I have anxiety at dinnertime.
August 23, 2008 6:17 PM   Subscribe

I've begun to dread eating dinner in my apartment, thanks to my frisky cat and lack of proper eating space. What can help?

I hate dinner time in my apartment lately. Partially because my cat won't stop trying to get into my plate, and partially because I don't have room for a proper dining table, which when I was younger was fine, but now is distressing. I usually eat on the couch and pull up a small coffee table, but now I just sit with the food really close so the cat won't get it. I have one of those bar carts with stools that stow underneath, but I don't really like using it, and the way it's situated makes it difficult to use. The couch is more comfortable than the stools also. What can I do to make dinnertime more comfortable and pleasurable? I know the cat and table situations are separate but they seem to combine to create this unique problem. I would be open to some other type of table situation, or suggestions about the cat, preferably both.
posted by sweetkid to Home & Garden (26 answers total)
Get an empty spray bottle (I found mine at Walmart for a dollar) and fill it with water. When kitty approaches your food, spray her. Lather, rinse, repeat.

My mom's cat knows not to try to get into our plates, and I eat while sitting on her couch all the time. The cat can learn not to pester you.
posted by konolia at 6:22 PM on August 23, 2008

Yeah, you really need to train the cat to understand that tables and plates of food are no-go areas. Doing so will actually improve your relationship.
posted by dhartung at 6:25 PM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I prefer cans of compressed air (the kind you use to de-dust computers) to water bottles because it's kinder to the surrounding upholstery, but the principle is the same: Kitty needs to learn boundaries and she's not going to figure it out on her own.
posted by jamaro at 6:30 PM on August 23, 2008

Response by poster: I've tried the spray bottle, but then I have a wet cat who's still getting into my food, and added stress from constant squirting.
posted by sweetkid at 6:39 PM on August 23, 2008

You could also lock the cat in the bathroom while you eat. Or the bedroom if you have a separate one.

Do you have a desk? If you're by yourself you could eat at your desk and watch something on your computer instead of sitting on the couch watching the TV.
posted by lampoil at 6:39 PM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

back in the day, my dad had a cat that would go so far as actually reaching up and knocking food out of your mouth with his paw. i fixed it. cats dont fuck around when it comes to food stealing you have to speak to ti in cat terms, so seriously do this:

pick the cat upwith one hand firmly holding the cat's chin/neck area. open your mouth ALL the way, right in front of kitty's face. demonstrating that kitty's head would fit right in there if you so choose. kitty remembers who is at the TOP of the food chain. forget water bottles, establish dominance. it totally works.

and before anyone bitches or cries, it's not cruel, the cat is never hurt, that cat and i had a wonderfull relationship for many years. he would then sit and wait paitently at my feet while i ate and at a time of MY choosing i would offer him one or two bits as a reward.
posted by swbarrett at 6:41 PM on August 23, 2008 [4 favorites]

I don't mean to belittle your problem but what kind of answer would you expect, other than buy a table and put the cat in another room while you're eating?
posted by 517 at 6:44 PM on August 23, 2008 [4 favorites]

Feed your cat well before you eat. It's mandated in the bible to do so with good reason. There is no reason why you need to dread eating in your own home if you know how to maintain boundaries. And if needed - you simply close off an area with a curtain or some enclosure for the cat while you eat. But all sense tells me that once your kitty is well-fed there will be no reason for it to want to dig into yours. Also teaching the cat that apparently doesn't know any better the word *no* firmly, a tad sharply and removing it while doing so - not with undue force btw - will help him/her to understand the rules of the manor.
posted by watercarrier at 6:54 PM on August 23, 2008

empty pop can with a few pennies inside. shake only when kitty is misbehaving. (not when it walks to you while eating, but if it gets its head around your plate.)
posted by silkygreenbelly at 7:04 PM on August 23, 2008

open your mouth ALL the way, right in front of kitty's face. demonstrating that kitty's head would fit right in there if you so choose. kitty remembers who is at the TOP of the food chain.

kitty doesn't understand concepts like the food chain. kitty scratches the fuck out of face.
posted by tremspeed at 7:08 PM on August 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've never fed my cats scraps, or allowed them to eat after me. I'm not sure if you do, but if you do, I would suggest stopping, and allowing them to only eat his cat food, out of his dish, on the floor. This, in addition to some of the other suggestions, will help.

Water gun totally would not work for my male cat, since he likes the water (my female cat doesn't; all cats are individuals). But the compressed air/empty pop can might work out well for you (in my experience part of the compressed air is the noise and startlement factor, the pop can being a cheaper version).

Consistently using the word NO, in a stern tone, prefaced by the cat's name, and immediate praise when he stops doing the undesired behaviour has been useful to me also.

If you don't have room for a table, how about a folding card table and chair? If cost is an issue you can usually find one cheaply at your local Fred Meyer equivalent, or sometimes used at a thrift store, garage sale, or craigslist. It just might save your sanity, and establish clearer rules for the cat (I'm allowed on the couch, why not right now?) It goes without saying that the cat should never be allowed on eating surfaces, and having a folding card table might help establish that rule.
posted by tejolote at 7:47 PM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Maybe get a small travel crate and feed him in it his food (maybe with a tbsp of canned food or treat when I had a cat he loved to chew on these, so he looks forward to going in) while you eat yours. I have heard hissing works too.
posted by meeshell at 7:57 PM on August 23, 2008

get a small pet carrier and put the cat in it when you are eating. we do this when we have a family meal, or when we want some quiet time without him jumping all over the counters or trying to get in cabinets.
posted by mr.anthony337 at 8:40 PM on August 23, 2008

Teach kitty to fly.

It will require multiple lessons.

Also, hissing and baring teeth and what swbarrett said.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:05 PM on August 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My cat doesn't mind water at all, to the point where he'll pretty much dunk his head under the running faucet to get a drink. Try mixing a tiny bit of vinegar into the water of the spray bottle. If that doesn't work, try other non-toxic stuff; maybe a bit of orange juice. Eventually you'll find something he doesn't enjoy the smell of, and you now have an effective cat deterrent.
posted by sjl7678 at 10:00 PM on August 23, 2008

pick the cat upwith one hand firmly holding the cat's chin/neck area

Or you can pick the cat up by the scruff of the neck. You don't actually have to lift his entire weight this way if he's too old and fat, but it works with kittens and adolescents. Since mama cat will do this to organize and move her kits, it's a psychological ploy that you're taking the place of mama. It's not guaranteed to work, depending on how comfortable with this (or being picked up generally) your cat may be, but it's one more potential tool to establish dominance.
posted by dhartung at 10:50 PM on August 23, 2008

I'm with BitterOldPunk mostly, not they flying part... Be a cat. Chase him around the house, back him into a corner and scare the piss out of him. Then do the same thing he does next time he bothers you when he shouldn't. Growl and hiss and show teeth and swat. Make up later by curling up beside him on the floor in a sunbeam. Lay with him and purr back when he purrs. Be a cat, it's as simple as that.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:50 PM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

The compressed air can works for our cats, too, as does hissing at them in an angry manner (supposedly that's how the mama cat trains her kittens).

We used to have a cat similar to swbarrett's, except he only very occasionally would fly out of nowhere leap into the air and steal food from your hand. I remember finishing some leftover wing dings from a party we'd had late one night, and all of a sudden this blur of fur flew by me and grabbed a drumette right out of my hand and disappeared downstairs with it.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:47 AM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

i use canned air as well. besides an unpleasant puff of air, there's a noise that the cats don't like.

after a bit of experience with "hey, that thing sucks", i just have to pick up the can of air and the cats skulk away.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:28 AM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I taught my cat to sit for food. So whenever I'm eating, he'll sit next to me and wait for me to give him a very tiny crumb maybe once or twice, and it's enough to reinforce the behavior. If he tries to get into my food, he gets yelled and hissed at. And loud hand clapping in his face. He doesn't try anymore, unless I've wandered off and then he'll try to sneak up to my food. I taught him to sit very simply. I did use a clicker but I don't think the clicker did anything. I would take out treats, but he wouldn't get any until he sat down. Very quickly, he learned that sitting down means that he gets tasty food. I also make him sit for his meals. One of the best things to teach a pet. I did this with my parents' dogs too.

He used to be a terrible pest about food, when I first got him. Once, my boyfriend was sitting in an armchair with a bowl of cereal, and the cat kept trying to get it, so he was holding the bowl out of the cat's reach, when he reached up and batted the bowl all over my boyfriend. This doesn't happen anymore.
posted by quirks at 8:08 AM on August 24, 2008

Nthing hissing at the cat, accompanied with staring. swbarrett is spot on in that you have to speak cat. And in catspeak hissing = "FUCK OFF, MINE!"
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 10:28 AM on August 24, 2008

Most definitely - speaking cat is THE only way to go.
Lots of "PSSSSSSSST" and "SSSSSSSSSPTPTT" noises makes kitty get the freaking picture.
posted by jimmyhutch at 11:35 AM on August 24, 2008

Best answer: in response to some previous suggestions, i don't think you should ever use a cat's name when the cat is being bad. it teaches her that her name can be connected to negative responses, which makes the cat less likely to come when you say her name. i try to only say my cat's name when i'm feeding or playing with or stroking him, so in his tiny, furry brain, his name is tied only to pleasant memories. seems to work- when i call my cat, he *sprints* over.

when the cat is being bad,
sternly say NO! or HEY!
or push her away and then put a sharp, sudden, "talk to the hand" gesture right in front of her nose when she tries to come back,
or clap,
or make a loud, sharp hissing noise.

but really, to keep the cat out of your plate, can you just feed her or give her some catnip immediately before you sit down to eat? then she'll be busy with her own food, and when she's done that she'll need to go sit somewhere quiet and lick her whole entire head for a while. should buy you enough time to scarf your macaroni.

ps, while i wrote this, my cat started making pneumatic noises and then horked an 8-inch snake of compacted hair on the carpet. little bastard.
posted by twistofrhyme at 12:20 PM on August 24, 2008

failing buying canned air, you can just blow on the cats face. They don't seem to like that much better. Associate that with a negative word like "NO!" or "eff off!" :)

Good luck taking back control of your living room.
posted by rampy at 12:22 PM on August 24, 2008

I just got a kitten, and he's not learning with the spray bottle, or the air kitty method. So he gets to go to the hall until I eat.
posted by deezil at 4:09 PM on August 24, 2008

Yeah, pretty much everything they said. But also, you might like to stop drinking out of cups too...

Loopy was sitting on my bedside near my milk, I turned my head for a split second ('cause I knew that hairy bastard would be making moves on my cup). I turned back, he was casually in the same position. Now normally he sounds much like a dog when he drinks but... the surface of my milk was rippling. YES - he ultra swiftly and dead silently drank my milk and then pretended he hadn't so that I would then drink my milk. ick

So that's why I normally drink water from a bottle or never take my eyes off a very rare cup. Don't think you are safe because their head won't fit - 'cause you're not. They just whip out a tootie and dip it in there! Like a little sponge! And then they lick it off and dip it in there again. Which is actually pretty cute, but nobody wants to then be drinking that tootie-water. Gross.

Another thing to watch for is "stretchin' near the pizza". No pizza or any kind of food needs any convenient spur of the moment "stretching" done near it. Ever! (They think they're slick, but I caught on to this stretchin' near the pizza business before they were even born.) But just quietly, you do need to wield some authority or you'll have a horrible spoilt little brat on your hands and only yourself to blame...
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 2:14 AM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

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