
posted by kimdog at 6:54 AM on June 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I deliberately didn't explain why as I didn't want people to focus on solving the unsolvable medical issue, which has been resolutely baffling to now multiple vets (long story). She leaks significant quantities urine when she falls asleep (it went away for no apparent reason, but it just came back with a vengeance); she is otherwise pretty healthy for an elderly cat. And I do mean 'leak'; the one time I was awake and it happened, she was in my lap and she peed on me as she fell asleep and was not at all aware of it. She's just not able to keep things shut tight when she nods off. She doesn't seem to have any cleanliness problems resulting from this -- I've just seen her lick her undercarriage a lot more, recently.

Her kidney disease is well-controlled, her arthritis is being treated with Gabapentin (although she's definitely getting less mobile than when she started the Gabapentin a few years ago), and she's on a special diet, quarterly check-ups and a very quick trigger finger on bringing her in for weird stuff. She did have one seizure a few weeks ago.

She accidentally leaked urine on me multiple times when we were both asleep in bed over the weekend (when I was sick to boot). She's generally on my side of the bed as I am like a furnace when I sleep.

She's been with my husband for twice as long as I have (7 vs almost 14 years, which is why I said 'his bed' as, well, I wasn't even known to him for half the time they've been together). I've often joked that I am 'the other woman' in her opinion, so kicking her out of our bed entirely is just very hard for her.

I post the above to say I don't think she's at a point where quality of life is a concern, other than how much she wants to sleep with us. She spends a lot of her days curled up with my husband, purring very contentedly. It's just she can't sleep on/with us anymore because oh my god so much cat pee I don't want to wake up in any more cat pee. Since the entire vet clinic is out of ideas at this point, my vet recommended removing her from the bed.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 7:49 AM on June 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've never seen a cat who actually consistently slept in a cat bed the way a dog would. But, they LOVE heating pads. I agree that might be your only hope of convincing her that it's better to sleep somewhere else.
posted by Cygnet at 7:58 AM on June 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

As a temporary measure you can go buy peepads /chucks/bedliners . The human ones are way way cheaper than the pet ones and will soak up an impressive amount of pee.

You can put them over a heated sleeping space or on your lap, your bed.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:09 AM on June 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

Can you make the bed (covers or top layer) smell "cat-bad" without interfering with your sleep? I am a fan of California Scents citus spray for this. It has successfully kept my kitties away from curtains and blinds. I have never tried using it on something they were habituated to using so I don't know if this will help.

First make sure the spray isn't a problem for the fabric and then lightly spray it all over. The scent seems to repel my crew.
posted by mightshould at 8:09 AM on June 24, 2019

I'm afraid I'm stumped on answering the original question - while training a young cat to do/not so is possible, it seems unlikely for a geriatric cat. And while an electrical heating pad might tempt a cat away from the natural heating pad that is the human body, pee+electricity seems like a fire hazard. Are kitty diapers an option? Or protective waterproof bedding as a top cover? My first cat had anal gland issues that led to him pooping on my bed on a semi-frequent basis, often enough that eventually I bought a couple of throw-blankets from a sexy-times-accessories website that were made with a plastic inner lining so that no fluids would seep through to the actual bedding. So, I would just leave the throw on top of all my other bedding daily, and if I came home to find he'd pooped the bed, I could just flush away the mess and put the soiled throw into the laundry without having to remake the entire bed. You'd still have the smell to deal with from the pee in your cat's fur, but it would keep it off your actual bedding and your body.
posted by oh yeah! at 8:13 AM on June 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I recently bought a heated cat bed (the "K&H Pet Products Thermo-Kitty Heated Cat Bed") with a removable lining for my geriatric kitty. He loves it. Might it work to put a heated cat bed in the middle of your actual bed, with an additional layer of washable or cleanable fabric to lure your kitty in? Then once she has adapted, you could try moving it to the floor.

I definitely feel your pain on the loud cat in a small apartment! After 6 months of limited sleep, I put my foot down. We ended up having to put our cats in the second bedroom every night, so that there would be two sets of doors between. We also played rain white noise to cover up the angry complaints at 4 AM. (One of the best features of our house is the door between floors for this reason.)
posted by past unusual at 8:29 AM on June 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

While geriatric cats are often set in their ways, if you have the means to try an easily-accessible (for old bodies) sleeping surface that's the highest point in the room, cats do tend to float to the highest possible elevations. I wouldn't make a huge investment until you're sure, but if you can rig some kind of furniture or table with a compelling sleeping surface (one of his dirty t-shirts, heated bed, towel she loves, whatever) and see if she decides on her own she wants to be there.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:59 AM on June 24, 2019

I think most "cat" beds are actually too small for most cats, especially older cats. She may want to sleep stretched out, in which case she needs a nice big surface.

She's also used to the warmth, smell, and shape of your husband, as well as proximity to him and whatever sounds he makes. And she's probably not going to want to jump a big distance to a sleeping perch.

What I'd do is set up a table next to the bed and also next to a wall, pad it extremely well, and include pillows along the wall side to simulate a sleeping human shape. I'd then put some excellent padding (maybe a memory foam cushion - look around, try a fabric store or upholstery fabric store if you get stuck), add used human bedding on there, and include one of those blankets that reflects heat so it gets warm quickly. And of course a waterproof layer, and then get a supply of very cheap towels that you can wash with enzyme cleaner and/or bleach as needed.

Now I'm thinking about the problem of keeping her off the human bed while the cat bed table is in the room. You might have to start with just letting her fall asleep a few times on this table while husbanddude is right there, partly on the table, even. Make the rest of the bed uninviting (this is going to sound crazy, but maybe scatter hard things like plates or small appliances on the bed -- anything to make it uninviting as a sleeping surface, except for the area where your husband's body is -- this would be a few hours' activity, not an all-night activity.)

Once she's a little used to it, you can put a crate on the table and put her in the crate. You could also build a bit of an enclosure using wood and hardware cloth.


Here's a couple of other ideas:

- cat diapers

- put a puppy pad under where she sleeps
posted by amtho at 10:14 AM on June 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

N'th-ing the heated cat bed idea. My geriatric cat spent 99% of the time in hers.

The one I had featured a 4-watt heating pad, sealed in plastic, that zipped into a fluffy cushion in the bottom of the bed. The sides of the bed were foam that also zipped in. It was somewhat difficult to disassemble for washing. I suggest looking for an easy-to-clean bed and then just putting a heating pad under it.
posted by Arctic Circle at 10:22 AM on June 24, 2019

Nthing the heating pad--we use this microwavable heating pad to keep the cats off of us at night without worrying that they'll come in contact with electricity. Easily washed if it gets pee on it.

The cats also sleep on top of towels so we don't have to wash their cat beds as often, and we use these catnip-stuffed washable mats to lure the cats to spots on a chair and the couch so there's less cat fur on the current prime desirable sitting areas.

If one of our cats developed this problem--and I wouldn't be surprised given the number of urine-type health problems they've both had in the past--I'd double up on cheap towels and use the heating pad and catnip to lure the cat in question there.
posted by telophase at 11:11 AM on June 24, 2019

honestly, i wouldn’t try to retrain her — it’ll probably cause more stress than warranted, and results will be spotty at best (no pun intended). this seems like a perfect application for reusable cat diapers — she can sleep with y’all, you don’t have to get covered in cat pee, and you spend no more than $30 one time (as opposed to the steady stream of cash that disposable diapers eat up).

good luck, it sounds really hard. our cat loves to sleep in the bed with us and i imagine your cat, being far older, must find a lot of comfort in that as well.
posted by =d.b= at 11:47 AM on June 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

The challenge I can see if that Kitty is not sleeping with you on the bed, she will find another space to sleep that is likely soft - carpet, couch, chair, whatever. Regardless of location, the pee-leakage issue will remain the same.

As I've remarked before, we've had some exciting cat body fluid fun at our house over the years: chronic diarrhea, urine/crystals, vomit, etc. I know what it is to wake up with someone accidentally peeing on you/puking on you - not fun. So, we've now got a pretty good system at our house to handle bodily fluids.

The best incontinence pads we've had are these ones by Priva: Priva waterproof pads

I bought 8 pads, and have them on all of my furniture, as well as the beds. They don't make any rustling sounds and are very very comfortable. I put them under the fitted sheet/ under the vellux blanket that is usually across my couch/padded chairs.

In terms of blanketing, I've found that thick, plush fleece blankets do not allow urine to penetrate down into the bedclothes - the urine/liquid just pools on the blanket, making cleanup SO much easier. You can just wipe up the liquid/feces, then pop the blanket in the wash. The best product I've found is Vellux (Martex is similar); it's those super smooth, soft plastic blankets you sometimes find in hotels. They are very thin, and waterproof, and come in a range of colours. I often pick a dark blanket, or brown/beige Vellux Blankets

So, our bed is constructed like this:
Thin Waterproof mattress cover; Priva incontinence pads> Cushioned mattress cover> Fitted sheet> Flat sheet> Comforter/thin blanket> Vellux blanket.
Usually, It's only the vellux that gets nailed, but at least everything else is protected as a backup.

*** You could flip it a bit... Grab 2 dark vellux blankets of the same size, and 4 priva pads: sew the private pads into a blanket, and sandwich that layer between the two vellux, then stitch along the sides to make a super-waterproof top blanket. Hem the sides. Make 2-3 of these, and you'll have a week's worth.

Household chairs/couch seating/cat's preferred spots:
Priva incontinence pad> Vellux blanket

This setup is unobtrusive: the incontinence pads are silent, and the vellux is soft and smooth. You'd never notice it in terms of aesthetic.

You could do a store-bought, thin cat bed or cardboard box, that you fully line with a pad, and with a top layer of synthetic sheepskin - the sheepskin will wick the urine away from the cat, so she's not sitting in it. Some details here on medical sheepskin in regards to incontinent rabbits: Rabbits with urinary incontinence You could cut some small blankets from a large vellux sheet (hem the sides though, or it pulls apart), or a thick plush fleece blanket, and use that as a topper if she's not inclined towards sheepskin.

You could pop that style of cat bed on your bed, which would have already been protected by the above waterproofing.

Alternatively, she might go for the same style cat bed on a nightstand beside your head, if she is a head sleeper. If so, you could build the same bed structure in a plastic litter box (Folded Priva pad> Sheepskin> +vellux/plush fleece). This would also work in her other favourite sleep spots.

As suggested by other posters, you can use a heating pad - again, make a few pad slipcovers from the Vellux/thick plush fleece material, for easy wash.

I also keep small thick plush fleece blankets by my couch/chairs, because sometimes, someone leaky will want to come sit beside/on me and watch a movie - Wrap kitty up in blanket, and they get to relax/fall asleep and feel cosy, and I stay dry. (And because I've already fluid-proofed the furniture, I don't need to stress at all).

Hope this helps a bit; it's a challenging situation, but I've found that a.good fluid-proofing strategy goes a long way towards everyone's comfort.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 12:19 PM on June 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

(Alternatively, you could build your top comforter/blanket from the bottom up as thick plush fleece (I'm using these: Luxury plush fleece blanket - 100% polyester) ) as the base, with the priva pads in the middle, with a vellux blanket on top. That style of top-blanket/comforter would be warmer for winter/perhaps cozier.
But for the summer, a sandwiched vellux> priva pad> vellux comforter would be ideal, as I suggested above. It wouldn't be as hot for you to sleep under.

Also, build the vellux/priva pad blanket one size larger than your bed (if you're sleeping in a queen, build the blanket to be king sized) - that way, you don't toss and turn, and leave a portion of your sleeping area exposed/you exposed.

I also wouldn't cut priva pads - rather, fold them to be the dimension you want.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 12:30 PM on June 24, 2019

Finally, this blanket system may be a workable option; while I haven't used it, it works in the same principle as I described above. It snaps together, so you could easily make a big enough blanket to cover your bed/furniture: Dog waterproof blanket pad
posted by NorthernAutumn at 1:20 PM on June 24, 2019

Just a suggestion for the 'hates cat beds' portion - none of my cats would use any of the cute beds or boxes or perches I bought for them until I started making sure they were me scented. I'd take the new bed and sleep with it as a pillow for a couple days, then put it back and suddenly it was like catnip. I slept on some small blankets for a few days and then tucked them into the boxes/perches, and suddenly the cat were all in them. Especially if your cat is used to the bed where everything smells like 'home', these weird smelling new additions are not appealing in any way.
posted by goreycat at 4:10 PM on June 24, 2019

While I appreciate all the waterproofing hints, the mattress, and her other sleeping spots, are covered with waterproofing stuff that we bought during Round 1 of her leaks; the problem is more that I overheat badly in my sleep and currently sleep with only a sheet on top. The cat and I both move a lot in the night, so pee pads keep sliding off/she moves away from them; I can't cover myself in anything more substantial without literally drenching everything near me in sweat. Meanwhile, the cat sidles up on me while I sleep because I overheat and she finds the warmth pleasant, falls asleep, and then pees on me.

The only way to make this work in the long-term is to get her okay with sleeping elsewhere (diapers turned her into a nonfunctional ball of rage). She's currently using pee pads that we awkwardly shimmy around all night long, but hopefully only as a stopgap as the vet gives it one more crack to try to figure it out.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 5:58 PM on June 24, 2019

If you can find one very cheap on local buy/sell, would the cat sleep in a bed sidecar (like for babies who aren’t quite cosleeping. This made appealing enough (heating pad, within scratching distance but not on your bed) and with a soaker/easy wash blanket might be the next best thing for cat to be being on the bed with you. Good luck!
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 8:15 PM on June 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

The K&H heated bed recommended by past unusual is much beloved by my three kitties. It's the best cat related purchase I have made.

When our kitten Richard was dying from FeLV, we placed a chair next to the bed so he could be at the same height as the matress without being in bed. We made him a rice sock and kept it warm, then tucked him into many layers of down comforter so he had a little nest right beside us.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:27 PM on June 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

Another thing to consider re: cat beds. If she's a burrower, consider a closed cat bed.

My cats are mostly uninterested in open cat beds, but as soon as I bought a couple covered cat beds like this, they decided to spend most of their time in there. I had to move the cat beds onto MY bed because I started to get lonely...
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:07 AM on June 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

feliway diffusers can also help reduce stress.
posted by evilmonk at 1:05 PM on June 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have a dog with similar issues, and diapers were surprisingly easy to train her in to. I might give that a shot before I tried to change an old cat's habits.
posted by dejah420 at 1:18 PM on June 27, 2019

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