Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We love dogs and cats equally, and reserve treats for questions about your turtle, guinea pig, bird, snake, fish, or other beast.
Dear Beast Mode,
My husband and I have a cat and a dog, who are best friends. Recently, the cat has begun waking my husband up by leaping onto his crotch around 5 a.m. each morning, often nailing a direct hit. The cat is a pretty large boy, and my husband wakes up yelling in great pain, which wakes up the dog, and no one gets back to sleep after this. We have no idea what is causing the cat to do this all of a sudden. We can’t ban him from the bedroom; it is open to the apartment with no doors. How can we fix this?
I understand if you don’t find your own predicament funny. Steve Allen is credited with the saying “tragedy plus time equals comedy,” and it’s true: Not enough time has transpired for the humor to set in because the cat jumps on your husband’s nuts every single day. But Allen’s equation also helps explain why I am chuckling (along with, I imagine, everyone else reading this):
Cat jumps on your husband’s nuts (tragedy) + 5 a.m. (time) = Everyone waking up because the cat jumped on his nuts (comedy).
Sorry. But you and your husband will eventually be able to laugh about it, too. We just need to get the cat to stop dive-bombing his junk first.
It’s hard to tell from your email whether the cat is starting his jump from the floor, the bed itself, or (God forbid) a perch high above your husband’s landing cushion. If he’s making the leap from the floor, this may all be accidental. “The cat could be getting up in years, and he might not be as graceful as he used to be,” feline behaviorist Ingrid Johnson tells me. He doesn’t want to hit your husband where it hurts. He just clumsily finds that spot over and over and over and over (and over) again. Johnson suggests, “Whether he’s old or not, the goal is to find a different way for him to enter or get on the bed. That means maybe some pet stairs, or a cat ramp, or a scratching post at the foot of the bed that he’ll then climb up and onto the mattress.”
If clumsiness is not to blame, start encouraging him to go somewhere else when he wakes up. A heating pad is an attractive spot, and if you put one near your bed he might prefer its warmth to the (rather sensitive) alternative. “Break the cycle and habit, particularly in the winter months when he’s going to want the heat,” Johnson says. An automatic feeder is another way to lure him away from your bed: Place it at the farthest point in your apartment and set it to go off a little before 5 a.m. With any luck, the cat will be too distracted by breakfast to participate in his morning trampoline routine.
If your cat’s asleep, he won’t be able to Rey Mysterio himself onto your husband’s gonads. Try to get the cat on a schedule that will encourage him to snooze better through the night. A cat’s natural instincts are to hunt, eat, groom, and then sleep. To mimic this sequence, Johnson recommends playing with him at night (so he thinks he’s hunting prey) and then feed him dinner right before bedtime.
These steps should help, but there is a chance the cat is trebucheting himself onto your husband’s Jellicles because he’s learned that it’s a surefire way to get a rise out of you all. “This is incredibly hard to do and almost impossible to ask, but if this is attention-seeking behavior, stay quiet and try not to react,” Johnson says. “Yelling and fussing just rewards him.”
If your husband is incapable of monk-like restraint, perhaps he should try sleeping with a pillow over his crotch. “Or he should wear a cup,” Johnson says. She’s (kind of) joking. In time, you will find it funny.