An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cat Meows and Fusses to Go Outside Late at Night

Dear Greyce,

 I am a seven-year-old, feisty male who was adopted at age six months. I am a loner who likes to be around people while keeping my distance from them. When I was adopted, it took me several months to feel comfortable sitting beside Themselves. I sometimes bite Themselves while they are sleeping, just for the fun of it; and I swat at people as they walk past me. I can’t be left alone with small children, cats or dogs. In other words, I want things my way.

When I joined the household, Themselves attempted to make me an indoor cat. I had other ideas. All attempts to keep me confined to the house have failed. I’ve even escaped from 3rd floor windows and shredded screens in order to make my point. I AM an outdoor cat!

Until about six months ago, at my insistence Themselves let me have free roam of my neighbourhood. I came and went at my leisure. But now my world has changed – for the worse!

We moved into a one-floor condo. I am now confined largely to the indoors. I am not allowed to roam. This is a condo rule and also (apparently) for my own good since we have a large number of coyotes in our neighbourhood. To keep me sequestered, Themselves installed pet mesh screens on all windows and a special lock and pet guard on the sliding door. (I can open most doors and shred normal screens.) We are on the 1st floor and there are sliding doors to the covered patio and an un-fenced grassy yard. I have a leash which allows me to go outside within the yard areas.

What can I say, Greyce? I AM bored.

Here is my routine: While someone is home most of the time, I ignore everyone and sleep all day. Once I finish my early morning breakfast, I head straight back to bed. I have one cat post with a bed on top, where I spend most of my day. I like toys with feathers and on long sticks; but I play for a short time and then ignore them – probably because I’m used to the exhilaration of the outdoor hunt for birds, mice, squirrels and all bugs. I even caught a mouse while on my leash!

The bottom line is that I don’t want to sleep at night. I start meowing after Themselves go to bed, and continue on through the night. Sometimes I will sleep for part of the night, only to awake around 4:30 a.m. and begin my meowing routine. If that doesn’t get them up, I come into the bedroom and scratch, swat the blinds, or make any noise whatever way I can. Should Themselves deign to arise at this hour, I then scratch at the front door, try to open it, and meow even more.

Themselves have tried to confine me in a separate room. I HATE a closed door. So I will shake it, knock on it, or scratch at it until it is open. In fact, I’m pretty smart. I have learned to open doors so I can no longer be locked in the spare room at night.

And what do I get for me efforts to break free? Sprayed with water or yelled at! But they can never catch me. If Themselves get out of bed and start looking for me, I find a good hiding spot and won’t come out until They go back to bed. And once Themselves we are back in bed I start all over again.

To be honest, Greyce, I rule the roost. My philosophy is: Be reasonable; do it MY way. And for most of my life Themselves have compiled. For example, I will only use my litter box once and then it MUST be cleaned. I must be fed on time or I get growly – even though I am a picky eater. I eat only from clean dishes, thank you very much, and NEVER touch leftovers.

You seem like a reasonable sort, Greyce. So I’m counting on you to figure out a way to LET ME OUT!



Dear Stash,

Oh my goodness, it’s hard to know where to begin!

I understand Themselves think of you as a bad cat with bad behaviours. I have news for them. You are NOT bad. Much of your behaviour is normal. But . . . you ARE a tyrant! And an INDULGED TYRANT at that! And while I’m all in favour of being indulged and I certainly want all of my wishes fulfilled, there comes a time in every cat’s life – even yours, when such is not to be.

Take a deep breath, Stash, and reflect. If you continue with this particular behaviour you are in danger of using up all of your nine lives. Not a good plan, you must admit.

Sharing One of My Vices

Now before you go off in a snit, I’ll let you in on a secret. I, too, have – shall we say – vices. As you may know, I have access to a cat-fenced in backyard (doesn’t let me out or other cats – for the most part – in). And this works well. But about three weeks before daylight savings time as the sun start to rises earlier in the morning, the birds begin to chirp and that sets me off.

My trick is to walk on Herself’s bladder and then stare into her face so she’ll get up and open the patio door. If she doesn’t awake, I then take my paw and try to shove it up her nostril. Needless to say this gets results, though not always in the desired direction.

They tried letting me have unrestricted access to my cat door so I could go to the back yard whenever I felt like it. But after bringing in a few live voles and depositing them on the bed and then a small bird (with wings flapping), the door was locked at night. Can you believe it?

I sleep with them at night. And when I’d begin to prance around, they’d lock me out of the bedroom. Not to be dissuaded so easily, I resorted to my repertoire of cat opera outside the closed bedroom door (since I’m not so good with doorknobs as you are). Initially it got results – particularly if I attempted an extended aria.

Herself began to get fairly serious sleep deprivation.

After about 10 days of this, Herself laid down the law while muttering about cat behaviourists having problem cats and how she could understand why some cats got kicked out of their homes. Can you imagine? Guess it was the sleep deprivation talking.

The bottom line was: Earplugs for both purrsons, locked bedroom door (with me outside it) the moment I started the yowl, and absolute refusal under any circumstances (including full bladders) to leave the bedroom until what they deemed to be a decent hour (usually 6:30 or 7:00 a.m. – if you can imagine).

I was far from impressed.

But once I could not get my way no matter what I did, I settled down. And now all is well with the household.

Why You Behave the Way You Do

Now Stash, you case is somewhat different.

You are a senior citizen who looks and behaves like a young buck. Your catsonality is more like our wild counterparts than that of a love-bucket domestic. Given what you have told me about your history, this is most likely genetic. Even if you were not well-socialized as a very young kitten, you would have become more affectionate and flexible by now if it were in your nature to do so. You are, my dear, what purrsons would call a controller.

As you have mentioned, you like things your way. And only your way. And you have been smart enough to train your folks to deliver the goods. Sure it may take more creativity and persistence on your part, but the bottom line is that you have them eating out of your paw! You ARE amazing!

Also like our wild counterparts, you are very territorial. And as such, you no doubt feel a responsibility to undertake periodic territorial patrols. Given our druthers, most of us sleep through the day and get ready for the hunt at dusk. We are crepuscular hunters, meaning that we like to hunt at dawn and dusk when our prey is active. We are wired to do so.

And that means that we like to be most active from dusk, through the night, until dawn. If confined inside, we’ll try to escape (if we are used to being outdoors at night).

What you have taught your folks is that you will continue to pester them through the night until they can no longer stand it. Then they will give you attention (and negative attention with the water gun or yelling is still attention). And then they will give you your way.

This reminds me of kids who kick up a fuss in the grocery store knowing that their folks are likely to give into them, just to stop embarrassing them in front of strangers. The wise parent ignores the kid (much to the onlookers’ chagrin) until the kid figures out that this isn’t getting him what he wants, and he stops doing it. We are going for a similar plan here.

The Plan

Part One: Getting Ready to Turn This Around

In the plan I propose, we will take advantage of your hunting cycle in a more appropriate way. But first things first.

1) Themselves must install a sliding bolt lock (whose bolt goes into the door frame) on the outside of the spare bedroom door – about 6 inches below the doorknob so that when you attempt to open it, it will not give way. (A link to a sample of what I mean is at the end of this entry.) Whatever they choose, it must be installed in such a way that you cannot get the door open, even when you work the door knob; otherwise you might open the door a small bit and get your paw caught. And who needs unnecessary vet bills? I am not familiar with the doors and doorframes in your condo so I cannot advise on the best lock or manner of installation. If Themselves are not handy or the frames are steel, then they best consult a locksmith.

The virtues of such installation are many: a) it doesn’t require a key (and keys can get misplaced), b) it can be operated by Themselves on the outside, c) the chances of anyone getting accidentally locked inside are highly unlikely, d) installation below the knob will act as reinforcement at the point or area which is expected to receive most impact from your attempts to escape.

Enough said. This is the first order of business BUT definitely NOT the last!

2) If they are concerned about your scratching on the inside of this door, they can install a doormat-sized thin mat or carpet made of sisal, coir or coconut fibre – in other words, something you’d like to scratch. If they are really in a pickle, then regular carpet (not looped fibres though, which could catch your claws) would be fine. To attach it to the door (at your height when you are in scratch mode) they could affix thin wood slats to the door and then nail the carpet into those slats. Again if they are not handy, they need to have someone else do it. If scratching isn’t bothersome to them, then forget about the carpet.

3) While they are dealing with said installation, Themselves should also ensure that any items to which you could do harm – or could harm you - in that room are put in safekeeping. I’m thinking figurines and such that can get knocked over and broken, thereby endangering yourself (not to mentioned maddening Themselves).

4) They should arrange the furnishings such that you can have a good view out the window, for example, by installing a side table or a chair, there. And the curtains should be kept open at night (and/or the blinds raised) so that you can see out.

5) Your night room will need a litter box (not your regular one which should stay where it is), a bowl of FRESH water (emptied and refilled nightly) some distance from said box, and a food dish. You will also need some activity toys (a feather toy, a small mouse) for independent entertainment. I like small pouches that have been filled with catnip and have been known to go into my toy box and scoop one out to bat around the place in the early morning hours.

6) IF they are so inclined, they can purchase a sound machine (often sold in department-type stores like WalMart or Zellers, medical supply stores, drug stores, or baby stores). These are small, plug-in machines that generate white noise – usually in the sound of waterfalls or some such, to mask bothersome noises. It could help distract you from the sound of prey outside (in which case it would be best installed in your room) or it could help distract them from your meows (in which case it would be best installed in theirs). This is just an option, not a requirement; but before they take the plunge, suggest they do an internet search (white noise machine) because there are sites that rate various machines and those might be useful to them. Cost is around $20 to $40 (when I last looked).

7) Earplugs. Until you completely settle in to the new routine (likely a week to 10 days), they will need nerves of steel and strong resolution (to match your equally strong persistence) OR earplugs. I vote for earplugs. They can get them at a drugstore. The most important factor is proper installation. Have them refer to this link on Installing Earplugs.

8) A few days before your new routine (if possible – if not, then at the start of the new routine), they should start dividing your food portions into three, rather than two – because you are going to get another, late evening feeding. And if you are as fussy as they say you are, they can consider mixing in (only to this late night snack) some of Royal Canin’s latest food for fussy cats: their Selective Series. I'd suggest trying Selective 30 - Aromatic Attraction or Selective 34/29 - Savor Sensation. The Royal Canin Food Link displays a variety of their products and you can scroll down to the ones I mention and click on them for further information. I have not tried one of these products myself with good results; they are the only ones to the best of my knowledge that address the problems associated with healthy, fussy eaters like you. They should be available either from the local pet supply store or from the local vet clinic.

Part Two: The New Night Time Routine

Just before they go to bed and I mean literally just before, all of you will do the following:

1) Refill your new water bowl with fresh water. Ensure your litter box is clean. Scatter two of the activity toys somewhere in the room – for you to find later.

2) Engage you in interactive play (preferably in your night room). I understand that this bores you. Suggest that they read my entry Only on My Terms (12/20/09) for further ideas of how to engage you.

At this time of the night, you are likely ready to hunt. And a good interactive play session will take its place and help lower your arousal level somewhat.

3) AFTER the play session, they are to present you with some food (that 1/3 food ration I mentioned). You may decide it is worth your while to eat this. After all, cats in the wild hunt and then eat their prey. If so, good.

If not, then have them try that extra enticing food I mentioned (mixed in with some of your regular) BUT ONLY for this last meal of the day – so it is special.

If your reaction to the meal continues to be mixed, they can try putting it into a home-made food puzzle. Check out  Frederick Food Puzzles for particularly good, easy-to-make puzzle toys that could occupy you for some of the late evening in your special room. (Yes, they can buy a food puzzle for you, instead.)

4) While you are eating, they should turn on the white noise machine (if they decide to use it in your room and if they haven’t done so already). Then they should close and bolt the door. There is no point in keeping the light on all night. Instead rely on a nightlight – the kind that automatically switches on when the room becomes dark.

5) Then they MUST go to bed, put in their earplugs and resolve NOT to respond to you until a decent hour in the morning. And since you get fed around 6:30 a.m. that seems pretty decent to me.

It will take several nights of this before you realize that you are not going to get the attention you want and will stop the process. HOWEVER, and THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT, they must continue the routine even when you learn to settle in at night. If they deviate by giving in to you, you will all be back to square one!

Items to Purchase

1) Sliding bolt for the door. If Themselves are not sure what I mean, check out Sample Door Bolt. I am NOT suggesting they order this particular model, but it will give them an idea of what to look for.

2) Doormat-type, thin carpet of sisal, coir, or coconut fibre for mounting on your side of the bedroom door and a few wood slats. (optional).

3) Extra litter box, water bowl and food dish.

4) Activity toys to hide in your room – enough of them that they can be rotated two at a time, and maybe changed twice a week.

5) Night light for your room with an auto-sensor that turns itself on when the room is dark.

6) One set of earplugs per purrson.

7) White noise machine (optional)

Stash, you might not like this at first but trust me: This IS for your own good. Succeed at this and you will regain favour in the eyes of your slaves. And that will go a long way to ensuring you lead a long life.

I’m counting on you to turn this situation around!