My cat won't stop demanding to be let out. Ever.
May 7, 2007 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Help me break my cat's spirit.

I love my wittole kitty, but he's realized that he's my prisoner and he makes vocal protests continually. He loudly, but eloquently, makes original and compelling catlanguage arguments. He's very smart and expressive, this one. Sometimes he bumrushes the open door and sometimes he takes a swipe at my ankles, especially in cases where I bring him back inside after an escape.

I have let him outside (our front door faces an essentially unfenced back yard) under my supervision, for visits, because I am a softie. He loves to eat grass and catch tossed mulch chips and roll around in the sunlit dirt. He has a field day. He's easy to catch, though once he did get out of sight long enough to be gone for two days. That terrified me. When inside, I play with him, with feathertoys and laser pointers, but possibly not often enough.

He and his brother were feral kittens, and the trap-and-spay agency we adopted them from 4 years ago was very clear and insistent that they be indoor-only cats. I am behind this because I've lost to the great outdoors 3 out of 4 previous cats. His little brother has almost no expressed desire to go outside.

The meowing and nagging is nearing constance. Anytime I'm in the living room at all. I have tried pushing him away when he comes yelling "HEY! FREE MEEE!" with my hand on his nose, or with my foot. I have tried keeping a spray bottle by the door and squirting him, but it just makes him indignant; nothing sways him from his cause. I want to stop feeling hassled! It's making me resent him! My partner would like to build an outdoor pen for them, but I'm concerned this will only exacerbate the problem.

How can I subdue the feline insurgency?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How can I subdue the feline insurgency?

Stop sending him mixed messages. You've taught him that sometimes, he will get to go outside (which he adores), with your permission. And he remembers that he loves outside and that he had some freedom, once.

If you stop letting him out, ever, he'll stop asking to go. But right now, he remembers that you let him outside and it was fun. Asking to go again, even while annoying, is not a Bad Behavior, so you can't punish him outright. You can only ignore him when he does it, and he'll eventually realize that he's not eliciting any behavior from you.

We have a cat who has always been indoors-only. She thinks she wants to go out, and will hover near open doors looking for a chance for a great escape. We curb this by leaving doors cracked or open when it's miserably wet or cold out, thereby emphasizing to her when she investigates that Outside Isn't All You Remembered. This might help you also.

When your kitty eventually gets to the point where he has left Outside behind in a distant half-remembered dream, you might open screened windows for him. Our cat loves the occasional opportunity to look at and smell Outside, and yes, she gets very vocal and chatty due to the additional stimulus.

(Then again, it might start the nagging behavior up again in your cat, so take that with a grain of salt.)
posted by pineapple at 10:03 AM on May 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

The more you let him outside, the more he is going to want to get out there. He needs to get slowly learn to forget about "what's behind the door." So, I would start with not letting him out *at all*.

I'm going to mention two things that I did for my Cyril, that got him to stop running out the door. The first was in my old house in Buffalo. Cyril would always try to make a run for the door. Eventually, in the winter I let him run out, well, I maybe pushed him a little :), when there was about a foot of snow on the porch. he never again made such a fuss to go out again.

Second time, I'm in a new apartment in Pittsburgh. Cyril thinks he wants to go out the door again. This time we let him go and there was a large cup of water waiting for him around the corner. Now he just sorta looks out the door.

Obviously, ymmv with the above techniques. But the idea is to have them associate something that they *don't like* awaiting them outside of that door instead of the lovely outdoors (which can be far, far meaner to a kitty than a cup of water and a foot of snow for a few seconds!)
posted by punkrockrat at 10:09 AM on May 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Water. Cat's hate water. Give him baths. That will break his spirit.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:10 AM on May 7, 2007

He and his brother were feral kittens, and the trap-and-spay agency we adopted them from 4 years ago was very clear and insistent that they be indoor-only cats. I am behind this because I've lost to the great outdoors 3 out of 4 previous cats.

I have let him outside (our front door faces an essentially unfenced back yard) under my supervision, for visits, because I am a softie.

Yeah, that would be the problem.

Since he is used to attempting to slip through the door I would get a spray bottle and set it on a small end table so you can grab it and nail him when you come in/out... he will figure out it's not a place for him to sit and wait for opportunities.
posted by prostyle at 10:12 AM on May 7, 2007

Response by poster: I should add that I've tentatively tried to harness train him, but as some of you point out, total denial of outside access seems foolproof, so I've been uncommitted to (read: half-assed about) that as a viable comprimise.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:23 AM on May 7, 2007

Let him out. If he loves home he won't stray. If he gets run over, that's the peril of freedom. Let him out.
posted by A189Nut at 10:43 AM on May 7, 2007

Agreeing with everyone else, don't let him out ever. Eventually the whining will stop. We did this when we didn't want our cats to come into our bedroom and after a few weeks the late night meows stopped and they just accepted that they weren't going to get in. You just have to stay the course and eventually things will work out for you (please note that this may not be good advice in a military campaign but YMMV).

If you want to add some kind of bad associations with the outside then maybe leave the door open when the weather is absolutely terrible and force the cat out as other people have suggested, but I would avoid the spray bottle. It's unnecessary, and IMHO a mean thing to do.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:50 AM on May 7, 2007

"Let him out" is not a good answer; feral cats are a probably in many places. Increasing the population of felines roaming free is just contributing to a societal problem.
posted by Justinian at 11:04 AM on May 7, 2007

I will suggest that eventually could go on a loooooong time. My roommate's cat also wants to go outside and whines annoyingly to convince us of this idea. She was once confined for half a year with no exceptions. Didn't diminish the desire from what I could see.

A lot of people have reported good luck using those Feliway dispensers, though I don't know what your cat qualifies as a 'problem' so much as an annoyance.
posted by phearlez at 11:09 AM on May 7, 2007

This exact thing is happening to me. I just try to associate bad things with the door area. Spray bottle is there, and I also use a loud firm surprising voice when kitty gets close to the area: "NO!". It is SORT OF working, but only WEEKS after we let him out ONCE. Yes, it only took one time to let Milo Kitty see what fun it is out there and how much he wants to go back. Boy do I regret doing that.
posted by rio at 11:38 AM on May 7, 2007

We got two shelter cats, both of whom bolt for the door the second it's open (they tore up the screen. We don't even bother with it now). I have a pair of maracas. Whenever the cats go near the door, I give them a couple of shakes. Scares the cats away and shuts them up for at least a while. It doesn't hurt them in the slightest.

I nth that you should never, ever allow your kitty outside. First, if he ran off overnight once, he could do it again and not come back. Second, once a cat goes outside, it takes a very, very long time to wipe that memory. Don't send him mixed messages.
posted by clarkstonian at 11:57 AM on May 7, 2007

Best answer: The most important thing for cats is consistency. If you teach them that sometimes they can get away with something, they are always going to try for it. If you teach them that they can carry on all they want but you will ignore them, they will *eventually* give up and get back into their normal routine.

This worked with my cats who wanted to sleep in bed with us. They would howl and yowl and cry and carry on and whine because Mommy & Daddy didn't love them and locked them out of the bedroom and all they wanted was to snuggle (well, and pounce on each other and our heads). We used to let them in on weekends, but it just made their weeknight behavior worse as they tried to convince us to let them in. Getting up to pet them or feed them to shut them up never worked. Squirting with a water bottle didn't work.

The only thing that worked was to ignore them. Pretend you can't hear them. Do not look at them, think about them (they can tell), talk about them (seriously), or pay them any heed. Sometimes when they are doing naughty things to get me to do something, I will pretend that I am dead if I'm already lying down. I won't even flinch. And eventually, they give up. And after awhile, they stop trying.

It's annoying because it takes a lot of time and a lot of consistency to teach them that you won't cave in to their arguments. In the end, however, it will be worth it, because once they stop trying, they usually won't start up again, unless you decide to let them out again.

Don't let them out again! Don't even bother with the harness. If you're not going to let them run around free, there is no point at all. You might as well let them run around free in your home where there is no exposure to fleas, ticks, parasites, and other feline diseases.
posted by tastybrains at 11:58 AM on May 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

As an alternative, perhaps leashing would work?

One of my neighbors lets her cats run on about 10 m of light clothesline under her supervision. If your cat can escape from his collar, try using a small dog harness. This worked really well on one of our escapologists.
posted by bonehead at 12:02 PM on May 7, 2007

Take these comments as you will, but be aware that most of the comments above are advising you to restrict your cat's freedom and remove one of the most significant sources of fun for cats. Of course, if you'd rather have a subdued "pet" that's entirely for your own amusement, it's a good idea if you can live with it.

Personally, I'd rather have had my cat put down than remove something it enjoyed so much.. this despite the fact it did get run over after several amazingly fun years of hunting out in the fields.

I can appreciate your worry (I was worried too, but he always came back, and was always happy), and it's a hard decision. Good luck.
posted by wackybrit at 12:19 PM on May 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

The pet enclosure above looks like a good compromise. I've also seen window cages that allow the cat to sit outside while remaining protected.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:27 PM on May 7, 2007

My cat spend summers on Cape Cod where I let him roam outside pretty freely during the day and fetch him in before dusk, when the coyotes come out. The rest of the year he's an apartment-bound NYC cat, and he does yowl at me to go out in the hall where he thinks there must be trees, and he never learns that there aren't. What I do is keep a kid's water pistol at hand and spritz him when he meows, which shuts him up briefly - but I don't think it will change his behavior long-term.
posted by nicwolff at 12:35 PM on May 7, 2007

My Siamese initially had similar behavior when I got her. But I never purposely let her out, and it took a while but she doesn't really want outside anymore. She's curious, but any little noise/quick movement outside startles her now and she runs back in if she slipped out, or runs away from the door.

Outside may be desirable to your cat because there's so much fun stuff to do out there - climb, roll in grass, etc. Maybe there's an opportunity to bring some of that outside world into your house.

You could buy or build a really cool cat-house. They can be really expensive to buy, especially for the big ones. I built a huge one for cheap - maybe 1/4 to 1/3 the price it would cost to buy. Especially if you can find some scrap carpet. My cat seems to love very tall cat houses with lots of climby spots and holes/boxes to hide in. But wood is cheap - I used plywood and 2x4s and just staple-gunned the carpet to it. Also, for cylinders you can use the heavy cardboard tubes used for pouring footings for decks (Home Depot carries them for around $8 a piece).

Also, you could plant some grass in a container that the cat can eat. And if the container is big enough, he could even roll around in it.

Finally, although my cat doesn't go out, she still likes to hang out near the windows. So installing some wider sills on your windows with some comfy resting spots could help, too.
posted by JibberJabber at 12:39 PM on May 7, 2007

My cats have always been allowed outside. One out of 12 got hit by a car. Another ate something bad and almost died but has recovered and is fine.
I've always lived next to a "greenbank" or had a large yard though. My cats do visit neighbors but I've had no complaints.
Cats love to catch little lizards, birds, mice, rats, I had one catch a huge centipede without getting stung.
My cats are always spayed/neutered and have ID chips. Keeping the fleas at bay is difficult but not impossible.
My cats are happy, healthy, strong, and loving. They've all been rescued from shelters.
Feral cats are completely different and if you google around you can find out about them. Difficult, sometimes impossible to "domesticate".
Shelters, vets recommend indoor only. I don't want my cats to be fat and miserable, longingly staring out the window. What a sad life. My oldest cat is currently 8 and I know indoor cats live longer than cats who are exposed to the outdoors. Ask yourself, if you were your cat, what would you want? My opinion only. If I lived in an apartment or on a highway they'd be inside only.
posted by bkiddo at 12:42 PM on May 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I also have had cats. Some indoor, one pair was outdoor but gradually lost interest and became indoor (one got fat, the other got attacked by other cats too many times).

bkiddo, cats love being outdoors, but there are other reasons to keep them inside besides their own health. Cats absolutely decimate local songbird populations. There's a good deal of proof out there on this, consider here and here and here. Cats kill for fun, not just hunger, and can still catch animals even if declawed and belled. From an ecological standpoint outdoor cats are completely irresponsible.
posted by schroedinger at 1:14 PM on May 7, 2007

schroedinger: wouldn't you say it's 50/50 whether you should keep a cat inside or not?

(end physics joke)

anyway -- cats have been outdoors for 40 million years. If you're worried about ecological standpoints, then you should not keep an animal period, because there's no ecological basis for kitty litter or cat food either.
posted by felix at 1:28 PM on May 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

Harnesses of this type are pretty escape proof. We used to let our once-a-barn-cat-always-an-outdoor-cat whiner outside with this type of harness. We'd attach the leash to a post in the backyard and leave her out there with minimum supervision. It worked pretty well.

She did catch a bird once, but she was pretty limited in her range, so we weren't too worried. If you are concerned about wildlife, then leash + supervision is probably the best option.
posted by carmen at 1:29 PM on May 7, 2007

Harness his energy -- take him for walks. He needs the exercise and sunshine and fresh air, and so do you.

If you have a park within walking distance, carry him to the park, them let him down on the harness and wander around behind him. He might learn to walk to or from the park, too. He will learn that there's no walk -- no dashing out the door -- without a harness.
posted by pracowity at 1:33 PM on May 7, 2007

My cats eventually got the idea that they're not going to be outside anymore after two years of being indoors. One cat doesn't care to go outside at all, as he prefers the guaranteeded safety of the house. The other would like to go outside, but I assume after 5 minutes of looking around, she'd just go to sleep in the sunlight.

Both of them are feral cats, who both spent the first 5-6 months of life in the outdoors. The only thing I did to change their attitude is keep them inside, and give them plenty of food.
posted by triolus at 1:47 PM on May 7, 2007

Response by poster: If he gets run over, that's the peril of freedom.

Personally, I'd rather have had my cat put down than remove something it enjoyed so much.

I can't reconcile these senitments with responsible custodianship of a simpler life form. I adopted and loved these kittens and keeping them alive is job one.

You could buy or build a really cool cat-house.

Also, you could plant some grass

So installing some wider sills on your windows with some comfy resting spots could help, too.

Done done and done. They have a 7' Cat tree, weekly kitty grass (planting is stupid, it dies too quickly, we buy hippie grass for them) and windows rigged with chicken wire so they can smell outside without clawing their way to it.

The harness training was done outdoors, but whenever something unusual appeared (a neighbor, a strange sound) he freaked out so thoroughly he was a danger to himself.
I think he's not suited for the park.

So, to remind: my question is about how to quiet his vocalizations humanely.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:00 PM on May 7, 2007

The only humane solution is a holodeck.

You could get a bird. Maybe even a real looking fake one that sings. Keep them distracted.
posted by tkchrist at 2:31 PM on May 7, 2007

Ambrosia Voyeur - is their cat tree a FUN cat tree? meaning they can dig their claws in it (I've found rope-wrapped wood to be a sirens song for kitties) and real sturdy with almost no artificial materials like plastic? (I admit ours does have carpet squares on the platforms).

Ignoring the cat's whining is the best answer so far! Develop a door opening method that involves blocking the opening with your body so the cat can't bum-rush it. It's a little tricky to do when juggling a bunch of stuff, but it's the best way to keep them from running outside while they're adjusting to their new domesticated lifestyle.

The debate to whether keeping a cat inside is a form of kitty prison is inappropriate for this thread. There are two sides to the issue and Side A will never convince Side B.
posted by muddgirl at 2:38 PM on May 7, 2007

Best answer: Disclaimer: I have never owned a cat. My only experience in answering comes from my extensive work with horses, which are admittedly a vastly different can of worms.

Many of the above suggestions have to do with consistency - keep the cat indoors at all times, so that you're not giving mixed messages. But in my experience, that's not the only way to establish consistency. If you make going outside a routinized, dependable, never-changing pattern - i.e., cat gets to go outside ONLY at 12 p.m. for 30 minutes EXACTLY. Before cat gets to go outside, you have some sort of cue that is not cat-initiated: a bell, a leash put on, some action that indicates to the cat that "Now it is time to go outside."

What makes me think of this is the handling of studs. They're very hormone-driven, and of course the breeding shed is a huge motivation for them. But to have a 1200 pound animal that goes psycho every time there is a mare in heat around is completely unacceptable and dangerous, and so stallions are generally given a very specific set of routines: when it's time for training, bathing, turnout, or anything normal, they have one kind of halter, turn right out the stable door, and walk along one path. When it's time to breed, perhaps they have a halter with a bell on it, and they turn left out of their stall door. This indicates to them the proper times to display appropriate behavior.

I know cats are very different, but I can't help but think that the basic principles are the same - with a horse, you don't want the behavior of sexual arousal and hormonally-driven, uncontrollable movement. With a cat, you don't want constant, uncontrollable annoyance in the form of headbutting, meowing, and so forth. Yes, cats are much more persistent than (most) horses, and it would probably take much longer to eliminate the unwanted behavior.

Perhaps if you were able to devise a very specific set of events leading up to Going Outside, events that -cannot- be influenced in any way by the cat himself, he would pick up on this and behave more appropriately. (Meowing and becoming excited when he knows he's about to go out are probably perfectly fine, after all - just like a dog's excitement when the leash comes out.)
posted by po at 3:52 PM on May 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think some cats are built with an inherent desire to go out, and I honestly think it's too much to ask of an outdoor-longing cat to never go out. One of our two is motivated by almost nothing else except the desire to go out. Even though I tried to keep him indoors for ages, he never gave up asking to go out. So instead of fretting about how to keep him in, I concentrated on how to keep him safe, and get him home when I wanted him to.

He gets to go outside only when we are at home, and only during daylight hours. He knows that now, and doesn't ask to go out other times. He has gotten out after dark now and then, and is distinctly nervous about it; it's strange territory for him. He comes right back in.

The other thing was getting him to come back. Since he's not at all motivated by food, I couldn't shake a treat jar or something, as with other cats. But I found two things he really enjoys, and that will bring him running: the hose (!) - yes, he likes to play in a small stream of water if I wave it around, so the sound of the hose brings him from anywhere - and catnip. I have a special call that he knows means only "catnip time!" and I reinforce it without fail, every time.

So that was our compromise; he's happy because he gets outdoor play time, and I'm happy because he isn't annoying, and actually comes when called. It took a couple of years to get to that point, but I recommend it. And finally, I've noticed that as he gets older, he stays closer to the house, and comes in on his own much more often. I know you really feel that your cats need to be indoors, but under the conditions I've described, I think you could make him a happier animal, and improve the quality of his life and yours.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 6:20 PM on May 7, 2007

Re getting in and out of the house, my cats come and go as they please, sort of. my older cat will whine (on either side) at the door, while my young sprightly kitty knows how to jump up over the roof and down again from the upstairs porch. I just leave the screen door a few inches open all the time.
They never stray because there are some loud rambunctious children in the area, they are (smartly) afraid of cars, lawn equipment etc.
I think it really depends on where you live.
My cats LOVE to go out at night, esp at dawn and dusk, and when the moon is waxing or full. Prime hunting time- they have awesome night vision. I love cats.
I have to be careful though, and make SURE I stick to two and don't wind up like those ladies with 250 in their apt. Eeeek.
posted by bkiddo at 9:38 PM on May 7, 2007

My aunt's solution to this problem was to only let her cat out during the worst sort of weather: blizzards, thunderstorms, hail, etc. At all other times, the request was ignored.

The cat learns that outside isn't really a place it wants to go after all. They stopped asking fairly quickly.
posted by Arturus at 12:50 AM on May 8, 2007

It sounds like what you want isn't really a cat. You want a cat-shaped lap dog.
posted by RussHy at 4:59 AM on May 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

My cat has been known to take a swipe at my ankle as I pass him. I have pretty much broken him of this by hissing loudly and stamping my foot as soon as he does it. This startles him out of his revery. A couple of those and he doesn't do it any more.
posted by wsg at 9:02 AM on May 8, 2007

In Karen Pryor's Don't Shoot the Dog (which you should read; in most libraries), she has a story about a dog who when locked in a room would bark non-stop to be let out. The owner came up with a solution, which was to put a towel on the doorknob. When that towel was there, the dog could bark & bark and never be let out. When it was time to let the dog out of the room, the owner would crack the door, grab the towel, and wait for the dog to bark before opening it. This taught the dog that barking wouldn't do any good if the towel was there, so it stopped.

This is the same issue of consistency that po addresses above, so I would second her suggestion of specific signals indicating outdoor time. And never, never let the cat out without those signals. Eventually it should catch on, and only meow when it notices the outside signals.
posted by fidelity at 9:48 AM on May 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I also have two very vocal and intelligent little kitties. The older male cat was a stray and the younger female was a feral kitten. Since they were already outside cats I personally made the decision to continue to allow them to roam freely outdoors. They are both primarily outside cats. They both enjoy hunting insects, rolling around in the dirt, and climbing trees. I don't want to deprive them of the enjoyment of playing outside.

However, there are times when I have to keep them inside the house for their safety. And yes, just like your little kitty they cry and cry and plead to go outside. I find that re-directing their energy is the best way to stop the crying. They key is to find the activities that your kitty loves the most.

My male cat LOVES to be petted, so when he stands next to the sliding door and begs to go outside I will massage him for a few minutes. After I massage him I leave a toy in the room and close the door and leave him to his own devices. He usually plays for a while and then goes to sleep on his recliner. (Yes, he has his own recliner) I don't keep all of his toys out all of the time. I rotate the availability of his toys so that he always has something different and exciting to play with.

I highly recommend the DVD "Your cat wants a massage" by Maryjean Ballner. She is a licensed massage therapist and has also written a book on cat massage. You can find the DVD on My little female kitty has a lot of energy and will run rampant through the house if I let her. Giving her a massage with the techniques from the DVD seems to mellow her out quite a bit.

I also grow catnip inside of the house in one of those long rectangular "seed starter" trays that is self watering. My cats love walking on the catnip and rolling in the catnip and eating it.

It's almost impossible to break a cat's spirit. They are intelligent and determined little creatures and will almost always find a way to get what they want.

I suggest that you come to a compromise with your cat and let him go outdoors in a way that will be safe for him. There are many commercial cat enclosures that you can place in your back yard. I recommend installing one that basically allows you to enclose a portion of your yard so that your cat can't escape. This way he can climb the trees and roll in the grass and chase the birds and bascially have all of the pleasures of being outside, but still be safe.

I have found it helpful to give each of my cats an outdoor house. This way they are protected if there is a windstorm or rainstorm and I don't have to keep a constant eye on them. I recommend the insulated bungalow house with a single door at . Of all the outdoor cat houses I've tried this seems to be the most popular with my kitties. All of my cats took to this particular house right away. They seem to like looking out of the little windows

I hope this gives you a few ideas.
posted by alleycatd at 12:03 PM on May 9, 2007

« Older Video Archiving Server   |   Recommend a free online notepad Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.