Please help me keep my cats.
February 1, 2007 4:11 PM   Subscribe

I need help training/controlling my cats before they drive me even more crazy than they already have.

I have read through all of the previous cat threads here at AskMe and tried the solutions offered, but none have helped. I'm getting to the point where I don't know whether I can keep my cats much longer. I love them dearly, and I don't want to get to that last step.

My cats, Peter and Clem, are 13 months and 11 months old, respectively. They have been destructive since the beginning. (I've had cats all my life, but this is the first time I've ever had cats living with me inside.)

Peter eats everything that is plastic; this includes grocery bags, trash bags, my shower curtain, his litter box liner, and much more. I keep everything that is plastic away from him, except for the litter box liner. They must have a much less effective litter box carpet that does not catch all of the tracked pine pellets because he will eat any and all the plastic mats that I've tried.

Both cats chew on my computer, TV, VCR, & DVD wires. I've gone through 6 computer A/C adapters because of the chewing. Bitter Apple spray, cayenne pepper, tabasco sauce, and spraying water at them do nothing. They like the taste and they love water. (I have to be careful about the carpet I use in the bathroom also because they eat different kinds of carpet.)

I'm about to buy their 5th set of litter boxes because they rip the boxes apart.

They won't stay off my counters. I've tried putting foil & double-sided tape on the counters to keep them off. I've also tried spraying them with water and making loud noises when they jump on to the counters. Nothing made any difference.

They ripped one of my chairs to shreds, and they love to be up on high places so I bought them a really nice cat tree. They recently tore the high-reaching arm of the tree off, and it can't be repaired.

Does anyone have any advice?
posted by Four-Eyed Girl to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My diagnosis is that they are cats. This is an incurable condition.

Do you like cats? Had you spent much time around them before you got them?
posted by loiseau at 4:18 PM on February 1, 2007

Is it "cats are crazy" day on metafilter?
I'm going to give you the same advice that I gave the last question:
Cat Bedroom.
Seriously, confine them to one room, which you "kitty-proof". This can be just when you're not home, at night, or all the time, depending on how crazy they get. It sounds mean, but it's for their safety, too. Eating plastic bags isn't healthy, as I'm sure you know.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:21 PM on February 1, 2007

I had this problem with a kitten the same age. There is some serious teething going on, which might be part of it. Do they eat hard or soft food? If you switch to hard (assuming they're on soft now) that might help too. Also, trim those nails every week.

Do you have a sturdy scratching post that you can liberally dose with catnip?
posted by luriete at 4:28 PM on February 1, 2007

I second the cat room, and maybe even a low-stimulation room with scheduled times for activity and play. This is generally an age thing, but also if they are not neutered get that done asap, it will settle them down. If they are on kitten food, get them off - they don't need it.

In fact, check the food labels for corn syrup or sugar or meth or something. Even for cats, you're describing a pretty intense pair. I've never seen a cat destroy a litter box. That takes some work. You have my sympathies.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:43 PM on February 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

They are teenage cats. You need to teach them the word "No" which they will associate with various bad behaviours you are interrupting. Say it loud and harshly enough and they will become conditioned to your voice command. After all, you are about 20x their size. For the cables and chewables, you just have to lock those up. Cats cannot be trusted.
posted by Listener at 4:47 PM on February 1, 2007

Wow, what monsters completely average kitties.

OK, some ideas: a tired kitty is a (less) destructive kitty. Get a laser pointer and have them chase the dot for a chunk of time a day. I like to end the chase with the dot on top of a kitty treat, so they don't get bored with chasing-but-not-getting-an-outcome.

I have an intermittent plastic eater. I hide wires inside hollow cable keepers (Ikea carries them, so do many office supply places). He still gnaws on the cable keepers, but at least this way he's not going to get a mouthful of electricity.

I've fallen in love with compressed air (also from office supply stores). The cats hate the noise, which sounds like the Mother Of All Cats hissing. Don't shoot them with the spray but just fire off in their general vicinity. Mine have gotten so wary of the Dust-off that just seeing the can makes them scoot. I keep a can on my desk, the dining room table, the coffee table and the kitchen counter (i.e places where I don't want cats sauntering across when I'm around). A friend of mine swears by her Scat Mat, but I'm only aiming for a standard where the cats aren't on the counter/table in my presence.

Personally, I've never found a litter liner that worked, every cat I've ever owned claws through every brand of liner I've tried.

Regarding the rest: I think with some things, you'll do best to adjust your feelings. A prime example would be the cat tree. For your sanity's sake, I recommend not getting stressed over what they do to their own stuff, the cat tree is there to get thrashed (and better the tree than your sofa).

The upside is the older the cats get, the more mellow they (gradually) become and in a year or three, their activity levels will be indistinguishable from your bath mat.
posted by jamaro at 4:48 PM on February 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

I have an intermittent plastic eater. I hide wires inside hollow cable keepers (Ikea carries them, so do many office supply places).

This is also known as wire loom. For our chewish boy we bought it in bulk for fairly cheap from and it did the trick for electrical cables (it's a little easier to manage cable tangles that way too).

Sheet plastic is more difficult. Bags and so forth just need to be kept away. I know that's no easy task: our girl loves to eat plastic bags and she still gets to them sometimes (once to the tune of a grand's worth of surgery and a few sleepless nights for us). Do you absolutely need littler box liners? Maybe less litter in a bare plastic box?

I also found litter mats to be a waste of money as the cats always managed to kick the litter past them. A manual carpet sweeper (as opposed to a vacuum which just seems to scatter it farther) works a treat for keeping the area tidy..
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:02 PM on February 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Your cats sound bored and unstimulated and are acting out accordingly. You're putting in effort now to counter this but you probably need to do more.

Many cats need a lot of attention. This goes against the stereotype of cats being self sufficient and aloof but is still valid. Cats can be just as demanding as a dog. Some cats also have a lot of energy and need a lot of space to play and things to stimulate them.

I have two (used to be three) burmese crosses (breed matters and burmese are known for this) and they are very needy. One of mine used to literally throw the (smaller) furniture around if he was shut inside for more than a day, which was difficult when he got very sick near the end of his life. He just could not cope with being cooped up. All of mine have exhibited the behaviours you're describing at various times, generally when we're not home a lot for some reason. Giving them more attention and affection stops the badness. Lots of cuddle time and patting, lots of running around the house together and rough play (for example, one loved being dragged around and rubbed really really hard), bascially just lots of time spent interacting with the cats.

If you give your cats a lot more stimulus and attention, both active playing and quiet cuddling, then they should act better. I vote against shutting them up in one room, if anything they need more space and more variety in their lives. It may end up that you just can't meet their needs, not all cats are made to live inside, but you still have things to try. They will grow out of this to some extent, but my male cat was still throwing furniture at 12 years old so don't count on that as a fix for your problems.

Running around and being naughty is normal (getting on the bench for example) but things like chewing wire and ripping everything up, that doesn't work so well. Stimulate them in other ways, hopefully you can divert their attention.
posted by shelleycat at 5:18 PM on February 1, 2007

My cats have all had to get between 5 and 7 years old to get most of the kitten out of them. I must have had 15 or more over the years.

I second compressed air for an immediate 'No!' effect. Scatmat does work, sort of. One of mine jumps over it, one toughs it out and walks over it, and one is terminally paranoid over it. YMMV. (Beagle, OTOH, is a true believer and it only too 3 shocks to train her.)

Some cats are more laid back than others. I am partial to calico/tortoiseshell types (all's a sex linked trait), which seem mellower than say, Siamese. You don't mention what you have, but you could have some high tension critters.

Offering to let cats live with you is a 12-20 year commitment, and the first few may be real trials. In my experience, the remaining 10 to 18 aren't all that easy!

It might be worth considering that they may just be too much for you. Maybe you're not an indoor cat person.

Good luck!
posted by FauxScot at 5:23 PM on February 1, 2007

Response by poster: I'm still reading through everyone's answers, but I thought I'd throw out a few answers to some questions that were asked of me.

loiseau, yes, I do like cats. In fact, I love them. I've had over 35 cats in my 28-year life. I'm just really frustrated today.

They only eat hard food, with even crunchier food as treats. They have been neutered.

Peter is an orange Manx, and Clem is a black and white mix.

Y'all are probably right about my not playing with them enough. I'm working on my dissertation, and I generally don't have much time to devote to them. Peter is an extremely needy cat and begs for attention. He'll play with his toy, come to me to hear "Good boy," go back to the toy, come back to me, and this is an endless cycle.

Peter also has pretty severe separation anxiety. He can't stand being separated from me when I go to sleep at night. (I have to keep them out of the bedroom, or I wouldn't ever get any sleep. I always keep them out of there so they don't get confused.) Both Clem & Peter get agitated when I sleep in, and they get more destructive when I do. That's when I tend to find clothes with holes chewed in them. (I know now not to leave any of those out anymore.)
posted by Four-Eyed Girl at 5:56 PM on February 1, 2007

Consistency in discipline and time. All there is to it. Don't let them on the counters one time and scold them another. If it's wrong at one time it's wrong all the time or else they won't understand. You'll also find that cats calm down a bit past the 1-2 year stage.

Consistency consistency consistency.
posted by Octoparrot at 5:59 PM on February 1, 2007

Cats need to scratch and bite. My approach is two-pronged: a firm No! when they do something "bad", and better alternatives for all their kitty urges. (And a "no cats" room for things that are just too tempting and dangerous.)

The best way to not have them destroy your stuff is to get them their own stuff. We have two sisal-covered scratching posts, one at each end of the house. The cats also have "their" room (which looks to the untrained eye just like a laundry- and mud-room). Their room has food, water, the litter box, and of course lots of toys.

To keep them from climbing on the kitchen counters, there's a cat-tree in the kitchen that's higher than everything else, but situated so they can't jump from it to the counters or the table.

The office has lots of exposed cables, so it's a "no cats" room.

Also, part of adopting kittens is raising them to become cats. Mother cats bring home half-dead prey for them to play with, so they can practice hunting. I balk at bringing dead birds and mice inside the house, but those fishing-pole toys are the next best thing. I try to spend at least 30 minutes a day playing with them, usually in the evening so they're nice and tired when it's time for humans to go to bed.

Remember, cats can be trained. You are much bigger than them and you provide their every need -- in fact you're their mother. They like you and don't want to piss you off. Our kittens are 4 months old and are coming along nicely -- they might not always come when you call, or sit and beg, or all those other things dogs do, but they don't scratch furniture or chew wires. They know that human hands and fingers are not for biting, and human legs are not for climbing. (Well, they remember most of the time!)
posted by phliar at 5:59 PM on February 1, 2007

I have had some success keeping cats from scratching chairs by spraying them with perfume. This may work for the cords if you can coat them with a really smelly lotion or spray. (Bath Works has some really smelly lotions if you can stand the smell.) The compressed air sounds logical - I hiss at my cats when they are doing something I don't like. A watergun can also help for while you are at home. Go without the litterbox liner. Get scoopable litter and clean the box entirely every so often. The cats may just like the feel of the plastic and cords - try getting something else they can chew on. One cat we had really loved our moving boxes, and each box ended up with chew marks on them. Something about crunching into the corrigated cardboard. See if you can get an empty paper box for them to play with, maybe they will take a liking to that over the cords.

wife of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 6:45 PM on February 1, 2007

Wow- eating plastic? I had one cat who was merciless about spraying anything plastic, which was a huge pain. Another is a plant eater extraordinaire. Have you tried Feliway spray to make them feel more secure? That seemed to decrease the spraying behaviour at my house. I second using scoopable litter - I suspect there is some urea based stuff in plastics that may be related both to your cat's eating it and mine spraying it; territorial stuff, you know. Also, more entertainment is a good idea, and if you can give them wall-mounted carpet-covered shelf runs or more cat trees, that will certainly help! I recommend installing a floor-to-ceiling carpet-covered piece of pvc/cardboard pipe for scratching and climbing, and if it gives access to wall shelves, so much the better! One more thing - these are rambunctious teenagers; you would do well to keep a disciplinary water pistol at your side at all times.
posted by fish tick at 7:36 PM on February 1, 2007

I've said this in other threads, but if your furniture has known other cats, it may be lost to all scratching remedies. Our cats scratch any and all furniture that has lived with another cat, and nothing will deter it (when we're not here to Make The Loud Noise, that is).

Your cats are doing what any kids would do -- acting out because they are not getting enough attention. This sounds hokey, but do you make a point of talking to them? We have a specific sort of voice we use when speaking "to" the cats, and they know what it is, and they know they are being acknowledged. It's totally a different tone than when we're saying, "Don't do that because you will die!" It seems to make them feel acknowledged, which since we like to sit around and do computery things, is good. Yours may be more high maintenance.

If they are anxious because you are gone a lot, then I would say Feliway diffusers might help you. It's an investment, but it sounds like they tear enough up that it would be worth it. Also, cat nip. We have a cardboard scratcher that we "charge up" with cat nip, and they get stoned and scratch and drool all over it. Seems to work well for keeping their attention.

As for the sleeping thing . . . do they keep you awake because they are crazy or because you can't stand to have anything else on the bed with you? We had a serious problem because ours at night. It probably took six months, at least, for them to learn how to act appropriately in "the nest." I grew up with barn cats, and they all tend to sleep together. You're their mother. They want to sleep with you. (Especially if they are attention-starved otherwise, of course they want to sleep with you.) Ours really caught on to acting like sweet cats when it got really cold inside and they could either sleep with the big warm parents or sleep by themselves somewhere else -- I think that was really the trick, knowing that they could be warm or they could be ejected for bad behavior and be cold. They wanted to be warm, and so over time we've established a nesting behavior with them. If you can do it, it's totally worth it.

Just remember, they are pretty basic creatures. Their short term memory is a little crap and they only learn through repetition. They are like eternal two year olds, so always do the reinforcement, positive or negative.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:39 PM on February 1, 2007

If you're working on your dissertation, you may benefit from more frequent breaks, too. Do you think that working 50 minutes out of every hour in your workday will let you produce enough, while giving you time to stretch, drink, pee and play vigorously with any needy cat that happens to be awake? You can then have a longer play session in the evening, or make that cuddle time in front of the tv.

I also have a very needy Burmese. He needs warmth, cuddling, as well as some surprisingly firm rubbing, spanking and dragging, but if I'm at work on the computer, he's happy to lie on my feet if I remember to massage him with them every now and then.
posted by maudlin at 7:43 PM on February 1, 2007

I think, based on what you said in your followup comments, that they're in need of more attention than they're getting.

It's clear you have a busy schedule, but if you can block in some regular times each day to play with them, I think a lot of their misbehaviors will disappear. "Feather taunts," those dangling-toy-on-a-stick things, are a favorite of most playful cats I've ever met. Laser pointers can also be fun. But the key is to make sure they get some very tiring play in every day, hopefully at the same time.

Cats are fairly low-maintenance compared to other pets (as one dog owner once said to me: "it pees in a box! How great is that!"), they're not no-maintenance.

I'd make sure they each have several (catnip-laced) toys that they know are "theirs," and that you play with them with. Even when you're working, if they get pesky, you could play with them with a toy for a second or two, and then toss it a little further away and let them take over gnawing on it. But ultimately, you have very young cats who need attention.

I second canned air when you need negative reinforcement; that'll probably scare the living bejesus out of them. Cats hate air "spraying" even more than they hate water spraying. (You don't want to overdo it though, because eventually they'll learn that it doesn't really hurt them.) Also, hissing or making other gutteral, threatening sounds, rather than "bad kitty" in a neutral tone, can get the point across that you're not happy when they misbehave.

I hope you can keep them, because as I'm sure your aware, sending them to a shelter would basically be a death sentence. If you live in an area with neighbors, perhaps you could find someone in your complex/neighborhood (a kid or young adult) who likes animals and that you trust, to come over and play with them and generally cat-sit, or just sit around for a few hours during the day (doing their homework or whatever) and be the focus of their attentions? That would be the most extreme solution, and would probably cost you some money, but it sounds like they need a lot of human contact or they're going to be real terrors for the next decade or so.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:01 PM on February 1, 2007

This is why I adopt older (5+), neutered, declawed cats from the shelters. All of my shelter cats have been the most loving, sweetest and well tempered pets.

If you can't keep these two (sounds like a nightmare to me), maybe you should try for two older cats from the shelter.
posted by JujuB at 8:35 PM on February 1, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you so much for all of the advice, y'all. I've gotten a lot of great ideas, and I'm definitely going to work on spending more time with them.

I really do love these two crazy cats, and I'll do anything I can to keep them. I moved to a pet-friendly apartment complex so I could get Peter and Clem came along soon after. Clem did wonders for Peter's neediness, and we both gained a sweet little friend.

They're banished from my bedroom, especially at night, because Peter will lick my face all night (really), and if Peter's up, Clem's up. They also like to use me as their home base when they're playing & I'm trying to sleep. Since they don't get to be all warm & cuddly with me, I made two warm little houses for them, and that's where I can usually find them when my apartment is quiet.
posted by Four-Eyed Girl at 9:21 PM on February 1, 2007

A thought about the plastic-eating.... in nature, cats eat grass when they are constipated, and it strikes me that eating plastic might be from the same reflex. Have you thought about buying some cat grass? It only costs a couple of bucks, and takes about a week to grow... like all grass, it just needs water, sun, and not much else.

If you keep it in a sunny spot where the kitties can get to it, it *might* cut down their plastic-chomping. No promises. At worst, it's a few bucks down the drain, but they'll probably like having it available.
posted by Malor at 11:00 PM on February 1, 2007

I agree with Malor about the plastic. My kidney-failure cat could not be deterred from licking plastic when he was feeling nauseous and generally yuck - when he was feeling healthy, he didn't lick plastic. I agree with the cat grass suggestion, and I also suggest you consider changing foods - I've never read anything about it, but in my anecdotes-non-data-based opinion, many of the cats I've known who licked/ate plastic were cats who had something amiss with their digestive tracts or their diets.
posted by biscotti at 5:17 AM on February 2, 2007

When my two cats were younger all they did was chew on plastic, i.e. my keyboard. I fixed that by wrapping it or anything else they wanted to bite in tinfoil. they really hate it. i win.
posted by ronmexico at 6:26 AM on February 2, 2007

Just a couple of thoughts:
I once heard about someone who put several pennies in empty soda cans and lined them up along the edge of the counter. When the cat jumped up, the cans crashed down and made a sound that was very unpleasant. I haven’t tried it, but if you’re really desperate, it might work.

I rarely have to discipline my cats, but the best thing I’ve found is to tap them quickly, with a light but firm touch, on the nose (I use just one finger), while saying “no” in a deeper-than-usual voice. Apparently, mother cats discipline their kittens with a paw to the nose, so this replicates that. (Note that this is not a smack or anything that hurts—in fact, their reactions are surprise more than anything else.) It seems to work quite well.

You can do this! Good luck.
posted by CiaoMela at 7:07 AM on February 2, 2007

Malor: "A thought about the plastic-eating.... in nature, cats eat grass when they are constipated, and it strikes me that eating plastic might be from the same reflex. Have you thought about buying some cat grass? "

I've given up on this one, personally, because mine doesn't eat, he chews and licks.

I have cat grass and other indoor plants. One of my cats would rather chew my fake plant.

It is amusing, though, to tell him to stop nibbling on the bathroom garbage's bag, to see him lift his head and make eye contact, then lovingly and gently nuzzle the bag. He just loves it so. You should see him on grocery day -- he's in his glory.
posted by loiseau at 9:08 AM on February 2, 2007

I use water to train my cat -- either squirt it from a spray bottle or water pistol or just just flick it with your fingers. Works great, but, then, I have an awesome kitty. (Just in case she's reading this... Hi, Isis!!)
posted by LordSludge at 10:51 AM on February 2, 2007

If you need to wear them out, get a Cat Dancer. I can personally vouch for the fact that if you spend some time waving it at your cats, they will leap around very impressively. Should tucker them right out.
posted by Mavri at 12:32 PM on February 2, 2007

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