I have a hungry kitten and a terrified bird
July 18, 2008 12:06 PM   Subscribe

How can I keep my kitten from eating my bird? I have a cockatiel in a rather large cage. I also have a 12 week old kitten. She has been very interested in my bird, watching him intently and occasionally trying to jump onto the table where his cage sits. Until today, she wasn't able to jump that high.

So now she's jumping onto the cage and trying for dear life to attack this bird (who so far, doesn't really understand that she wants to eat him).

Let me share some facts:
- The kitten has those softpaw covers on (I imagine she will be less able to leap onto the cage after she's been declawed)
- I've tried to spray her with water/scare her with a noisemaker every time she would try to get by him, but she seriously doesn't care about either of these disciplinary tactics. She'll run away, but literally as soon as the spray stops she'll be right back up there.
- We keep her in the bathroom when we're not home, for a number of reasons, but mostly because we don't trust her not to kill the bird. I would like to let her have free run of the apartment soon, though. I know she gets kind of bored in there.
- There is nowhere I can put the birdcage where she won't be able to get it (i.e. another room in the apartment).

I am mostly worried that when she's bigger, she'll be able to knock the cage off the table, or that when the bird is hanging on the bars of the cage (which is his favorite spot), she'll be able to hurt him with her claws or teeth.

Any advice would be appreciated!! I have never had a cat before, so I have no idea even where to begin!
posted by nataliedanger to Pets & Animals (35 answers total)
How about keeping the bird in the bathroom when you're not home, instead of the cat?
posted by bcwinters at 12:15 PM on July 18, 2008 [4 favorites]

I imagine she will be less able to leap onto the cage after she's been declawed

Uh oh. *hides*

If you can be around (not where she can easily see you) long enough for her to try jumping onto the table, squirt her in the face with a water pistol or bottle. Repeat. The key is for her not to see you, since she'll just try to jump on the table when you're not around.

Alternately, put some easily-dislodged cookie sheets or muffin tins around the bird's cage that will slide off if she leaps onto them. The noise will scare the crap out of her, and the idea is for her to learn to fear the table/birdcage, not your presence. She's young, so she's probably more malleable than, say, my cranky old cat.

Good luck!
posted by timetoevolve at 12:16 PM on July 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Can you hang the birdcage up (and away from high countertops, etc...)? You need a physical barriar between her and the bird. Your kitty wants to hunt. You can't knock that primal urge out of her with a spray of water.
posted by moonshine at 12:17 PM on July 18, 2008

Condition the cat to fear cages with a loud bell? A bit of a novel way of approaching it, might be fun to do it though.
posted by ashaw at 12:20 PM on July 18, 2008

Well, no matter what else you do, I think you need to find a sturdier solution for the cage, one that the cat is not going to knock over. Even if the cat grows out of actively trying to kill the bird, she may jump on top of the cage just for fun, and you'd have the same problem. Something like this would give the cat no access to the bird unless it was near a table or shelf, so it may solve both problems.
posted by cabingirl at 12:22 PM on July 18, 2008

Put a few of these on your table. Sprinkling cayenne pepper on the table's edges might help too.

Please also consider moving the caged bird and letting the cat have the run of the apartment during the day.

Declawing a cat probably won't prevent it from getting onto a table. I know you didn't ask about declawing and I don't want to derail the conversation - but please consider your situation and the cat's further before declawing.
posted by terpia at 12:27 PM on July 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sorry to post again, but I just noticed your title.

Your kitty's not after the bird because it's hungry.

"The (cat's) urge to hunt is independent of the urge to eat."
posted by moonshine at 12:30 PM on July 18, 2008

Declawing will not prevent her from jumping, unless the operation damages her feet so badly that she has trouble walking - and I'm assuming you don't want that. I know someone with a declawed cat (cat came that way) and she has no problem jumping on stuff. She also can't defend herself if she gets outside.

She's quite young. Some cats that are raised with smaller or prey-like animals are perfectly fine hanging out with them without trying to eat them - I have a friend who has both cats and rats, and the cats don't try to eat the rats.

Find a better place to put the cage - is hanging it a possibility? - and wait for her to outgrow her zany kittenhood (during which she will try to chase and catch pretty much anything, so it's probably not personal towards the bird).
posted by rtha at 12:34 PM on July 18, 2008

"She's quite young" = your cat, that is.
posted by rtha at 12:34 PM on July 18, 2008

When I was a child, we made a permanent birdbox most of the way up the wall. It was far beyond jumping range. Bonus: cockatiel liked being up so high where he could see everything. Then we scheduled "bird time" where we exiled the cat out of the house and let mr. parrot out to play for a few hours.

Obviously this isn't an ideal solution, since the bird gets very little time out, and it's a pain in the ass to organize. It depends, really, on how much time you have, and how comfortable you are with the cage being the primary domicile of your bird.
posted by media_itoku at 12:40 PM on July 18, 2008

I think you have an unworkable situation here. Please consider that, even if you can keep the bird alive, you are seriously diminishing its quality of life. Imagine the constant stress of having to live in close quarters with a predator whose overwhelming natural instinct is to kill you. Or the anxiety of having constantly to hear that stuttering noise that cats make in their throats. You should not have gotten the cat. The ethical course now is to let one or the other of your animals go. Or to find a living space that will let you keep them perfectly segregated from one another.

To those of you who can't help but chime in on the declawing issue: this is a derail and not what AskMe is for. The fervency of your rectitude does not justify abusing this resource.
posted by felix betachat at 12:51 PM on July 18, 2008 [8 favorites]


The OP states "I imagine she will be less able to leap onto the cage after she's been declawed". So, at least in some regard the bit about declawing is relevant, if for no other purpose than dropping some knowledge that declawing won't really affect that cat's ability to jump onto a table.

The OP didn't state whether or not the declawing's purpose is to prevent this - but if that's one of the driving motivators for them, they may well be appreciative of the advice that it won't really help the situation.
posted by terpia at 12:59 PM on July 18, 2008

I have known folks that have cats and birds (or cats and other prey-type pets) and the only way it has worked is to keep the "prey" in a safe place from the cat. Hanging the cage from the ceiling may be the best option, but felix betachat may be right - is your place too small or too ill-configured for both?

I will try not to derail with the declawing (though I agree it is cruel and inhumane) but a friend rescued two declawed cats and those little guys can get anywhere. I would not let them near a bird because they could still bite, pummel, and harass it - which may or may not be deadly for birdie but certainly very unpleasant.

WCityMike, I had always heard that too. Much to my surprise and frustration, PointyCat loves to shred and nom aluminum foil - he may be is a weirdo but maybe other cats are too?
posted by pointystick at 1:00 PM on July 18, 2008

i've had good luck training my cats to stay off of certain surfaces with a combination of water pistol (or canned air if you don't want things to get wet) and covering the surface with double-sided tape. even if they don't get sprayed, when they jump up they decide that THIS SUCKS and tend to leave it alone.

it'll take a while, since the learning curve is sometimes very shallow.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:00 PM on July 18, 2008

I've never owned a bird.

But I trained a cat not to stalk (or mess with) my iguana by introducing the two when the cat was a kitten and allowing the iguana to kick that cat's ass, forever implanting in the cat the thought that the iguana was Not To Be Messed With.

So, yeah, I guess my advice is to allow your bird to beat your poor helpless kitten to within an inch of its life. Probably not the soundest plan, but hey.

And please don't declaw your cat.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:06 PM on July 18, 2008

My cats are declawed. (I adopted them after the surgery had been done.) I am commenting to answer the OP's "I imagine" scenario.

One of my cats can jump from the floor to the top of a shelving unit that is about 6 feet high, without a running start; in fact, he just did it while I was typing this. The other one can make it almost as high, and he weighs 14 pounds. If the cat wants the bird, the cat will hunt the bird. Presence or absence of claws has nothing to do with whether the cat can jump, reach, or harm the bird.

nthing felix betachat about the inherent unfairness of the situation, to both the bird and the kitten.
posted by catlet at 1:07 PM on July 18, 2008

Cats are predators. It's what they do.

I rescued a cat which had been declawed and then abandoned, and that little demon could get anywhere the big 5-pointy-end cats could get. (She had real problems with her feet when she got older though. I recommend against cutting off the toes of your pets. )

I've known lots of people who have cats and birds. They seem to fall into two schools of thought; one which hangs the birds up high and only let them fly around when the cat is banished from the room, and the other, which lets the big birds out to fly while the kitten is still small enough to learn to be afraid of giant swooping flying things.

But if you really value your bird, even though the kitten is an adorable ball of fluff now, it will grow into a sleek, fast, killing machine, and will probably have your bird with a nice chianti. If that's not what you really had in mind, you may want to find someone to fall in love with her while she's still adorable and fluffy.
posted by dejah420 at 1:13 PM on July 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

[a few comments removed - if your discussion about declawing is not directly relevant to the question, take it to email or metatalk. please also keep OMG DECLAWING talk out of here, it's part of the problem, not simply pointing to it. In some cases the map is the territory, thanks for keeping AskMe litter free.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:17 PM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding this:

But I trained a cat not to stalk (or mess with) my iguana by introducing the two when the cat was a kitten and allowing the iguana to kick that cat's ass, forever implanting in the cat the thought that the iguana was Not To Be Messed With.

So, yeah, I guess my advice is to allow your bird to beat your poor helpless kitten to within an inch of its life.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:06 PM on July 18 [+] [!]

Lessons learned when young, especially involving pain, are generally Very Well Learned. You don't have to cruelly torture your kitten; merely let the bird wreak a little vengeance for disturbing his perching peace.

And make sure the kitty's claws are bootied, first, JIC.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:17 PM on July 18, 2008

Choose which you love more and get rid of the other. There really is no fair way to keep a cat with a small bird (though I imagine a larger parrot could hold his own ala BitterOldPunk's iguana)
If you really wont get rid of one of them then as bcwinters suggests, put the bird in the bathroom - its already in a cage, so long as he has plenty of toys to keep him occupied, he's really not going to suffer for it (unless his usual spot is infront of a nice big window over a garden or a mirror, he'll probably not feel any different)
posted by missmagenta at 1:17 PM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Put the bird's cage somewhere with only one access point, and put this in front of that access point.

Granted, I've only used the ssscat to keep kitties out of the bedroom and not away from something they'd dearly love to sink their pointy teeth into, but it might help.
posted by teleri025 at 1:24 PM on July 18, 2008

Lessons learned when young, especially involving pain, are generally Very Well Learned. You don't have to cruelly torture your kitten; merely let the bird wreak a little vengeance for disturbing his perching peace.

I doubt a cockatiel could wreak vengence on even the smallest kitten, at 12 weeks the kitten is probably about 4-5 times bigger/heavier than the bird.
posted by missmagenta at 1:29 PM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I, too, think you should keep the bird in the bathroom instead when you're gone. The cockatiel would enjoy it a lot more than the kitten, especially if the cockatiel has full view of a bathroom mirror. Also, the cockatiel is already in her cage, so she's going to be confined to the same amount of space either way.

Seriously, sometimes I put my cockatiel in the bathroom just because he loves the mirror.

As for what you can do at other times, I honestly don't know. The people I've known that are able to have both birds and cats have cats that, for some reason, are not interested in eating the birds. The one suggestion I would make is that you don't clip your cockatiel's wings; if the cat ever does manage to get in the cage, the cockatiel might have a chance to escape that way, however small. If its wings are clipped, it's toast.

Mostly, though, I'm rather concerned... do you never let your cockatiel out of its cage? I ask because you don't mention it. I realize that it's common enough practice to get a bird and never let it out of its cage, but I think it's common only because people don't know any better. People usually get birds, especially smaller ones, because they think they're low maintenance, but they really shouldn't be; any animal is low maintenance if one decides to stick them in a cage and never let them out. Birds need exercise, and even with all the toys in the world sitting in the cage all day isn't that stimulating. I can't imagine not letting my birds out every day. My cockatiel is rather fond of his cage, and still he will have a burst of flying a few times a day for a bit. We just let him sit on his cage all day and do what he feels like, and he is in incredible shape. Saves a lot on vet bills. He also appreciates being able to come to us whenever he likes. Our African Grey hates his cage, though, so it's a good thing we let him out every day.

As an alternative, a cage large enough that the cockatiel could do some decent flying would be good. You would have trouble keeping the cat away from something that big, though. And if the cat is trying to eat the bird, I don't see how you could ever let it out to get proper exercise.

Anyway, if you don't let the cockatiel out of its cage somewhat frequently, you should consider giving it to someone who can do so. That would solve your cat problem and the cockatiel's exercise problem. I don't mean to lecture you because, if this is the case, I'm sure it isn't at all your intention to be cruel to the bird. I do think it's very important, though. Or, you could give away the cat and let the cockatiel out more. Or find some way for them to get along, even with the bird out of the cage sometimes.

If you have any questions you can send me a MeFi mail. Good luck, and I hope you get a good solution.
posted by Nattie at 1:29 PM on July 18, 2008

merely let the bird wreak a little vengeance for disturbing his perching peace.

A cockatiel won't be able to touch a kitten, unfortunately. You might be thinking of a cockatoo, which could probably bite a kitten's paw straight off... which is also undesirable. (There are real stories of macaws biting cats' paws off.)

Also, cat saliva has bacteria in it that can kill birds. (Google "parrot" "cat saliva.") Even if the bird lives through an attack, and even if by some miracle the cockatiel hurt the kitten, it could still die from the contact.
posted by Nattie at 1:32 PM on July 18, 2008

Disclaimer -- I own two larger parrots that wouldn't take any flak from a kitten.

While I know a few people who have a successful bird-cat shared household, I think it's the exception, not the rule. Introducing the pair and having the bird assert dominance while the cat is young is key, I think, but the bird has to actually WANT to assert dominance. If your tiel is too scared it may be unable to do much besides flap madly about in its cage.

Cats can also carry toxoplasmosis in their saliva, which can be fatal for birds, so I'd recommend against allowing the bird and the cat to come in close contact at all.

Putting the bird in the bathroom is a bad idea -- parrot's need every bit as much stimulation and engagement with their surroundings as other pets. Keeping them in a cage all day, all night, and in a small space on top of that, is cruel, in my opinion.

Best option, if you keep both animals, is to find a way to hang the bird's cage from the ceiling and isolate it from the cat. If you're going to keep it in it's cage all/more of the time, consider buying a larger cage for it, so it has more space...

On preview, what Nattie said, especially the fourth paragraph. Good luck!
posted by Pantengliopoli at 1:50 PM on July 18, 2008

I agree that putting the cockatiel's cage in the bathroom when you are gone is better than locking the kitten in there. (Unless, of course, the kitten is still not fully house-trained and is peeing on stuff when you're gone or something.) Kittens are crazy, flailing balls of energy and they need to run around and wear themselves out. Moving the bird cage into the bathroom and letting the kitten have the run of the rest of the place is a better option.

I have a friend who had a declawed cat (she adopted him after he had already been declawed) and my mother just adopted two one-year old kittens who had also already been declawed beforehand. Let me tell you, it has absolutely zero impact on how high they can get or how fiercely they will attack whatever it is they are stalking. My mom's kittens are already jumping up onto high cabinets (my mom came home to find one on top of the fridge recently) and my friend's cat was probably the best mouser I have ever seen. My (very strong) opinions on declawing notwithstanding, if keeping your cat from clawing her way up furniture or leaping onto the cage is your primary motivation to declaw her, you may want to rethink that as it's very unlikely to affect her ability to climb up anything.

If your cat wants to eat the bird, you're going to have to find a solution that involves the cat never being able to get to the bird. Otherwise it's just not fair to either of them. The bird will eventually figure out that a predator is trying to eat it all the time and the cat will be constantly trying new and ingenious ways to try and eat it. Build a birdbox on the wall or buy a big, high wall shelf to put the cage on, or hang it from the ceiling. Or find a new home for one or the other.
posted by bedhead at 1:51 PM on July 18, 2008

If you insist on keeping both a cat and a bird, you must realize that there is always a risk of the cat preying on the bird, no matter what precautions you take.

When I was a kid, my older sister kept parakeets in her room. They were locked in their cage almost all of the time, and all other times, the door to the room was closed to keep our cats out.

It didn't matter. Somehow, a bird would get out of the cage, or our wily Siamese cat would get in. After that cat killed his second parakeet, she stopped trying to keep any birds.

Sorry to tell such a depressing story. Those parakeets sure were pretty, though.
posted by LightStruk at 2:00 PM on July 18, 2008

I don't mean to be rude, but I think it was pretty darn irresponsible of you to adopt an animal that specializes in killing the pet you already own without even thinking about how you are going to maintain the safety of both pets. I own a bird a little larger than a cockatiel and have for 7 years now. She is very much a part of our family. If we were ever to add to our little menagerie again, ensuring the safety of the pets we already own would be a paramount concern. We're not going to buy a terrier or a hunting dog because we have a miniature rabbit -- and we DO have enough room in our house for both of those pets to have separate spaces.

In my opinion, when you adopt any animal you're making a commitment to provide a safe living environment for that pet. If you don't have a living space that is conducive to providing that to your new kitty AS WELL AS your cockatiel, you probably shouldn't keep the cat. As one of the other posters above said, the most humane thing for both pets is to rehouse the kitten while someone still wants to adopt it. It's better than figuring out too late that you simply can't manage the situation effectively and wind up with a dead bird or an adult animal that gets dumped into the already overcrowded pet adoption system without a prayer for a new home. Neither your cockatiel nor your cat should have to live most of its life cloistered in a cage for its own safety or locked in the bathroom.
posted by theantikitty at 2:59 PM on July 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's pretty tough to keep cats (especially young cats which are chock full of energy and prey drive) and birds together in the same house without disaster ensuing. If you're going to continue to let the cat in the same room as the bird, get the cockatiel a much larger cage. A larger cage will offer several solutions: it will be too heavy for the cat to knock over, the bird will have someplace to retreat from probing cat paws (and yeah, declawing will not be the solution to bird:cat relationship problems) and the bird will have more room to move about in as his outside cage roaming will be limited now that he shares his human's time with a predator.

One of these might work (but your bird is going to have to learn not to hang on the bars, which unlikely), one of these would be better. Best of all would be an acrylic fronted home such as one of these. If you buy a big cage online, shoot the vendor an email asking about bar-width on your desired model as smaller birds such as cockatiels can squeeze between the bars of cages intended for big parrots.

One last tip: make sure you put a lock or a spring-loaded clip on your bird cage's door. I've had several cats who figured out how to open bird cage doors. Cats are smarter than they look and they have unlimited patience, focus, and free time.
posted by jamaro at 3:52 PM on July 18, 2008

I have two birds (a lovebird and parrotlet) that have lived with various cats, and things have worked out fine. The really important thing though, is determining how stressed your bird is. My birds couldn't care less and actually enjoy chirping to the cats. But if your bird is NOT enjoying the situation, it's not going to work out and the bird's health WILL suffer.

My birds are in a cage similar to the first one jamaro suggested. It's a bit smaller and was about $200, but it's extremely sturdy. There's no way a cat could knock it over. As for the cat jumping on and hurting birdy through the bars, is it possible? If you're declawing, the bird won't be swiped at and depending on the cage, I'm not sure that a cat could bite at the bird. If it is possible, I've an idea that might work: could you make some sort of outer barrier that the cat couldn't get through? I'm envisioning plexiglass with air holes attached to the seedguard and forming a complete cube around the cage. (You'd have to figure out some sort of door.) When it's time for your bird to come out, just lock the cat in the bathroom. I wouldn't let my birds out unsupervised anyway... there are lots of bad things that could happen. I hope this helps and everything works out!
posted by veryhappyheidi at 7:30 PM on July 18, 2008

I'm adding my vote to "buy big-ass, cat-proof cockatiel cage" - I'm not a bird person, but honestly, based on what my bird friends and acquaintances own, I'm a little concerned at the idea of a cockatiel being kept in a cage a cat could knock over. A budgie, okay, maybe, but a cockatiel?

If that's not feasible or doesn't help, then it's up to you to carefully screen all comers until you find a great, new, bird-free home for your kitten. As others have mentioned, you should probably figure this out quickly while she's still cute and easily adoptable.
posted by bettafish at 8:18 PM on July 18, 2008

Can you hang the bird cage from a hook on the ceiling? We juggle cat and birds, moving one from the room as the other's allowed into it, but during the daytime the birds go outside and hang from a hook. No reason it couldn't be done inside, too -- in a spot not close to anything the cat could climb up on -- and then there'd be no way of the cat reaching them. Our cat's no less endlessly rapt by watching them, however high up they are, but there's no way of him actually getting them.

If the cage is too big for hanging, what about putting the cage on a high table that doesn't extend out beyond the edges of the cage, so there's no ledge around the cage's circumference that your cat could land on should it try to jump up?
posted by springbound at 8:21 PM on July 18, 2008

It's ridiculous to suggest that you can't have a cat and a bird in the same household..."cats and dogs living together, it'll be chaos!"

There's no reason that you can't have the bird and cat, you'll just have to be diligient about not leaving them alone together until you've trained the kitten that bothering the bird is a big no-no. How? There are many methods, I'd recommend picking up a book or two about cat training and find one that works for your cat.

But I do agree that it makes more sense to move the bird into the bathroom..that's what I did with my bird during the day while I was at work until I was confident that my cats wouldn't bother him. Added bonus, if your kitten has more room & time to wear himself out with play, he may show less interest in the bird.
posted by kattyann at 10:27 PM on July 18, 2008

This reminds me of that old Timbuk3 song, Facts about Cats. I agree with the lyricist that cats and birds will never coexist peacefully - we are talking about some very basic cat instincts here. Birds have held an endless fascination for every cat I have ever known.

Can the cockatiel be kept in a cat-free room or zone?
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:02 AM on July 19, 2008

If you're going to exile your cockatiel most of the time, you should get it a companion of some kind. They're very social creatures and don't do well alone -- remember they're a flock creature originally so feel very vulnerable and nervous by themselves.

Our cockatiel loved to be with our guineapig (cavy), and the guineapig, being a similarly social animal, loved to be with the cockatiel. It was a surprising combination but being together made them both much more relaxed and happy.
posted by anadem at 9:45 PM on July 19, 2008

« Older Dog "magazine" to benefit shelter--ever seen one?   |   There are 10 kinds of people in this world: those... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.