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.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

House of Poop! - Part 10 of Litterbox Blues

Dear Greyce, Our mom had five kittens. We were fostered for the local shelter until we were eight weeks old and then three of us were adopted into our current home. We are now six months old and live with three elder cats (ages 5, 7, and 10). The elders tend to ignore us.

We have three litterboxes: two in the basement and one upstairs. They all have unscented clay litter. One is deep and two are not. And they are cleaned every two days. We use all these boxes for peeing and especially favour the one by the furnace. As for pooping, sometimes we use them and sometimes we do not. Instead we go beside the furnace, behind the dryer or under the laundry shelf. And one of us (Pepper) likes to get into the bag in which the litter comes and poop there!

Our poop is pretty good most days (shaped like small cigars) but sometimes it is very runny.

We think all of this is quite fine. But our purrson is not amused. How can we get her to like having our poop all over the place?

Pepper, Bibs and Cali-who

Dear P, B, & C,

I think I'm going to be a full-fledged scatologist by responding to so many queries about poop on this blog. It seems like I cannot get away from this topic! Obviously it means it's a big problem for my readers.  Now where was I? . . . Oh yes, trying to help you little kitties get the right message to your purrson.

Well dears, I have some good news and some bad news.

First the bad news: Humans have very definite ideas of what they are willing to accept. Herself, for example, draws the line when I attempt to knead her full bladder as her 5:00 a.m. wake up call. So I deeply regret that I will NOT I will not be able to get your purrson to like having poop strewn about her home.

Now for the good news: I can help you get back into your purrson"s good books by getting your poop back into the litterbox.

Cats who consistently use the box for peeing in but not for pooping are trying to give their purrson a message: There is something about the box that is fine for one kind of job but not for the other. Now as a scatalogical detective, I must try to figure out what that something is.

I assume that all three of you are behaving this way (and that your purrson has caught all three of you 'in the act' so to speak); otherwise it may be that only one or two of you are having problems. It could even be that each of you is having a different problem but they are all showing up the same (that is, as not using the box for pooping). For example, I know that only Pepper likes to use the litter bag instead. So I am going to go through a variety of possibilities just to cover the bases.

Possibility #1: Your prefurred box is beside the furnace. And I understand that sometimes you poop beside the furnace as well. A cat who poops near a box in which she pees is telling her purrson that the location is great but the box (or something about it) is not so great to poop in.

The usual culprit is the litter (something technically called substrate); some cats are particular about what they put their paws on and in to do their business. This can be important for pooping because most of us tend to do more digging both before and after that job. And that means that if we don't like the feel of what we have to move about, we prefurr to go someplace else. Cats in this predicament may even resort to standing on the edge of the box (or very darn near it) and doing the deed which means the poop ends up on the floor beside the box! So you can see why I'm beginning to favour the substrate as the culprit.

Most cats prefurr unscented clumping litter because it is closest to what their ancestors would have used in the wild. Many purrsons are NOT fans of clumping litter because it can be tracked on your paws away from the litterbox; but a littermat beside the box should catch most of this. Some purrsons have read that clumping litter can be ingested by cats and cause intestinal blockages; this information was printed quite a few years ago and has not been consistently documented; nevertheless some veterinarians recommend that very young kittens (especially longhairs) NOT use clumping litter, in case some of it sticks to their bums and back legs (in which case they might ingest it when grooming). However you are older kittens, so unless you have longhair, I really don't think there is cause for concern.

So changing the litter to an unscented, clumping form is a possible solution. However you can't just change the litter overnight or it will stress you out - especially since your elders have used the current substrate just fine thank you very much and would not appreciate such a drastic change. So I suggest, instead, that your purrson offer you unscented clumping litter in ONE box only, to see if this 'turns your crank'. And since we already know your prefurred location, I'd like that box to be near the furnace. But hang on! DON'T stop reading this and rush to follow this suggestion just yet. There is more to come.

I don't know if any of you have long hair but if you do, know that you are disproportionately represented in the category of cats who don't like to use the box -- largely because the fine, long hairs and most substrates don't mix. Such cats prefurr someting that is clean and soft. I would know that this was the root of the problem IF you were pooping on fabric, bedding, towels, laundry or even plastic bags -- and you are not.

Possibility #2: Diarrhea can lead to not using the box for pooping -- either because you cannot make it to the box in time or it is painful to do so (and you associate that pain with using the box so you try to find a better place). You will need to keep notes on the relationship between having runny stools and where you poop, in order to figure out if this is the source of the problem. And if it is, then fix whatever it is that causes your stool to liquify and the problem will be solved.

Possibility #3: A cat who likes to use the litter bag is showing  a preference for a dark place. And when I think about some of your other prefurred poop spots - under the shelf, behind the dryer - I think at least one of you likes either a dark or private place (or both). Now most cats prefurr an open box but in such a case I will make an exception.

The cat who likes a dark and private place is likely to welcome a covered box. Even better if said box is located near the favourite peeing box (by the furnace) but several feet from it (say around the side from the current box) for example. The placement of the opening of such a box is quite important, because no cat likes to be ambushed while in the act and every cat likes to know that there are escape routes if need be. Now I'm not suggesting that you are getting ambushed now, just that every cat likes to take such a precaution -- whether it is warranted or not. So just make sure the box is in a private area but placed in such a way that you have a good view of who might be coming toward you, as well as a way to get away if you need to.

Possibility #4: Some cats prefurr to pee in one box and poop in another; they don't like the wastes to mix in the same box. And it may be that because you only have one box in your prefurred location (by the furnace), you choose to pee in it but poop elsewhere. This may be a problem for one cat; but in a multi-cat household, many cats would be using the same boxes; and it could be that all have urine in them at the time the cat with this particular issue needs to use the box for pooping!

One Further Note: There is a litter designed to re-attract cats back to using the box when their behaviour has lapsed. It is called Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract, made by Precious Cat (available at pet suppy stores). It comes in three kinds: a) A Litter to be used instead of your regular kind, b) An Additive that would be mixed into regular unscented clumping litter, c) A Litter made for Longhaired cats. Because your use of the box for pooping is so variable, I would think trying this litter could be a good idea. But if you do so, please read the instructions on the packages first to make the right choice and to know exactly how you need to use them.

Putting It All Together. Here is what I suggest.

Don't use all of your catnip allowance to buy a bunch of new boxes and new litter all at once. However, know that the litterbox rule is as follows: one box per cat plus one and of those, at least one box per floor! Yes, I know many households where the rule on number is not observed and every one gets along with fewer boxes just fine. But considering the number of cats and the cleaning schedule, adding a box or two might be a good idea.

For right now, keep all of your current boxes in their current locations and use the current litter in them. This will offer stability in the face of change. And since change can be upsetting, it is very important that these remain where they are. Also your elders are quite fine with the status quo, so let's not set them on edge!

In any case, you need to have your purrson figure out which of the following issues (or possibly all of them) relate to your case. Because this costs money AND because it takes time, I suggest you do one of these things at a time to see which works. Keep in mind that since there is more than one culprit (and each of you might have a different issue), you should probably try all of them -- just NOT all at once!

Dislike of the current substrate - Offer a choice of litter to determine if you have a prefurrence. Either start with unscented clumping litter as your other choice OR use Cat Attract. To give you a choice, offer one box with regular litter (the one you use now) and a new one with the new litter just a couple of feet away.

Since I'm about to recommend trying a covered litterbox, I suggest purchasing a large covered box and then remove the cover BEFORE it is used AND offer the new litter choice in it. I'd put this box near your favourite furnace room box. If you really like the new litter, great! Just remember that if some of the elders prefurr their old litter, then one of the boxes by the furnace and one of the boxes upstairs MUST have the old litter in it for their use. If the two boxes upstairs are NOT very near each other (same room and nearby) then please contact me again for details of how to do a changeover upstairs to the satisfaction of all cats in the household.

Prefurrence for a private place - Try a covered litterbox or try placing a new, open box in an out of the way location (such as under the laundry shelf if that works). A box placed under a table, bench or shelf gives privacy.

Prefurrence for a dark place - Try a covered litterbox.

Diarrhea leading to box aversion. Monitor to determine if box avoidance relates to runny stools.

The possibility of using Cat Attract - Let your purrson decide whether this if offered as the first choice of new litter OR only used as an option IF you don't want to put your paws into regular unscented clumping litter. After all, it is her wallet that is at stake.

Well kitties, you can see that in a multi-kitten, multi-cat household such as yours, solving your problem can take a bit of time and experimenting. Purrhaps you will become scientists when you grow up! In any event, all this work is taking its toll on me. It's time for my nap!

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