Cat psychology; How do I make this kitten part of my family
March 16, 2004 7:51 PM   Subscribe

I'm a first time cat owner with a new 12-week-old kitten. I've read all the handbooks and official information I can get my hands on but I'm looking for practical advice from experienced "cat people" about feline psychology, training with positive reinforcement, and cat-proofing the house. How does this little crazy ball of fur become part of the family? (more inside)

I read through the previous AskMefi cat questions and most of them were about solving specific problems. I hope this isn't too vague or general, but I'm really just looking for tips and advice to make her and us as happy as possible. I only had dogs growing up and this kitten really is a foreign creature to me. Think of me as a Switcher, except with pets.

We've had Amy for ten days now. At the recommendation of the Cat Protection Society (and the aforementioned handbooks), we set up her bed and litterbox and food dishes in our big guest bathroom to help ease her adjustment into the house. We put her in there at night and when we're at work during the day. She's been really good and took to using the litterbox right away. A few nights ago we decided to start letting her out (of the bathroom) at night which has been a mixed success. She hasn't gotten into any trouble but she's developed a habit of waking up at random times and climbing all over our sleeping heads. Should we just grin and bear it til she adjusts to our schedule, or is there a way to help her understand that nighttime = sleeptime for the humans?

Also, I hate locking her up in the bathroom during the day and I'd like to let her out. I'm just worried she'll discover some way to hurt herself that we haven't foreseen. The apartment is mostly open plan so she'd have access to the living room, dining area, and kitchen. It goes without saying that we're going to have to make sure we don't leave food out where she can get it. Are there any hidden dangers most people don't think of? Along with this, we've been trying to teach her not to climb on the counters or the dining room table. Mostly this consists of us saying "No!" and removing her, but we've tried the spray-with-water a few times. It was effective but she hated it and we felt guilty doing it. Is there a better method to train cats?

Last bit - my partner had to work late her first couple days in the house so she spent most of her time with me. Now I'm afraid we might have bonded a little too much. She follows me around constantly and will abandon him if I leave the room. She cries when I leave for work in the morning. I think she even gets jealous if I spend too much time on the computer. I take it that she's adopted me as her "mama" which is sweet and all, but it's also a little annoying to have a constant shadow. Is this something she'll grow out of, or should I arrange to have her spend more time alone with my partner?
posted by web-goddess to Pets & Animals (44 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Keep your eyes open for sharp objects, and make sure you keep any chemicals used for cleaning (or otherwise) in a secured cabinet. I would assume so far you have done this.

Seriously, its a an adorable little kitten. Adjustment to make it part of your family is happening as you read this. If the cat doesn't like a particular member then there may be a real reason, or it may be the cat doesnt like the way he or she smells.

Unless you want to punish the kitten for going to the bathroom on your carpet, keeping it in a room where the bathroom is will teach it (at least from my knowledge) without getting out the spraybottle.
posted by Keyser Soze at 7:57 PM on March 16, 2004

if possible, make sure to keep her nails clipped. i've heard horror stories of cats who have, while owners were away for a period of time, climbed curtains and then been caught from a height due to not being able to unhook their claws from the fabric.

it probably goes without saying, but don't give your cat chocolate. and if you have a laundry chute, make sure the cat can't get into it--the narrow dimension and relatively fast fall means it's hard for a cat to right itself in time before reaching the bottom.
posted by ifjuly at 8:27 PM on March 16, 2004

1. Give it love.
2. Make rules and enforce them. (like not getting on the cabinets)

Otherwise you and kitty will discover the rest along the way. Cats are incredibly adaptable, and will return love and affection multiplied. My two critters have been great companions over the last 21 years. Good luck!
posted by jazzkat11 at 8:31 PM on March 16, 2004

Amy is a cutie!

It seems to me you've covered your bases pretty well. One bit of advice I can offer is that if you have mini or Venetian blinds, make sure the cords are either out of her reach or single strings (not looped). Kitties (and kids) can get seriously hurt in them.

Scratches - get used to them. Until she learns to control her claws, you'll look like you wrestled with a rose bush.

Socializing - cats are fickle beasties. When I'm home alone, they're the most cuddly, loving little cats. That is until my husband gets home, then, for a while at least, I might as well not exist. You might have your partner spend some time alone with Amy, that might help with bonding.

Oh, and a spray bottle really is the best training tool. It's not hurting anything except her pride. My male cat - almost a year old - is still being sprayed. He gets soaked and two minutes later he's up on the damned counter again! Grrr. His sister is smarter.
posted by deborah at 8:31 PM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: By "secured", Keyser, do you mean actually locked shut (like you would with human toddlers)? Or do you just mean in a cabinet with the door closed? I'm assuming that cats can't open cupboard doors, but maybe they're cleverer than I expected.

As for "enforcing" the rules, that's the part I'm having trouble with jazzkat11. (Very apt name, by the way.) I'd much rather give her positive encouragement not to do naughty things than be constantly punishing her when she does something wrong. I don't want to overfeed her so treats probably aren't a good idea. So far we've been going with the whole "praise her and pet her and give her a hug" routine whenever she does something good (like use her scratching post instead of the couch), but I'm just wondering if her little kitty mind is actually making the connection between the cause and the reward.
posted by web-goddess at 8:34 PM on March 16, 2004

I adopted a pair of kittens about a year and a half ago, and this is what worked for me:

If you want to train them not to do something, the idea is to consistently stop them during the behavior, and move them to another room. Repeat that every time you can catch them, and over time they get the message. Sure they *want* to be on the counter, but since each attempt is aborted by mom, they eventually get the hint that this is just not gonna happen, and it's not worth even trying.

If you want to train them to do something, try food, or some other type of treat (mine respond best to petting, or play.) Again, repetition is key - they take longer to train than dogs, but it is possible.

Safety - Check cords, wires, and outlets. If you have a problem with mice or rats, see what you can do to take care of that problem. One of mine made contact with a mouse, and I am still paying the associated vet bills. Speaking of health problems - GET HEALTH INSURANCE - I use VPH and it has saved a bundle, with the exception of my pre-existing condition (as mentioned).

As far as attachment goes, the only thing to do, would be to get another kitten, since the cat can't come and go as needed, you are the only source of companionship - expect some complaining unless you can provide another playmate for the little one.
posted by lilboo at 8:36 PM on March 16, 2004

Depends on the cat, but some cats will follow you around all day and be very interested in whatever you happen to be doing, all their lives. It's kind of sweet really, but it does take some getting used to, especially if you work at home.

Oh, and as always: Please post pictures!
posted by fvw at 8:37 PM on March 16, 2004

Let's try that again: VPH
posted by lilboo at 8:41 PM on March 16, 2004

I suggest you get ceramic or metal food and water dishes, instead of plastic. My vet tells me plastic dishes can cause kitty acne.

Also, when cats grow up with other cats they learn that claws hurt--Mister claws Jazzy lovingly, Jazzy claws back, Mister gets hurt, repeat; eventually Mister stops clawing Jazzy. But when you only have one cat, sometimes that cat is more likely to scratch and injure the people it loves. I've been told that hitting the cat enough to startle it without hurting it while saying "No" firmly is a good way to train a cat not to claw. But it goes against my nature to hit someone I love, so I tend to just grimace and remove the claws.

Once the cat is a bit older, I'd just let her roam free. As long as sharp edges, fragile items and dangerous chemicals are put away she should be fine. They're resilient.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:41 PM on March 16, 2004 [1 favorite]

Oh, but please, please, please keep her indoors. Indoor cats live longer, healthier lives than outdoor cats.

And of course get her spayed as soon as appropriate. I second the kitty insurance recommendation. Especially with the spaying and shots needed in the first year it pays for itself.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:43 PM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: This is all great advice. Especially the bit about the Venetian blind cords; I didn't even think of that. As far as training goes, it sounds like repetition is the key. I guess we'll just have to suck it up and wait for her to catch on.

There are a couple pictures on my site here and here. (I'm trying hard not to be one of those bloggers that talks about her cat constantly, but it's difficult!)

On preview: So you think it's too early to let her out in the house unsupervised, croutonsupafreak? She's only been with us a week and a half. Maybe that's too early...
posted by web-goddess at 8:44 PM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: She's already been spayed, thankfully, but I'll look into the insurance. We live in Australia so we'd need to find some local equivalent. (By the way, if any other Aussies are looking for kitties we really recommend the Cat Protection Society. They were so helpful and nice, and all the cats are desexed, microchipped, vaccinated, and wormed.)

And she's definitely going to be an indoor kitty. All the research I did (and a couple horror stories from pet owners) convinced me it's the best plan.
posted by web-goddess at 8:48 PM on March 16, 2004

I'm just wondering if her little kitty mind is actually making the connection between the cause and the reward.

To be honest, I don't know if she will make the connection or not. For mine, I give love and attention unconditionally, but I always back up the rules with punishment. It starts with a keyword, which is in our case is a firm "NO." At earlier times, I would always back it up with a light spank of some sort, even if it meant I would have to abandon whatever leisure activity I was partaking in. Now, I only have to say "No.", and the kitties will respond. It's somewhat like kitty remote control.

Cats, like young children, will always test the boundaries. While it's true that it is negative reinforcement, the cats are incredibly well adjusted and *very* friendly, even with newcomers (so much for a guard cat.) While I know mine is not the only method, it's been very effective over the years.

Either way, you sound like a concerned kitty owner, and I'm sure you'll do fine. The worst crime I see committed is kitty getting spoiled!
posted by jazzkat11 at 8:51 PM on March 16, 2004

Oh and yes, keep kitty indoors!
posted by jazzkat11 at 8:52 PM on March 16, 2004

Best answer: She's gorgeous!

You can't really give her encouragement not to do naughty things, operant conditioning doesn't work like that, but what you CAN do is redirect unwanted behaviour toward acceptable behaviour - it's okay to use a spray bottle, but even better to distract her with a Cat Dancer or (that time-honoured best cat toy) The Ball of Tinfoil before she jumps on the counter - telling an animal what TO do is far more useful than telling them what NOT to do (so it's not "don't jump on the counter", it's "do this activity which is fun and incompatible with jumping on the counter"). Keep in mind that even one incident where she jumps on the counter (for example) and gets reinforcement from it (licking the butter, nabbing some of your dinner, etc) is a whole lot more powerful than a squirt with the spray bottle, if she's really addicted to jumping on the counter, not only must you make it not worth her while EVER (leave nothing yummy there unsupervised), but you may have to make it actively unpleasant (bubble wrap may work, as may double-sided tape).

Why not clicker train her? There's lots of information on the Internet about it (Google for "clicker train cat"). It sounds like you've got the right idea about training and I commend you for it (especially since so few people bother to train cats). However, praise and affection, sadly, aren't terribly effective reinforcers with any animals, least of all cats (no matter how much we'd like to think otherwise), you'll have much better results with food (tiny licks of baby food, bits of chicken or fish, whatever she really likes).

I agree about keeping her nails short (only cut the clear bits, don't cut into the pink part, use lots of praise and treats and go slowly), and make sure you have a really enticing scratching post for her, ideally one in each room (those kitty condos, which are all covered with carpeting, and have hidey-holes, are just kitty heaven) - if you get her accustomed to scratching the right thing now, you may never have to deal with her scratching the wrong thing. Keeping her in the bathroom when she's unsupervised is probably okay for now, just make sure that her food and water is as far away from the litterbox as possible.

Really, just relax and enjoy her, the more mellow and cuddly with her you are, the more likely she is to become a mellow and cuddly cat, just don't force anything on her - entice her and make it worth her while to be with you. As to your partner, she's a baby and she's new, which means she's still getting used to where she lives, and she's a cat, cats like who they like and there's not much you can do to change that.
posted by biscotti at 8:53 PM on March 16, 2004

If she's being naughty in your face (like nosing into your food or attacking your hands too forcefully) just blow into her face. They will almost always stop and then you can disengage her. You don't really train cats, you get them into the habits that you want, or at least ones you can stand. Putting aluminum foil or sticky tape on surfaces you want them off of will keep them from going up when your back is turned. I got double sided sticky tape at the pet store to put on the sides of the couch and damned if that isn't working (after 13 years of the couch disintegrating when I wasn't looking, I wish I had found it earlier).
As far as safety goes, they can't open bottles or light fires, so you're pretty good as long as everything is closed. They don't go for antifreeze or bad eats nearly as stupidly as dogs do. I have had a cat stand with her tail over a candle once though. I was watching and just waiting for her to notice.. we both had to deal with the smell for awhile. I never have any candles burning near their perches anymore. Cats are very good at self-care, so if you leave her alone she'll probably be just fine, although knockable-downers may not be.
You might want to consider getting her a buddy, it's a myth that cats are loners. Independent yes, but they like best to prove their independence to another cat.
The nighttime parties will gradually slow down. Don't indulge her, just make sure she can entertain herself. I have in my half-sleep pitched cats across the room for racing across my face at 3am. I still feel guilty, but you know what, they survived and it hasn't happened in years.
Watch her when she's out of the bathroom and gets tired. If she has found herself a hidey-hole to snooze in (under the couch, in the closet, in the clothes hamper) then she's ready to be on her own. Think of hiding places as kitty teddy bears. It means she has made it "home".
posted by dness2 at 9:15 PM on March 16, 2004

No, I don't think she's too young to be out in the house. My cat was out and about on his own by about 10 weeks, but my then-roommate and I had different enough schedules that he was rarely alone. I'd say you should see how your cat behaves when you're home and decide based on that. If she's pretty good, let her go on her own. If she likes to get into trouble, try some of the reinforcement techniques discussed above before you let her roam free. On the other hand, if you do let her out when you're not sure she'll almost certainly be fine.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:35 PM on March 16, 2004

I'm going to have to disagree with the unconditionally indoorsing of cats. Depending on where you live (no busy roads closeby etc) many cats thoroughly enjoy being able to take a stroll outside, especially at night in summer. As an added bonus, it removes the whole icky kitty litter routine: our cats are entirely house trained. As cats get older they do tend to spend more and more time inside though.

On a slightly unrelated note: Did we ever get those pictures oflinkey promised us? We really should find a way of tracking AskMefi payments.
posted by fvw at 9:38 PM on March 16, 2004

My two cents:

Buy a break-away collar, and attach a bell: the break-away collar should prevent accidental hangings, and the bell will help you find the little darling when it's got itself locked in a cabinet... my little baby, Saiid, scurries into cabinets when I've got the door open and my back turned.

Use a pine pellet or newspaper-based litter... it's healthier for kitty, better for the environment, and to my chemically sensitive nose they smell much better.

Get a spray bottle and use it... kitties understand food, not cuddles as positive reinforcement, and respect a spritz of water as discouragement. I use baby food (pureed lamb)... be careful of tuna... it is mildly addictive to cats, and can cause health problems.

Never let them outside go roam.

Have a poster created that you can use in an emergency to locate her... make sure that your neighbors know that if she's out, she's lost.

Keep nails trimmed... declawing is inhumane.

Chocolate is toxic... don't leave out candy.

Keep the litter box clean, and prevent the whole urinate-on-the-couch-to-complain-about-litter-box syndrome.

Some cats can be leash trained... it's not like walking a dog... but it's fun all the same.

Remember, they can hide just about anywhere.

If she likes toys (not all cats do), be sure to put them away... even the most toy-driven cat will get bored of toys that are always available.

Get a little steamer vac ... which will take the pain out of the occasional accident.

Find a vet that "gets" cats... not all vets do.

Consider using a natural diet... it's a little intimidating, but you'll be happy you did.

Join a community of cat owners... I belong to (and highly recommend) Cat People, which is a affinity group.
posted by silusGROK at 9:42 PM on March 16, 2004

What a cutie! =) And she sounds like she's got a great personality too. I think 12 weeks old is big enough to let her out around the house all the time; this thread's covered the hazards I think. Hmmm, all I would add is to keep the toilet lid shut so she doesn't get ideas about playing in there. Unless of course you decide to try and toilet train her, and this is a good age to start if she is adapting well to her new home.

Lovey and friendly kittens usually grow up to be very secure and mellow cats if they feel safe and encouraged. She's bonding so let her do so as far as you can stand it and it will make her trust you. It won't last forever and you'll have the added advantage that she will listen to you because you're "her" human. (That is, as much as cats listen to their people, heh.) Don't worry about her picking a "favorite" so soon as long as she has plenty of attention-time with each of you; she will relate to each of her humans in her own way.

As for training, you have to repeat stuff a LOT to get a cat to internalize it. Rewards don't help with negative behaviors IMO, really they're better for trying to get a cat to do something it normally wouldn't (like tricks or potty training) - and I find cats take praise and affection as their due, and don't relate to it as a "reward". Food treats are about all they understand and they can get "overtreated" fast.

Saying "no!" firmly, making a noise (snapping fingers or a loud clap) and removing the cat or distracting should work if applied consistantly. In fact eventually you can just look at them and they will get down - the key is to act like you EXPECT this behavior on your say-so. They will get stubborn and/or stressed (and can get into a sneak habit) if they think it's a power struggle and that's a bad cycle to fall into, so don't overdo it but don't let them get away with it either. Squirt bottles can work as a next level but I never had much luck with them (I'm thinking of houseplants in particular - eventually I just had to put orange peels in the pots to get the youngest to leave them alone). Repetition is really the key and it will take a while before the cat avoids what you tell it to as second nature so be persistant. They will push boundaries over and over just like children.

Give her a spot to scratch (mine *loved* cardboard scratch boxes with catnip in them) and direct her to it when she scratches the furniture. Eventually she'll get used to your habits and form hers around yours - you're actually more likely to get night waking troubles if you shut her out of the room (ours scratch like crazy and mew to be let in; it's easier to push them off your head for a few nights until they get the hint!). Try wearing her out a while before bedtime with a feather-on-a-stick toy or something similar.

Good luck and enjoy your new little girl! Cats make wonderful companions.
posted by Melinika at 9:52 PM on March 16, 2004

A couple of other things ...

String is NOT A TOY -- that goes double for rubber bands -- as it is likely to be ingested, and may entangle the intestines.

If you're like me and like to keep windows cracked for fresh air, be sure they're cracked only a bit, as kitties won't hesitate to squeeze through an open window to sun themselves on the window sill (and window screens won't stop a determined cat).

Also, remember that now you have a kitty, strays should be given a little space, as they can carry diseases that could be transmitted to your little darling.

Finally, a lot of indoor plants are very toxic -- keep an eye on kitty! If the plants are just too alluring, spray the plants with bitter apple or orange essence (which is not at all appealing to kitty).
posted by silusGROK at 10:02 PM on March 16, 2004

Be aware that kitties are creatures, who can vanish without a trace in moments. I've had full grown cats (one was 15 lbs.) disappear, and despite a thorough search of the premises, was not able to find them, only to turn around to find that they have magically reappeared in the middle of the room.

That said, due to their ability to hide in the unlikeliest places, it's not a good idea to allow your kitten to wander about unsupervised (cats can get into a space that is at least the width of their whiskers). Kittens, can get behind stoves and refrigerators, get locked in closets and even drawers. I had a cat crawl into the boxsprings of my mattress (it was not fun getting him out).

Keep plastic bags away from you kitty, especially ones with handles. When one of my cats was a kitten, she stuck her head through the hole in the handle, panicked and ran, which filled the bag up with air. She almost strangled herself before I save her.

When you buy a scratching post, inspect it closely to make sure that the edges of the carpet are securely fastened to the wood. Periodically, inspect it for wear (a loose staple can severely injure you cat).

Get her a kitty friend, preferably a rescue. She will be less dependant and develop kitty social skills.
posted by lola at 10:19 PM on March 16, 2004

Lots of good advice!

silusGROK reminded me: don't let her play with anything that can fit totally inside her mouth. My husband, after I repeatedly told him not to, let ours play with bread wrapper plastic sealer thingies (about an inch square, flat, hole in the middle, you know what I mean?). Our male cat got one stuck in the roof of his mouth. That had to be one of the worst 15 minutes in my life. We managed to get it out but we were thisclose to getting him to an emergency vet.

And yes, get Amy her own kitty! I've had single cats and two cats and three cats and the multiples are happier beasties.
posted by deborah at 10:25 PM on March 16, 2004

Okay, two more points:

I have to strongly disagree with fvw's recommendation to let her out: it's dangerous for the cat, dangerous for the local wildlife, can be dangerous or icky for you (fleas and other parasites in your house) and no offense fvw, but letting your cat use the outside world as a litterbox (where "outside world" often = "neighbour's flower beds") is just irresponsible pet ownership unless you live on a farm in the middle of nowhere or contain the cat in your yard - nobody should have to deal with your pets and their excrement except you. web-goddess, I'm glad you've decided to keep her inside, it's the best thing to do.

If you do decide to get another one (and it's by no means certain that she'll appreciate it, some cats are social, many more aren't, and most only cats are perfectly happy alone), get a male - same sex, similar age animals will often not get along at all, ever, so you'll greatly increase the odds of a harmonious household if you get one of the opposite sex.
posted by biscotti at 11:23 PM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: So much good info, everybody! See, stuff like that bread sealer thing is exactly the kind of anecdote you don't get in the manuals.

With regards to the indoor/outdoor thing, where I come from in Indiana lots of folks have outdoor cats. It's really not a good idea here in Sydney though. We live close to the city and only half a block from a major road, so it's definitely not safe. There's also the issue of her killing native wildlife. (Australia has a big problem with feral cats, which is why the law says you now have to get all pets microchipped.) That's mostly the reason we got a younger cat, because I read that it's easier to teach them to be "indoors" cats if you start from an early age.

I'd love to get another kitty playmate for her but it's really not feasible for us right now. Our apartment's not huge and we're already pushing the rules by having one pet. She'll have to adjust and become a geeky loner like her parents. :)

(That said, my partner is enamored of the idea of walking her. He's got a harness and we're going to start introducing it to her to see if she likes the idea.)

Another little issue I forgot to mention is feeding. We're trying to stick to the guidelines the CPS gave us, which means we give her a small amount of dry and wet food 3-4 times a day. As soon as she gets it though, she bolts everything down and then whines for more. She's even figured out which cupboard we keep the food in and thus everytime one of us goes to the kitchen she follows and whines in front of it. I don't want to have a fat cat, but I don't want her to be starving either! Should I increase the feedings or is she just being a little glutton?
posted by web-goddess at 11:38 PM on March 16, 2004

Judge how much to feed based on her weight, not her hunger - if you can feel her ribs, but they aren't poking out, she's just right. If you're feeding a decent food you usually need to feed less because the ingredients are more bioavailable. One way to fix her hunger is to make her work for her food, they make puzzle balls you can order on the Internet or find in a pet store (ones for small dogs are fine), you put the dry food in and the cat has to work to get it out, it's more satisfying for the cat (she gets to use her brain and motor skills) and because it takes her longer to get it out, she eats more slowly. You can even make a simple one yourself by poking a hole just big enough for one bit of kibble in a clean plastic milk container or something smaller.
posted by biscotti at 11:57 PM on March 16, 2004

Should I increase the feedings or is she just being a little glutton?

She's probably just being a little glutton, though you should take Biscotti's advice about how to tell if she's at the proper weight.

Take it from me, the owner of a seriously whiny cat: you absolutely must not give in and feed her after she whines. That'll only teach her that she can get food by whining, which will reinforce the behavior. Instead, you should distract her in some non-food fashion (a toy would be good). If that doesn't work, escalate to the "No!", and a spray bottle or a very gentle one-fingered tap on the nose. Once she has learned that she can't get more food by whining, she'll probably stop doing it.

Once she's an adult, you might look into buying her an automatic feeder. These have worked very well for me. I have this Petsafe model, and it is the best $100 I ever spent on my cats. It has eliminated all of the whining and overeating, and it even feeds the cats while I'm away on short trips.
posted by vorfeed at 12:00 AM on March 17, 2004

I've always just left dry food out for the cats all the time and only rationed wet food. I've never had a problem with fat cats, but it helps to have "mutt" cats. Purebreds have much more of a problem with getting fat. The advantage to having food available when they want it, is they don't wake me up in the morning and if I'm late getting up or coming home I know they'll survive.
I don't think there's any point to rationing food to a kitten. You're much more likely to accidently underfeed a 3 lb animal than you are to overfeed her. They can't afford to lose weight, and it's not like they're watching tv instead of exercising. Be frugal with treats like the drippings from ice cream and tuna oil, of course, but I would battle kitten belly with games of tag before I'd restrict food.
posted by dness2 at 12:17 AM on March 17, 2004

P.S. a little butter is actually good for them every once in awhile -- helps on hairballs -- and they think you're spoiling them.
posted by dness2 at 12:21 AM on March 17, 2004

Feeding: The advice about controlling food amount is absurd. Put out all the dry food the cat wants. She'll learn food is not in short supply, and never over eat. This is called "demand feeding", and I always have done this, and NEVER had a fat cat. I always supplemented this with regular bits of fresh or canned stuff.

BEWARE: Never leave chicken bones where a cat can smell them! They are dangerous (they splinter) and most cats find them irresistible. Get those bones outside right after dinner. I have a rule in my house, chicken must always be shared with cats (never saw one not want it, although my Toots would only eat the leanest breast meat).

Remember: She's a cat! Allow her to be a cat. Some things cats do because they are cats. You are the one with the better mind, so you have to learn how to make home a safe place for a cat. Don't make it easy for her to get in trouble, make effort to keep things out of her reach you don't want her messing with.

Kitchen counters: The foil and sticky-tape are new ideas to me. Another trick is to put trays (like cookie/biscuit sheets) along the edge, balanced by soda cans containing small rocks or coins (NOISY when they fall). Do this so that when cat jumps up, they bring this noisy mass down. Cats hate this, it makes them look stupid, and cats don't like looking stupid.

Cats are curious. Accept that, and allow them to look/sniff at things.

Biting/scratching: I've watched mother cats (Toots had 2 litters), and they do a gentle-bite thing when the kittens go too far. So I pinch paws gently when the claws start to hurt me. As for biting, some biting is the cat's way of saying "no", like, don't pet me there please.

Night lock-up: I'm goofyy. A cat or dog in my care, unable to get free, has a RIGHT to get to me. I'm no omniscient being. The cat is better equipped to detect plenty of problems that could threaten both of us. So my cats learn bothering me at night is no fun, and enjoy access.

Now I have a heart-ache, I am catless due to travel habits and international moving around. I don't like being catless. Hopefully as things get warmer here, a neighborhood cat will befriend me.
posted by Goofyy at 12:52 AM on March 17, 2004 [2 favorites]

When we decided to get a cat I did a lot of research as well, esp. because I'm allergic ( but not deathly so). I found out that it can work, but one of the things everyone says is to keep the cat out of the bedroom. It was really difficult, but after the second night we put her out in the rest of the apt. and closed the bedroom door. It took her a bit to adjust, but now we can leave the door open and she only comes in to see if we're awake yet in the morning. So maybe if you don't want to be woken up in the middle of the night, try closing your bedroom door. And after a while the cat might learn, as ours did, to not be so interested in your bed (and head).

In the beginning our cat was also bonding with me and not my husband. So I encouraged him to play with her, and once he did (with me out of the way) she bonded to him as well.

I also second using pine or newspaper based litter. We use the pine and the pee breaks down the pellets and so you only have to worry about clearing out the poo. Really easy, and much better than the clay-based for so many reason.

Enjoy your new kitty - she's adorable!
posted by evening at 5:43 AM on March 17, 2004

Some more cat-proofing advice - put safety covers on the outlets & split loom over any cords you may think she'd want to nibble on.

The scratching post should be tall enough for her to stand on her hind legs and stretch out her full length (not an issue now, but it will be when she grows up). Some cats also like scratching surfaces that lay on the floor.

Be careful with furniture - if kitty gets in your bed's boxspring, lay down some plywood between the frame and the boxspring so she'll never be able to get in (every cat I've ever had has wanted to get into the boxspring).

Also be careful of any places she may slip in - one of my kittens once got wedged between a bed and the wall, so I moved the bed until she was too big to get stuck.
posted by Sangre Azul at 7:30 AM on March 17, 2004

I guess I feel strongly enough about the instructions to keep your cat confined to the house, to make a comment.
I think it's cruel. Likening letting your cat out to being "irresponsible" is the biggest load of nonsense I've ever heard.

If it's irresponsible to let a cat out, it's irresponsible to keep a cat at all. Never to climb a tree, or roll or hide in the grass: I find that really sad and a denial of the cat's true nature, which it has every right to experience and express.

As for "dangerous" for the cat, local wildlife and "icky" because of fleas/parasites, I've gotta say, my mind really boggles at the neurosis of such a comment. Children get nits, cat's fur is covered in dried cat spit. No need to handle either with tongs or latex gloves.

Sure, your cat will kill wildlife if given a tenth of a chance. That because it's a mini-vicious-predator. If you can't handle that, adopt a rabbit instead. You can try to minimise their chances at cutting a swathe through the local fauna, through bells or whatever, but ultimately, that's what comes with the package. Don't try and squash your cat's true nature: if you don't like it's true nature, you shouldn't keep a cat.

As for letting your cat crap in the neighbour's yard, let them deal. People, including me, all over the UK, and I dare say the world, use various means to dissuade cats, others as well as my own, from pooping in their pansies. Cat shit in your flower bed is just a fact of life to embrace and overcome.
If letting your cat roam free to poo where it will is irresponsible pet ownership, then there's nary a responsible cat owner in my country, biscotti, where cats are deemed in law to be free to roam where they wouldst. And long may that remain the case.

Spraying water is harmless, and as inconsequential to the cat as to be barely worth a mention. It's an excellent way to dissuade a cat from doing something once picking-up, a firm "NO" in a particular tone, or clapping has failed. You can't really use it as a standard form of discipline, though.

I don't let my cat out at night usually, since there is a significantly increased chance of them getting run over. Warm summer night are an exception, and I can't bear to deny her the delights of basking on a nearby roof.

You scratching post should be made from a material that resembles nothing else in your house. My cat is very well behaved, but she falls over when it comes to distinguishing between her scratching post and the rough "hall-mat" in the kitchen, because there's a similarity of texture and colour. [I've learned to accept this, since I can only expect so much of a wee cat, and it's essentially my fault for her confusion.]

Counter tops and tables etc.: as soon as you see her on something like that, make your displeasure known and physically lift the cat off, if it hasn't already scarpered. It'll take a while, but as long as you're absolutely consistent, the cat will eventually get the message.

If you're any good at dealing with a dog, or children, you'll have no problems dealing with a cat's ways.

Oh, and if you want her used to being picked up and handled a lot, pick her up and handle her a lot now.
posted by Blue Stone at 8:06 AM on March 17, 2004

Sure you can let your cat go outside, but it won't live as long. I can't remember the exact statistics, but in general you're looking at 5 less years with your kitty. I'll take as many years as I can get. Also, many adoption agencys REQUIRE that your cats be kept inside.

It's also a cat's nature to reproduce, but we don't want them doing that either, it just leads to over population of strays, and more animals being put to sleep.
posted by corpse at 8:41 AM on March 17, 2004

Blue Stone, you're anthropomorphising - as long as cats are supplied with adequate brain stimulation, they're perfectly happy indoors and no "true nature" is being squashed, I have owned both in my time and the indoor cats were just as happy and much healthier (for one thing, the indoor cats never disappeared for days only to come home seriously injured, as happened with two of my outdoor cats). As corpse points out there are many good reasons why rescues and humane societies won't adopt cats to homes which intend to let the cat out. Cats adapt very well to almost any situation as long as their needs are met, and more than one person's way of "dealing" with neighbour's cats wrecking their gardens is with poison or traps. Let your cats out all you like, but don't state unequivocally that keeping them indoors is cruel, that's just nonsense.

As to rationing food: one of the important reasons to do so is so that you know exactly how much your cat eats, and can notice right away if their appetite changes. Not eating for a few days can be a very serious problem for a cat (unlike a dog), as can overeating. There's nothing wrong with putting the day's ration down all at once (although some cats will eat it all in one go and then complain), but there's equally nothing wrong with portion-controlled feedings.
posted by biscotti at 9:07 AM on March 17, 2004

Sure, your cat will kill wildlife if given a tenth of a chance. That because it's a mini-vicious-predator. If you can't handle that, adopt a rabbit instead. You can try to minimise their chances at cutting a swathe through the local fauna, through bells or whatever, but ultimately, that's what comes with the package. Don't try and squash your cat's true nature: if you don't like it's true nature, you shouldn't keep a cat.

As for letting your cat crap in the neighbour's yard, let them deal. People, including me, all over the UK, and I dare say the world, use various means to dissuade cats, others as well as my own, from pooping in their pansies. Cat shit in your flower bed is just a fact of life to embrace and overcome.

Blue Stone, you may or may not have read that web-goddess is in Sydney, Australia. There is a huge dislike for cats by many Aussies due to the large feral cat population that has wrecked havoc on the local wildlife. Web-goddess is being both practical and smart in her choice to make Amy an indoor only cat in her specific situation. Perhaps your location is friendlier to cats, but I have seen several instances of people harming outdoor cats in Australia for hunting and killing wildlife and leaving crap in the neighbours' gardens. Poisons, spikes, air rifles and slingshots are all favourites of the cat-haters.

Also, while you're certainly entitled to your opinion about indoor versus outdoor cats, the tone of some of your comments ("If you can't handle that, adopt a rabbit instead.") are condescending and baiting.

As for free-feeding, cats can indeed eat too much and get fat. I had one particular male cat that would eat and eat and eat. He ended up being put on a restricted diet to drop the pounds and has never been able to go back to free-feeding. All of my other cats manage to control themselves, but not him. So if you try it, just keep an eye out to ensure Amy doesn't end up a big butterball.
posted by cyniczny at 9:35 AM on March 17, 2004

Just wanting to echo biscotti's clicker training suggestion - wonderful way to teach your cat to do some very useful things (like 'Come here' when they decide to end up somewhere you don't want them). And of course, you can get them to do some very cute things as well. Mine has taken to 'give me five' in a big way - enough so that if I'm not paying attention and happen to have my palm flat where he can reach it, he'll often wander up and touch it, trying to get the big treat machine to pay out! :) Plus, it's a good puzzle game for them - they seem to really enjoy trying to figure out what they need to do to get that next tasty bit.

But on to the outdoor idea; on average, you're looking at 10+ year difference in longevity between indoor and outdoor cats (12-15yr vs 2yr). There are just too many hazards out there to think you're being at all responsible by letting them free wander outside. If you're cat is bored inside, maybe you should work to make their environment more interesting rather than exposing it to so much potential harm outside.
posted by Doktor at 9:40 AM on March 17, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks so much to everyone. I got some good cat-proofing ideas plus in general I just feel a lot more confident about little Amy. I called the vet last night to schedule her next vaccination and found out that pet insurance is indeed available Down Under, so we'll be looking into that.

My partner originally felt as Blue Stone does about letting the cat outside, but this page from the CPS changed his mind. There are a lot more dangers out there than you think.

Oh, and that clicker training business looks like *exactly* what we need. It's so frustrating to say, "Amy, come here!" and just have her stare at you blankly. Let the training begin!
posted by web-goddess at 5:22 PM on March 17, 2004

If you have indoor cats, but want to give them a taste of the outdoors, why not build a cat enclosure? They're a fun weekend project, not too tough to build, and they're great for the cats.
posted by vorfeed at 5:44 PM on March 17, 2004

But on to the outdoor idea; on average, you're looking at 10+ year difference in longevity between indoor and outdoor cats (12-15yr vs 2yr).

Look, there are a lot of different kinds of outdoor cats. The outdoor cat that drops by for breakfast and dinner, and wanders around, yeah, they might live only a couple of years. Un-neutered males especially have a short "lifespan" due to their wanderlust; one day you're thinking "Hmm, I should take Blotches to the vet," the next day they've vanished. Most of the time you won't know if they're dead or not. A loyal outdoor cat, one that sticks firmly to your yard and the surrounding yards, is a different story, and can easily hit the 12 year mark. You make it sound so grim. These are my experiences with strictly outdoor cats, tamed strays, the kind that won't come inside even if you wanted them to. All the indoor cats my family or I have ever had were also let outside, and made it to the ages of 13, 10, 10, 12, 1 (this one, apparently, was born with feline leukemia), and 20; the currently living one is about 10 or so and healthy. Now, if you're in a high-traffic area, have known predators about, or have wildlife preservation laws to deal with, by all means, don't endanger your cat. I suppose I could make a larger point about how these attitudes reflect an ever-increasing parental insecurity and need for control in Western society, and otherwise jump in on Blue Stone's behalf, but this is AskMe so I'll shut it.

More to the point of the question, I'd agree with not providing a constant supply of food (twice a day has always been good for me), consistently lifting your cat off forbidden surfaces, letting them sleep in your bed (and swatting them away from your head if they get annoying - they'll learn), not giving them bones to chew on, and lots of love and attention of course. Also, the idea of a really well-trained trick-performing cat seems... wrong, somehow.

That cat enclosure idea sounds neat.
posted by furiousthought at 5:57 PM on March 17, 2004

On the indoor-outdoor thing: as others have said, it completely depends on a) where you are and b) the cat's personality. My family's first cat went in and out all the time and lived to be nearly 19; on the other hand, a colleague of mine who lives near a very dangerous road lost several cats and finally decided to keep them in. I live in an area where letting cats out is really not such a good idea (nothing is fenced, some predators wandering about, etc.).

On scratching: it doesn't usually take that long to "explain" to a cat that human beings are neither toys nor scratching posts. Do not give in to the impulse to let the kitten "attack" your hands or feet; this is cute when the kitty is small, potentially dangerous when the cat hits adulthood (never underestimate just how strong an adult cat can get). Don't touch the cat--just immediately ignore it and walk off. The cat will get the point in a couple of weeks.

On reinforcing habits: second the motion that responding positively to anything once will ensure that it will happen again. And again. This is true at any point in the cat's development. Squirt bottles don't always work, especially if (like my cats) the cat really doesn't object to water!

On windows: be sure that the cat can't slide the window open once it's been cracked; if the window moves too easily, you may want to put some kind of lock on it. (One of my parents' cats proved himself capable of opening an extremely heavy glass sliding door--a door which even humans have to make some effort to open! See note above about feline strength.)

On food: it's possible to both have food available all times and manage intake by supplying the cats with something they like well enough, but don't madly adore. Incidentally, be prepared for weird preferences when it comes to human food--you know to keep fish and chicken away from them, but you're probably not expecting them to develop an interest in matzoh, brie or peanut butter cereal.

On additional cats: this is easiest when the cats are from the same litter. The opposite sex thing is a good idea. Feline "getting along" can range from "high tolerance" (often sticking together but not grooming each other and rarely being demonstrative, like my pair) to "super chumminess" (totally inseparable with lots of grooming, snuggling and playing, like my parents' pair).

Even with lovey-dovey cats, prepare for dominance issues. My male cat started asserting his dominance over the female by occasionally eating her food and (groan) preventing her from using the litterbox. (Both of these behaviors stopped once he felt secure in his manhood, or something.) Most cats will soon work out rules for who gets to sleep where, play with what, and so forth.

On routines: cats tend to create a lot of structure for themselves (e.g., deciding that they will sit on their humans in that chair but not this one). Small disruptions in their accustomed environment or even your routine can cause them to freak out for a bit, so be prepared. (My cats went nuts when I had to sleep on the downstairs sofabed one night--I had never slept there before, there were no routine about where each cat was supposed to sleep on the was very funny.)

On human beings: a lot of cats will fixate on a specific human; there's not really much that can be done about it. And some people just seem to be attractive to cats. My cats are very much in "supervise human being 24-7" mode, which is really kind of fun.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:28 PM on March 17, 2004

Best answer: Hope it's not too late to add my 2 cents. The rec.pets.cats FAQ has a ton of information compiled from Usenet. The author, Cindy Tittle Moore, is very knowledgeable too.

Your kitten is still very much a baby and is going to act like one for a while. Also she's left her littermates where she always had close company and probably misses that, hence the following you around and waking you up in the night. Our cats sleep on little squares of fleece on the foot of our bed. When they'd wake me up as kittens, I'd pet them and then put them on their square, so now they know that's their spot. She may also do things associated with nursing--little chewing action on fingers, earlobes, nose, fabric, licking, sucking. I do think cats do best with a feline companion. They're more secure and less likely to get bored and I think two cats are actually less trouble than one. Handle her a lot in a calm way--ears, feet, mouth, stomach, etc.--you'll be glad you did when you need to check her teeth or ears, trim claws, pill her. I think it also helps with general trust. We bathe our cats and while they don't like it, it's not a huge trauma.

Food--Her wolfing food down may be due to lack of food as a stray, competition with littermates, etc. I agree that demand feeding(dry food) is best and continue giving her wet food. If you can, feed her a high quality food. Grocery store food has awful stuff in it--sugars, dyes, grain fillers, not to mention the worst refuse from the meat packing industry(rotted, mouldy, contaminated dreck.) I don't know what's available in Australia, but an independent pet supply store could be a place to start.

Water--cats instinctively prefer their water source to not be near their food and often prefer running water, which is why many drink from faucets. We keep our cats' water in our bathroom. Water intake is important for kidney health and kidney failure is what most cats die from. Our cats love this water fountain.

Safety--Fringe on blankets can be a hazard. Kittens may "nurse" on blankets, sweaters, wool. The barbs on their tongues point to their throat so they have a hard time getting something like fringe back out of their mouth and can choke, aspirate vomit, etc. Some cats love ear wax, so be sure they can't dig used q-tips out of the trash. We had a cat that would eat earplugs like they were treats. Also any used wrappers from food need to be inaccessible. One of our cats likes small shiny things and would pilfer earrings and coins, so I was careful she couldn't get anything she could eat.

Training--These double-sticky things work well for many things--counters, scratching. I have found that hissing at my cats works well when a "no" hasn't. It's not good to pick up a cat by it's scruff, but their instinct is often so strong that just pinching their scruff(not real hard) and pulling it tight without lifting them can assert your authority like a momma cat. This can also be useful when you have to do something the cat doesn't like--pilling, cleaning an eye, examining a wound. If you're by yourself, a clothes pin(not too tight) or hair clip can work the same way and keep your hands free. A plastic bottle with beans or coins in it makes a good shake can to shake when they're being naughty. There are also sprays and scram mats.

Scratching furniture--Trimming claws helps with this. Trimming is also good because if your cat is injured or you need to medicate her, you can handle her more easily. Different cats like different surfaces to scratch on and I feel that since it's instinct, it's only fair to try and accommodate them. One of our cats likes a sisal wrapped post and the other likes a cardboard scratcher on an angle. Some cats prefer actual wood. We tried different things.

Cat litter--Again different cats prefer different types and I try to accommodate them. A lot of cats hate the smell of that pine stuff. And I've found the newspaper pellets get stinky quickly. This has been a good litter box.
posted by lobakgo at 8:49 PM on March 17, 2004

Just one thing to add here--make sure photographs are kept out of the cat's reach. Cats--at least some of them--apparently like the taste of something in the prints. My parents had more than a few photos chewed up by their cat.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:06 AM on March 18, 2004

it's good to keep your cat predominantly indoors but if you can take your cat outside regularly. sometimes they'll want to flush our their system by inducing vomitting by eating grass.
posted by mcsweetie at 12:31 PM on March 18, 2004

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