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.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Turned Off the Box! - Part 5 of Litterbox Blues

Sometimes cats are a mystery, even to me and Starla, an eight-year old female with a lovely orange and brown long-haired coat, is a mysterious feline indeed. She wrote:  For the past three years I have been living with a couple of humans and am kept exclusively indoors. Then they had the nerve to go away for three weeks and some other people moved in to be my temporary caregivers. Something happened (and I'm not telling); but since then I don't want to poop in my box anymore. Instead I leave it on the carpetted landing at the entrance to the house. So my purrsons got me a new box, a new brand of litter and even placed the box at my new pooping area; I still don't want to use it for that. I am a very private cat so I don't feel up to telling you more about how I handle my business, except to say that I deposit my waste in the middle of the night when everyone is asleep. (In case you need to know, I'm fine with peeing in the box.) My people are getting upset and this is upsetting me. Please help me get back on track.

Oh Starla, I think you need a cat detective especially when you keep so many important points hidden. Nevertheless I will do my best to get at the heart of the matter by offering a number of suggestions. It will be up to you to figure out which may work for you.

When your temporary caregivers were with you, I wonder how often they actually cleaned (scooped out) the litterbox? The reason for my question is simple: Many cats develop an aversion to using the litterbox when it is cleaned less often than they prefurr. And then they find it difficult to switch back, even when the cleaning pattern goes back to 'normal'. It seems to me that this could be part of your problem, especially if you were not too thrilled with the substrate (that is, the litter itself) in the first place. Many cats tolerate a sub-optimal (to their preferences) substrate until some change happens in the household and then they go 'off' using the box. And since we all spend more time in the box when voiding solids compared to liquids, it makes sense that you'd go elsewhere for that.

Now your people got you a new box, a different brand of litter, and put it where you poop; but as far as you are concerned it's still 'no deal'. That suggests to me that you aren't particularly impressed by the litter inside the box -- it's not enticing enough for you to want to use it when it comes to leaving the solid stuff. You mention that you prefurr to use the carpet, even when the box is left right in the area. So help me out here: How far from the box do you leave your deposits? I ask this because I'm trying to figure out if you'd really rather use the box if there was only something worthwhile in it. Cats who feel this way often poop very near the box, but not in it.

I understand that you are a very private cat. You remind me of Greta Garbo. Perhaps you just vant to be left alone! I don't want to pry any more than necessary. So instead of subjecting you to further questions, I will leave it to you to encourage your people to do the following:

  • Leave the old box with litter in the basement (old) location so you have a nice place for your liquid waste. (I figure they are already doing this, but just wanted to cover the bases.)
  • Keep the new box in your new pooping area, for now. (At least at night which is when you seem to use it.)
  • But get them to change the TYPE of litter. As I understand it, they went from one type of clumping litter to another. Frankly from my point of view there isn't much difference between brands of clumping litter (unless one is scented and one is not), so I don't blame you for not being impressed. Besides for all I know you could be like some of my long-haired friends who detest clumping litter because it messes their fur or makes their paw pads uncomfortable. So I'm going to give you two choices for new kinds of litter to try (in no particular order). Try only one at a time over a period of several days or longer, to see if one will work for you: a) Something soft like Yesterdays News (which is made of soft clumps of plain, unprinted newsprint and is often used when cats have been declawed -- but let's not go there); some cats who like carpet, like this. b) Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract Training Litter or Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract Litter Additive. This comes in two versions -- one is a complete litter to be used in place of whatever is inside the box now and the other is an additive that you put into existing litter AS LONG AS that litter is UNSCENTED CLUMPING (with NO BAKING SODA added); otherwise, please do not use it. Since the humans are paying, they get to choose which of the two versions to buy. This litter/additive has an herbal attractant in it that might entice you to use the box, rather than to go elsewhere.
  • Okay I can hear the complaint already. Isn't it a clumping litter? What if it's added to a clumping litter and I already hate clumping litter? Well Starla, that's why it might be worth trying the newsprint version first. If you like that, then it is a pretty sure thing that clumping litter ain't your fave. But if newsprint doesn't make you fall in love with your litterbox all over again, then the second litter option I suggest is definitely worth trying. 
  • Both Yesterdays' News and Cat Attract are available at pet supply stores (your people should call first to make sure). Be aware that your folks will probably mutter over the cost, since both options are more expensive than the brands you currently use.
I have another thought as well. Is there a cat who comes to your door (or nearby window) at night to bother you? Have your people check to see if there are any spray marks on the outer door or window closest to where you leave your deposits. If so, you might be middening -- leaving a visible reminder of your presence to warn off an invader cat. If that is the case, enrol your purrsons in helping you to get rid of the invader. One way is to thoroughly clean off your outer door (and/or screen) or window using a cleaner made to deal with cat waste. Again the pet supply stores have such products and they work as long as your people follow directions carefully. The purpose of cleaning the area is to discourage the cat from topping up the scent -- because such scents re-attract cats back to the area for a top-up from time to time -- exactly what neither you nor your people would like to have happen. Note that I say your people should be following the directions; I'd never expect you to have to clean up the mess!

If there is any possibility that there is something that makes you anxious enough to midden, consider having a Feliway diffuser plugged into an electrical outlet nearest where you deposit your solids at present. Feliway is a synthetic pheromone which reduces anxiety and is available from your veterinarian. A container of diffuser should last at least one month. The initial purchase (which requires both the diffuser and the container of pheromone) is a bit pricey (be prepared for muttering again), though it's far less expensive than most things that humans consider essential for their well-being. But if they are at the point of calling the vet to order this, then they should ask about the worthiness of a possible stool check-up as well. A bout of constipation, problem with an anal gland, etc. could put you off your box for sure. And if you make that trip to the dreaded vet, take a fresh (or as fresh as possible) stool sample with you in a clean, plastic bag. It sure beats having to hang around the clinic for a day or so, until you produce one on the spot!

So Starla, I've done my best to give you some options to try. Whatever you choose to go with first, just get on with it. And keep on it until you find something that works.

I wish you the best.

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