How to keep the vomit in our cat and off our floor.
August 6, 2008 8:04 AM   Subscribe

My roommate's adorable but extremely neurotic and emotionally needy cat has begun to upset herself to the point of vomitting sometimes when my roommate has to lock her out of her room. For the love of god, please help us.

The cat's name is Kazu. (Here is a picture of her, if you're curious). She is a shelter cat we--we, but officially, my roommate--adopted last October. From what we could find out, she had a difficult kittenhood, moving from shelter to shelter to temporary owner to shelter, having most of her teeth removed, getting very sick from diarrhea, etc. Kazu is now almost five years old and she's the most affectionate and loving cat I've ever met. The flip side of this is that she always has to be right on you, or failing that, right next to you. Oftentimes, this is more endearing than it is exasperating, but that leads me to our problem.

The cat sleeps with my roommate. Around 5am, the cat goes nuts: running around the room, knocking things over, clawing the air conditioner, biting cords, dragging shopping bags around. My roommate's bleary-eyed fix for this, unfortunately, was to feed her. This worked for awhile. Kazu would have an early breakfast, and while she ate, my roommate would sneakily shut her door and go back to bed. Sometimes Kazu would cry and claw at the door for awhile, but she'd get over it.

My roommate decided she no longer wanted to lead the life of having to feed the cat at 5:30am every day, so she stopped. (As an aside: this stopping has happened before. My roommate went to Japan for about two weeks in April, leaving me in charge of Kazu. I am not the kind of person who feeds cats at 5:30am. Kazu dealt, with some whining and scratching at my bedroom door, which lessened over time). Now that my roommate has stopped feeding the cat at 5:30am when she shuts her out for waking her up, the cat does not deal. She mews and scratches at my roommate's door and has started leaving pools of vomit.

We think she is upsetting herself to the point that she throws up. I can relate to this. Apperently, I used to do it as a baby. I can still relate now. However, it sucks for us, and probably for Kazu as well.

Here are some facts and caveats:
-This only happens when my roommate is actually home. It only happens at night. It only happens when Kazu gets shut out of my roommate's room after having been there all night. My roommate sometimes goes out of town, and I don't sleep with Kazu, and I certainly don't feed Kazu at 5:30am, and she doesn't vomit. She sleeps or plays or does other appropriate cat things and then eats when I wake up, around 8.

-We really don't think she is physically ill. She's been to the vet recently, and nothing was wrong. She has never vomitted while we were awake or in any other circumstances. (She did, however, manage to vomit all over my roommate's Japan documents the day before she left, which did seem rather passive-aggressive (I jest about the passive-aggressive. Ah, double parentheses!))

-My roommate does not want to discontinue sleeping with Kazu. She also cannot stop kicking her out when she runs around the room and makes as much noise as possible, because my roommate needs her sleep. She's tried squirt bottles. Kazu doesn't mind water. (One day, we came home and found her sitting in the toilet, just minding her own business). She's tried other deterrents, like noise and a scat mat set around potentially noisy items that the cat seems particularly drawn to. Nothing fazes this cat, except being shut out, and the vacuum cleaner (and no, my roommate can't just start vacuuming at 5:30am every day. The point of kicking Kazu out is so she can sleep).

-I cannot split Kazu-sleeping-duty with my roommate. Neither I nor my boyfriend would deal well with her at night, and also my room is the poisonous plant room, so she can't be in there unsupervised. She's rarely in my room at all, and thus isn't as bothered by being shut out from it.

-Kazu does act out in other ways too. She sometimes leaves cat turds under the kitchen table or in other places they don't belong. We got the wrong kind of litter once, and she peed prolifically on the Japanese room-divider screen in our apartment. She has also, oddly, peed down the shower drain. She's a biter and a hisser and she's very moody--she can be purring and kneading you as you pet her, and then one minute later, she can bite you and hiss, and then the next minute, she's back on your lap. This is understandable, since she's had a hard life. We love her no matter what. But this new vomitting thing is troubling, and we're hoping to find a way to fix it--a way that satisfies all parties human and feline.
posted by millipede to Pets & Animals (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Realized I, amazingly, forgot to include something in my very long post. It's important, too. The quick, easy fix for this, we realize, would be to get Kazu a friendcat. We can't, though--when we adopted her, they told us that she had to be an only cat, because she doesn't get along with other cats. We don't know why--maybe something happened to her on the street when she was a kitten or something. Weep. But yeah, there's that.
posted by millipede at 8:17 AM on August 6, 2008

Feliaway! The answer to all cat problems.
posted by k8t at 8:21 AM on August 6, 2008

My cat used to do this, too. He's also a stray and very needy about food and attention. At first, I would get up and feed him. Then I got irritated and started throwing him out of my room instead (and he, in response, would leave a neat little cat turd right in front of my locked door). Eventually, I realized that by giving him any kind of attention at all -- positive or negative -- for his early morning misbehavior, I was actually reinforcing it.

What worked for me was a 3-part solution:

1. I started putting a scoop of food in his bowl right before I go to bed. He eats a little, but usually has enough left for breakfast.
2. I cleaned my room, securing anything and everything that he could use to cause trouble. I cleaned off the top of my dresser, moved my trashcan out of the room, etc. I actually went so far as to strap down the books on the lowest shelves of my bookcases, since he likes to drag them down and scratch the pages loudly (nothing wakes me up faster, and he knows it).
3. Final step: I had to completely ignore his morning shenanigans. Earplugs were necessary. I was very attentive to him at all other times; I'd snuggle with him after I woke up and before I went to bed. But I refused to respond in any way to his 5am cries for attention.

It only took about a week to break him of the habit. Kuzu might be a little different, but I think this general approach could work for you, too.
posted by ourobouros at 8:25 AM on August 6, 2008 [4 favorites]

Kazu, I mean -- sorry.
posted by ourobouros at 8:29 AM on August 6, 2008

I'm sure there will be many better qualified to answer this than me, but it's a treat to be first!

I've had a few cats, and have lived with a lot more. My experience with cats which have been traumatised is that, like people, they take a long time to get over it. It can be a long journey; Byron (my best friend and sorely missed!) was found wandering lost and distressed and was moved around a number of flats before finding me. It took a couple of years before he was affectionate; he was always very independant and found his need for companionship something of a problem! To begin with he kept his distance and was generally hostile to any attempt, which he hadnt instigated, at friendship. (He loved being read to; hence the name). There were odd turds, nightime noises and much wailing (him and I). Eventually however, after breakthoughs and epiphanies, he became the truest, kindest and funniest companion you could wish for!

I guess the point is that it's a journey. It sounds from your post as if you are feeling at rock bottom, but dont despair. It wont last, this is just a phase. Kazu is probably only just starting to realise that the comfort and security she has found *isn't* temporary. I'm afraid that you need to be patient, and tolerant and giving, and then some! Dont be afraid of giving her plenty of food (cat's rarely overeat), or of letting her sleep with you. Try to be consistent; keep the same litter in the same place, feed her the same food at the same time. Why not start the day (after she's had a long worrisome night) with a treat; a bowl of milk or some fish.

She will probably respond well to some ground rules too though; crapping outside the litterbox is not allowed; making a racket at night is not appreciated; clawing and hissing will not get a response. All of this will let her know that she's part of a group, she will respond.

If she's getting over-upset to the point she's getting sick then you need to keep calm and let her know that there's no need for it. Be kind to her; like you say, she's had a traumatic time so far. She'll calm down once she's figured out that this time her life is secure!
posted by BadMiker at 8:34 AM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I knew before I clicked the link to the picture she was going to be a tri-color. My vet explained to me once that calicos and torties tend to be high-strung if not downright neurotic. I have two calicos and a tortie and they are all bordering on insane (although the tortie is far less so). They are vocal, clingy (as in must be on or near a human at all times), one of them is a serious pica cat and will eat my hair while I sleep. I second k8t's recommendation of Feliway. I use the spray and refresh often to keep everyone relatively sane.

In more dire times, I have introduced a problem cat to Mr. Sink right before bedtime, making sure to rub the fur the wrong way and wet it to the skin. Cat will then lick for hours to comb the fur back into place and sleep soundly after. This is only recommended for cats who don't mind water, of course.
posted by Heretic at 8:34 AM on August 6, 2008 [8 favorites]

Heretic, that's brilliant!
posted by amtho at 8:45 AM on August 6, 2008

The only response to Kazu's shenanigans should be your roommate rolling over, grabbing earplugs off of her bedside table, and shoving them in her ears whilst mumbling "Damn cat!" to herself. Point out that ignoring Kazu worked for you.

It's unclear from the question, but if she doesn't already, your roommate could try sleeping with her bedroom door cracked so that Kazu can go in and out as she pleases.

Also, maybe installing a small kitty condo or playset with lots of hanging toys/scratching posts in the bedroom. Kazu could still get riled up, but she might gravitate towards the toys rather than the important, breakable keepsakes on the the dresser.

Note, though, that cats are diurnal, so periods of activity around sunup and sundown aren't going to be easy to stop, especially if your cat is prone to them. Ignoring and channeling the negative behavior is going to be a lot more successful.
posted by ailouros08 at 8:51 AM on August 6, 2008

ailouros08 -- Yes, my roommate does currently sleep with her door cracked, so Kazu can come and leave whenever. A lot of Kazu's activity seems pointedly to wake my roommate--I think feeding her definitely exacerbated this, as now Kazu is not only naturally alert and nuts at 5:30am, but she's accustomed to food.

Heretic -- We had to introduce Kazu to Mr. Sink last week when she sat in ant poison. We thought she'd be ok with a bath, since she doesn't mind water and even goes in it herself sometimes, but boy did she flip out.

Everyone-- I googled feliway and it's unclear if it is, for lack of a more accurate word, temporary. Because there are times my roommate WANTS Kazu in her room. If it's a scent, doesn't that linger?
posted by millipede at 8:58 AM on August 6, 2008

(ailouros08: do you mean "crepuscular" rather than "diurnal"?)

Nthing Feliway, especially as a way to get the cat to chill out long enough for good behavior to be reinforced.
posted by hattifattener at 9:06 AM on August 6, 2008

Millipede: Feliway isn't a scent. Supposedly, it's the pheromone cats use to mark areas they like and feel comfortable in, so if you put it in their environment, they're more likely to calm don and feel secure and be well-behaved. I don't know if that's true or if it's just marketing bunk, but it does seem to work. The local pet store / animal rescue place swears by it for keeping their strays happy in their little boxes.
posted by hattifattener at 9:10 AM on August 6, 2008

You really can't smell Feliway-- it's a kitty pheromone. The spray has a slightly astringent smell right at first, but in less than a minute it's gone. There is also a diffuser that can be plugged into the wall with no discernible odor to our underdeveloped noses. Feliway tends to take the edge off cat anxiety (in my experience) and at the risk of sounding like a crazy cat lady, we have seven cats that were all strays and traumatized or very ill when we took them in. Feliway keeps everyone fairly even keeled, although when my partner comes home, they push his buttons because it's fun, apparently. This sounds like what Kazu does to your roommate. Trying to keep her calmed down and your roomie learning to ignore her sound like the best options, although there's no easy, surefire way to get there.

I have a friend who had a cat on anti-depressants for bizarre behavior, but the overall change in the cat's behavior was so profound and pathetic, they discontinued that option.

Alas, Mr. Sink is not the perfect match for everyone.
posted by Heretic at 9:14 AM on August 6, 2008

Apparently, my roommate already has Feliway (she's monitoring this thread, too). She says:
Oh about Feliway, I actually have that. I bought it to spray on the screen so she would stop peeing. It doesn't stop her "wake up and feed me" behavior, just scratching and peeing. It's the facial pheromone stuff that makes them cuddle whatever spot it's sprayed in as opposed to scratching or peeing on it.
posted by millipede at 9:20 AM on August 6, 2008

How about just wiping her with a damp washcloth - it could be fun, like petting her - rather than actual sinkular immersion?

Alternatively, could you guys just play with her a lot before bedtime to a) wear her out, and b) give her some solid bonding time with you? I'm looking for a panting, exhausted, happy kitty here.

If she's so upset she's vomiting, the "cry it out" approach might not yield a happy cat. I'd look for a solution to the cat waking up at night. I'm sure there are other threads on here that address that issue, although they might mostly say "lock the cat out", which doesn't sound like a good solution here.

My own cat was rather needy; we noticed he seemed much less stressed in general when we played with him a lot. He learned tricks, even - he jumped through a hoop, scratched a special post when prompted (or whenever he wanted to communicate "give me a treat"); a cat like this can't really be ignored successfully, so you kind of have to give it the attention it needs. Just do it on your own schedule, and the cat may not need to demand attention at less convenient times.
posted by amtho at 9:26 AM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding some of ourobouros's advice. Feeding the cat to get her to be quiet is a bad idea. It only reinforces the idea to the cat that she needs to make noise get food and attention when she's bored at 5am. IGNORE her when she is trying to wake you up. DO NOT get up, it is exactly the reaction she wants... she's bored.

Make sure she has food before you go to sleep. Play with her before you go to sleep (cat's are usually very active in the evenings). Give her lots of attention when you wake up.
But if she wakes you up in the middle of the night, do not react to her... just do your best to ignore it and go back to sleep. Eventually she'll stop.
posted by whiskeyspider at 9:30 AM on August 6, 2008

Also, a traumatized cat (especially an adult one) takes longer to adjust and find its comfort zone within your household. Kazu hasn't even been with you a year yet, so she's still establishing boundaries and probably figuring out her own comfort levels (maybe for the first time in her life). She may never have had the chance to play or be a kitten before. If nothing is stopping the "wake up and feed me" behavior, your roomie's got to stop waking up and paying attention to her. She's still new to your household and she's learned that it won't work on you, but she's doing a great job of training your roommate to answer her beck and call. If she doesn't do this to you, she obviously doesn't have a dire physical need for food or attention in the wee hours, but if she can manipulate someone else to respond, then she will make this a permanent behavior.

Whiskeyspider's right-- tucker her out before bed and then ignore her until it's time for humans to get up in the morning. She will learn, but I'll bet a dollar there's going to be a stand-off initially over who wins this round.

She's a beautiful little beast, by the way.
posted by Heretic at 9:52 AM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

(hattifattener: yes, thank you.)
posted by ailouros08 at 10:48 AM on August 6, 2008

FWIW, one of our cats does the same thing. We found that feeding her right before we go to bed keeps her docile until morning. It also helps to wake her constantly during the day and play with her so she gets excercise, stays entertained, and is sleepy in the night-time when we are.

I forgot to feed her one evening about a week ago. Regretted that all night.
posted by MaxK at 11:08 AM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing feeding kitty before bed. This won't cure her clingy annoying anxiety, of course, but it should get her to sleep through the night. I used to deal with hyper-cat rigmarole in the early morning, too--my solution was to kick him out of my room, or, if he was being really hyper/loud, to feed him. This worked until I moved into an apartment without a bedroom door. Now, I give my cat a couple tablespoons of wet food late at night (a couple hours before I go to bed, actually--around 10 p.m.) and he spends the entire night asleep at the end of my bed. This isn't an extra meal--I don't want him to get fat!--but rather what used to be his breakfast given late at night. I now feed him once late, and then again in the early afternoon. I'm sleeping much better these days.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:14 PM on August 6, 2008

Oh about Feliway, I actually have that. I bought it to spray on the screen so she would stop peeing. It doesn't stop her "wake up and feed me" behavior, just scratching and peeing. It's the facial pheromone stuff that makes them cuddle whatever spot it's sprayed in as opposed to scratching or peeing on it.

The Feliway diffuser is the same thing, but it's meant to work in a slightly different way. Itstead of spraying it on an object, you release it into the atmosphere to generally soothe the cat.

Personally, I'd not worry about trying to stop this unwanted behavior since it's pretty much ingrained at this point. I'd buy a food dish with a timer that opens up at 5:30 am. It would be completely worth it to me to avoid cleaning up cat barf. I'd also try the Feliway diffuser in the hallway, or at least spray some on the door. Can't hurt, might help.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:37 PM on August 6, 2008

I think you've gotten a lot of good advice here. I just wanted to second oneirodynia's suggestion of the automatic cat feeder. It doesn't necessarily solve the larger neediness issues, but it really helped my cat (another shelter-clingy-crazy cat) relax about food.

Here's one from Amazon. (Unfortunately, the auto-feeders are kind of pricey.) Basically, you fill the hopper with food and, at whatever time you set in the morning, a pre-set amount is released into the bowl. It totally disassociated me from the morning feeding process, which was awesome.

Also, when the bowl goes off and dumps food, the cat's so excited she basically levitates, and then sprints across the house to the food bowl. Pretty hilarious. And I really think once she got it into her head that food would appear every day, at the same time and place, she chilled out a little.
posted by lillygog at 6:15 PM on August 6, 2008

lillygog-- I agree. I've gotten lots of good advice, and thank you, everybody.

(One reason, though, that we can't use an automatic feeder is that we feed her wet food. The poor cat has like three teeth. They were removed when she was very young--before we got her--because they were rotting. Weird.)
posted by millipede at 8:24 PM on August 6, 2008

There's some very good advice here. Especially about giving her a long time to settle in. A dysfunctional kittenhood can bring with it many behavioural issues when the cat finally finds a home.

Nthing Feliway, get diffusers, in more than one room, use the spray at cat head height everywhere she rubs her head and also anywhere she's pooped. The pheromone in it mimics the facial scent she rubs on objects to mark as hers. Inappropriate pooping (middening) is a distinct sign of distress, it isn't "naughty" Similarly, abandon ideas that Kazo is being "passive/aggressive" humans are the only mammals that are capable of this behaviour, cats aren't. Forget spray bottles, shouting, vacuum cleaners, loud noises and punishment of any kind. This cat has had a rough start and those behaviours are only going to compound her insecurity, all punishment teaches is fear of more punishment, and fear of the person administering it.

Your roomate must stop responding to Kazo at 5.30am, by getting up and feeding her all Kuzo is learning is persistence. You can buy automatic feeders that have room for a cold pack underneath the feeding bowl, so that would deal with any problems with wet food remaining fresh. You could start by setting it to open at 5:30am for a week, then each week move the time back by 15 minutes, until Kazu gets used to the later feeding times. This method will take some time, but if you are patient and persist, it will work until Kazu is used to eating at the time when everyone is awake. Similarly you can gradually move where she is fed from say near your roomate's room door towards where her normal feeding place is.

Stress related vomiting can be caused by acid reflux, a chicken and egg situation, the reflux may be caused by stress or Kazu may have the reflux issue anyway and it causes the vomiting. Either way, your vet can provide you with a feline antacid, and combined with the other adjustments to her management will aid sorting out her behaviour by ensuring she is more comfortable. Make sure she has a few deep drinking bowls around your home too.

Instigate some good long play sessions with her in the evenings. Ensure she has some good private sleeping areas, and plenty of toys. Make sure she has enough food, some cats are trickle feeders, some like regular big meals. Again, look at how much she is eating each time she feeds, does she bolt her food down quickly? Reflux/vomiting will be worse if the cat has an empty stomach. Her lack of teeth might mean she has an issue with chunky wet food (grabbing it/chewing it - despite being soft, chunky wet food can be tough) the pate types are often eaten more easily by cats without many teeth. Feline gums can take a very long time to settle down after extensive tooth extractions, so she may still have sore gums or possibly even tiny tooth fragments left deep inside the gums. Next time you see the vet, ask for a full mouth exam to exclude this.

Good luck.
posted by Arqa at 2:27 AM on August 7, 2008

One reason, though, that we can't use an automatic feeder is that we feed her wet food. The poor cat has like three teeth.

You can use an automatic feeder with wet food. They come with ice packs. Besides, I doubt covered wet food is going to go bad after 7 hours.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:23 PM on August 7, 2008

(and I think Arqa has the best solution.)
posted by oneirodynia at 1:24 PM on August 7, 2008

We're absolutely not going to use an automatic feeder--my roommate has read reviews of them and we've considered it but ultimately we have decided that this is not going to work for us for a plethora of reasons detailed and boring; email me if you really want to know them all--and we're not able to change her feeding times to mid-afternoon and late-night, since we both work full time, and we DO attempt to tire her out before bed, when we are at home and able to do so...but all the other suggestions are great and thank you very much.
posted by millipede at 1:42 PM on August 7, 2008

Our cat, Toby, does the early morning crying thing too. Drives Mr. 26.2 crazy. The easiest thing for us is to put Toby back in bed with us. As soon as Toby is cuddled in, he goes back to sleep and so do we. It's the minimum fuss solution for us and the minimum stress solution for Toby.
posted by 26.2 at 11:55 PM on August 11, 2008

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