Stop molesting my nose!
September 27, 2007 9:22 AM   Subscribe

Why is my kitten so hell-bent on pestering me when I'm trying to sleep? How can I get him to calm down?

I recently adopted two 12-week-old kittens - a Siamese and a Maine Coon. They both sleep with me. Recently, the Siamese has developed a pathological desire to lick the tip of my nose in the early hours of the morning. At precisely 4 a.m. every day, he will start maniacally trying to get to my face. Attempts at fending him off and hiding under pillows usually fail, as he tends to sink his claws into my head to prevent me from escaping his ritual. After a five-hour, stop-and-go battle with him this morning, this is no longer particularly endearing. Much to my dismay, he lets my boyfriend snooze away undisturbed during all of this.

First of all, is there any way I could encourage the kitten to sleep peacefully? I usually pet him and hold him for a bit when he does this, as it makes him settle down for a while. I have a feeling I'm reinforcing the crazed nose licking. The obvious answer is to not let him sleep with me. However, if I close the bedroom door, he'll start meowing hysterically and scratching to be let in. It's as disruptive as the nose obsession and I feel bad. So I'm kind of at a loss. If he's just being annoyingly affectionate, I don't want to harshly reject him and scar him for life or anything. I've made both cats their own little beds, but they prefer sleeping with me. Should I bother buying a proper cat bed?

Secondly, out of curiosity, any thoughts on why a kitten would be so eager to do this? I figure it's simply a gesture of affection or a grooming thing. Why only in the wee hours of the morning? I don't use any creams on my face at night, so I don't think he's attracted to a scent, and it's not a matter of begging, since I leave food out for both of them 24/7. I've never owned cats before this, so perhaps this is less mysterious than it seems to me.
posted by qz to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know, but I do know that my sister's orange tabby male likes sleeping on my face, knowing that I'm horribly allergic to him. The female, who I don't react to, won't come near me...

This is why I own a dog.
posted by SpecialK at 9:28 AM on September 27, 2007

Best answer: You're reinforcing the crazed nose licking. The kitten, whose sleep cycle is vastly different from yours, probably sees you as his primary source of entertainment and is prodding you accordingly. IMHO handling cats is a lot like having a relationship with a narcissistic personality disorder, provide reinforcement at your own risk, and set boundaries. He might howl for a night or two but he needs to be able to entertain himself.
posted by methylsalicylate at 9:28 AM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Train him. We keep a box of coins in our bedroom and shake it at the cats (they HATE the sound) when they're naughty. If that's too loud for your snoozing boyfriend, try the old water squirt bottle trick.
posted by GaelFC at 9:38 AM on September 27, 2007

Yeah, cats are weird. The jumping-on-your-head-at-night is pretty common to kittens. They're awake, you're their caretaker, so they want you to be awake too so you can protect and feed and play with them.

Cats normally grow out of this behavior. The most you can do is lock him out and hope he calms down after a few nights.
posted by Anonymous at 9:40 AM on September 27, 2007

Second GaelFC. Creatively applying torture training works best.
posted by humannaire at 9:47 AM on September 27, 2007

As noted above, you're inadvertently reinforcing the behavior. Lock both kittens out of the bedroom for a couple nights. When the Siamese wants some action he'll wake up the other kitten. And eventually, the Maine Coon will trash his ass.

A Maine Coon and a Siamese, there's an odd combo. We have got 4 Maine Coons and they never ever grow up, remain kittens all their lives. And compared to the Siamese, their voices are very small. Your household is going to be very interesting for a very long time.
posted by Ber at 9:49 AM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

They go through phases. The nose-licking will abate. Of course, it will be replaced by attacking the shower curtain while you're showering or biting your hair as soon as you drift off to sleep or something equally wacko.

They are cats. They have their reasons. They do not need to explain them. Browse all the "how do I make my cat stop doing x" questions for suggestions for dissuading tactics.
posted by desuetude at 9:54 AM on September 27, 2007

Best answer: Try wearing him out before bed. To the point of panting!

Nothing nothing nothing keeps my cat's interest more than this:

It looks stupid and unfun, but the wire gives it a great randomness that he goes nuts over. He'll tire with every other toy, but he would (and has) played with this ALL day. That's why it's now a Momma-and-kitty toy, and it stays in the closet when we're not playing with it together.
posted by at 10:00 AM on September 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

My cat is 11 years old and STILL wakes me up at 4:00 a.m. every single night unless he has gotten himself shut outside at bedtime.

Get used to it.
posted by briank at 10:23 AM on September 27, 2007

Response by poster: I think I'm going to try simply wearing him out through tons of exercise before I lock him out or scare the shit out of him. If I manage to get the nose licking down to once every so often vs. once every 20 seconds, I'll be happy. :) Thanks for all the responses.
posted by qz at 10:37 AM on September 27, 2007

Best answer: Welcome to the world of cats. They wake you up at night. Forever.

Things that have worked for us: keeping vacuum plugged into power strip, turned on. When the cats start shit at night, reach down, flip switch, turn on vacuum. Works, in that temporary sort of way. Also, cans of air. Also, a very direct, "NO," pulling him off your face, putting him on the ground. If he knows it means he's going to lose contact with you, he'll knock it off, most of the time, hopefully.

Finally, seconding the "wear them out before bedtime," routine, and for us, the Holy Grail is undoubtedly the good old fashioned Laser Pointer. That red dot, what is it? It's going that way! Now it's going that way! *pant pant*, sleep. Works every time.

Good luck. They're worth it, little bastards.
posted by atayah at 10:39 AM on September 27, 2007 [4 favorites]

You can kinda sorta train cats by refraining from "rewarding" the behavior, but it's not nearly as clean-cut as doing same with a dog. Be prepared to be very consistent for a long time before you see modified behavior.

We have a fully grown cat who expertly wakes me up every morning around 5 to be let out, and I do it. :(
posted by everichon at 10:48 AM on September 27, 2007

My cat used to wake me up by licking my eyelids at the buttcrack of dawn every morning. I wondered if she was trying to eat my eyeballs for her breakfast.

I couldn't stand to be mean to her so I went with a reverse psychology "I will hug her, and pet her, and squeeze her" routine, overly enthusiastically snuggling and smooching and freakishly thanking her for welcoming me into my day so wonderfully. She eventually got the message that I was perhaps more insane than she'd realized, and now will just purr at me from a healthy distance when it's wakeup time.

I find that thinking from a crazy person's perspective helps with most cat issues, since, as other people have said: cats are basically nuts. (Not that that makes me love my kitties any less, mind you!)
posted by kittyb at 10:48 AM on September 27, 2007 [8 favorites]

My cats hate to be squirted with a spray bottle. That could work, and be a bit quieter than pennies in a can.

Just water works for me, but I've heard that some vinegar in the water works failing that - apparently the cats have to immediately stop what they're doing to clean themselves.
posted by puddleglum at 10:58 AM on September 27, 2007

I've got a fairly large tom who likes to attack my girlfriend's feet every night (every night). The only thing that works to dissuade him from doing this is to grab him by the neck like I'm going to choke him to death (otherwise he claws the shit out of my arm), carry him to the bedroom door and throw him out of it into the hallway. Shut door. Lock it. Done.

Then the clawing begins. He'll claw and meow and carry on for whatever remains of the night. Every night.

The water bottle didn't work for me, neither did the loud noises (yelling, clapping, cellphone alarm). Positive reinforcement hasn't done a whole lot, nor has negative reinforcement. Not changing the blankets, not switching sides with my girlfriend, not trying to not allow the cat on the bed at all (ha); nothing. Today at lunch my girl asked me, "What are we going to do about that cat?" I made some kind of man-noise and shoved my head back into the steaming bowl of katsudon in front of us.

No matter what I've tried the guy won't stop. I'd just leave him out of the bedroom every night to begin with, but the clawing and meowing will start right up and I'll never get to sleep.

We got another kitten to keep him busy at night, which worked great up until he taught the kitten that attacking human's feet was a fun way to kill some time. We told the vet about this and asked for her advice, but I felt bad even thinking about giving my cat anti-depressants or valium.

I love this cat. Can't say why, really; I just do. I found him under a house when he was about six weeks old and I've had him ever since. He's like an annoying autistic neighbor kid who lives in your house and likes to bite your legs and stare at you blankly from accross the room for twenty minutes at a time and farts when you pick him up and eats roaches for fun. He's hilarious. How could I get rid of such an entertaining creature?

Anyway, good luck.

(BTW, the maine coon should be a fairly mellow cat, but the siamese will probably always be fruity)
posted by Pecinpah at 11:17 AM on September 27, 2007 [17 favorites]

cats are nocturnal, so she's up and wants to play. she doesn't realize she's annoying you--she thinks she succeeded in waking you up and that you're playing with her!

keep a little spritzer bottle of water by the bed and next time she wakes you up, squirt her. she'll stop within a week.
posted by thinkingwoman at 11:23 AM on September 27, 2007

Our cats got over this kind of thing. It took a while. Sorry. They are like very young children, so once you get them to the mentality of a two year old, you've done all you can do.

TIRE THEM OUT. Also, keep missiles at the ready. Nothing like a random rain of shoes at 3am to get them to re-think whatever they are doing. Nothing that will hurt them - go for the loud. If you are lucky, they will grow out of it and be willing to sleep with you peacefully. My boy still wakes me up sometimes, but mostly becuase he wants to snuggle and I am hogging the bed where he wants to be. All in all, I'd rather that than the knocking over of stuff and the eyeball baths.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:29 AM on September 27, 2007

The wear-him-out, pennies-in-can and squirt-bottle ideas are all good ones.

At 12 weeks old, he might still be recovering from being weaned a few weeks ago. Some cats weaned too early will try to nurse all sorts of inappropriate places.

If that's the case, for his psychological comfort, if you have a room far enough away from your bedroom that the kittens could be shut in to sleep (with a fairly impervious door), you could try making them a special bed with a towel over a heating pad and a ticking clock - it's supposed to mimic mama cat's warmth and heartbeat. A life-sized stuffed cat could be added too. I've done that with kittens before but never specifically because of troubles at night.
posted by jocelmeow at 11:30 AM on September 27, 2007

Our kitties don't attack us, but they are the size of toddlers, so they definitely don't sleep with us.

It took about a month, but we trained them to sleep in the same room every night - for us it's the laundry room. They have their double-wide litter box, a basket of toys, squishy places to sleep and water. They go in when it's time for their dinner, and out when it's time for breakfast. I realize you may not have the luxury of an extra room to do this in, but I highly recommend it.

And of course, n'thing the cats are insane sentiment. Good luck!
posted by dirtmonster at 12:04 PM on September 27, 2007

Atayah's vacuum-power-strip approach was what I was going to suggest for when you lock them out of the room.

I trained my cats to not wake my ass up (mostly) though a version of this approach. The sequence was this: cats wake me up, I immediately get up and throw them out of the room. If they meow/scratch at the door I'd throw shoes at it, which startled them.

Leaving the vac on the other side of the closed door and using it to scare off scratchers is likely easier on your door and shoes. However I was lazy and the shoes worked from the bed.

I'd continue to lock them out of the room for the following few nights, then when I was feeling generous/adventurous/didn't have morning meetings the next day, I'd let them back in.

I do not recall having to throw them out more than a few times. I figured they liked having access to the room and even their tiny little walnut brains could figure out that being a pain in the ass got them ejected. This didn't stop all their nocturnal idiocy, but it did result in them keeping it in the other rooms, which rarely woke me.
posted by phearlez at 12:47 PM on September 27, 2007

Seconding dirtmonster's suggestion. We have four cats of various ages (16 down to 7 months) and discovered early on that the kittens just like to play. All the time. Loudly. So we started putting them to bed in the basement. It works really well for us and we humans get to sleep through the night. Of course, I'm a raving lunatic when my sleep is disturbed, so keeping them off the same floor/storey as me is really the best solution for everyone.
posted by cooker girl at 12:48 PM on September 27, 2007

I did the hug-and-snuggle-and-smother trick when my Siamese abruptly decided that the way to get me to wake up and pay attention to her was to put her paw on my mouth and fleeeeeeex her claws. It worked really well, actually.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:15 PM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

All cats come with an evil hidden agenda preinstalled. Your kitten likely got damaged in transit and has mistaken his mandate to kill you by biting off your face in the dead of night, with licking you affectionately on the nose. It's a common issue with kittens.

Put him to bed in another room. He'll be upset for a day or two while he tries to formulate a backup plan to end your existence, but he'll adapt.
posted by BorgLove at 1:39 PM on September 27, 2007 [4 favorites]

Put a bit of nailpolish remover (the kind with bitrex) on the tip of your nose before bed. That stuff tastes pretty nasty, and your kitty will quickly regret licking your nose.
Downsides: smells gross for a while, might irritate sensitive skin, kitty might lick even more to get that terrible toxin off your face.

It's also handy for getting people to stop biting their nails.
posted by idiotfactory at 2:09 PM on September 27, 2007

Tiring the kitty out is a good tactic. Also, are you feeding them in the morning? Because if you are, he might be waking you up to get fed, so try feeding them at night (that's a key element for my tubby bastard of a cat - giving him a small bedtime snack means he doesn't have to get me up because he's starvingohmygodlookatmei'mwastingawayhere). Of course, when I have to be up at 5am, not feeding him works excellently as well.

Another thing I've discovered is that when the room is cold he doesn't want to get up as readily - he's happy to stay cuddled up next to me. So I'm looking forward to winter A LOT. You might try making sure that your room is cold so the incentive is there to curl up next to an unmmoving warm body.
posted by marylynn at 4:00 PM on September 27, 2007

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