Dear Greyce, You helped my companion, Amos (in your blog entry Why Can't I Pee in the Sewing Room?) and now I'd like you to help me. My name is Cedric and I am the elder companion of Amos and Andy (two, six-year-old Himilayans). I am a gentle spirit encased in a cream Persian body of eight years.
I have a varying interest in litterboxes - those four that Amos mentioned (three in the furnace room, one under the stairs, all with unscented clumping litter and all cleaned daily). I use them from time to time (and sometimes quite regularly) but I am a freer spirit. In the summer I take the opportunity to evacuate my bowels during my walks (on lead) and urinate on the grounds. In the winter, I enjoy going outside and urinating in the snow; in fact, I specifically request it. At times I have a penchant for using the shower floor, the tub, or the sink.
No Greyce, I have no history of urinary tract infections (some of which I understand might be the source of such attraction). But I have a strong fascination with water - in the shower, from the outside water hose, the toilet, a filled bathtub and my own water fountain, amongst others. Purrhaps I was an hydrologist in a former life. And one more thing, when my purrsons go out of town, I am prone to "go off" using the litterbox.
Now none of this bothers me at all, but it does upset my purrson. She is concerned about what she terms my 'dirty' habits. But I don't see it that way at all. What do you advise? Cedric
Dear Cedric, You are obviously a man of variety with a strong prefurrence for using the outdoors. Rest assured, you are not alone in what humans might term idiosyncratic toilet habits. Let me explain. You have particular substrate prefurrences (kinds of surfaces you like to use) and possibly, aversions (kinds of surfaces you dislike). Substrate refers to the substance on which you eliminate (usually but not always, litter). For the benefit of other readers who may have similar problems I want to talk about all the possible factors that can contribute to this, before I suggest a purrsonal solution for you.
You have substrate prefurrences. You tend to prefurr the outdoors. Indoors your prefurr surfaces that are open and reflective - actually quite like the habits of your wild ancestors. What you haven't told me is whether or not you cover your wastes; many cats with the prefurrences you describe tend not to cover. Behaviourists think that uncovered waste is a form of urine marking by leaving marks that are visible and smell to alert others of your presence. That may explain your behaviour, in part; in other words, you may be eliminating your waste and marking at the same time (a feline version of multi-tasking).
If you have a substrate aversion (i.e., can't stand using a particular form of litter and will do so only under duress), the signs will be obvious to a watchful caregiver. You will approach the box and either deposit waste beside (but not in) it, or you would try to hang on the edge of the box while using it (to avoid getting your paws in the substrate). Such cats may even go through digging motions outside of the box (even if the waste is deposited inside it).
Difficulties such as your can develop 'out of the blue' or because you don't like your regular substrate. And such changes often happen when regular caregivers are away and someone else (purrhaps with a different cleaning schedule) looks after the place ( i.e., the box isn't cleaned the way you like it). But usually such problems are resolved once the regular cleaning practices are restored (unless you develop a substrate prefurrence in the meantime!)
Urinary tract infections and/or diarrhea can also put cats off using the box. In such cases, the pain of waste elimination gets associated with using the box (and the kind of litter in it) leading you to seek another, hopefully pain-free place. And in some cases, it could be that you cannot make it to the box in the time, so you go where you can. Thank you for letting me know that you have no history of such infections. I do understand that you have loose stools, from time to time, in the summer but you haven't told me if there is any relationship between such bouts and your prefurrence for other toilet sites. Purrhaps that is because, in summer, you have greater access to the outdoors so it is less of an issue for your then.
When you use the box, I wonder if you prefurr it exclusively for the deposition of urine or of feces. Some cats will use an box for one, but seek another box for the other (that is, they would use on box exclusively for urine and the other, for feces alone and wouldn't want anyone to mix them up). The key here is to provide two separate boxes, one for urine and one for feces. That would be difficult in your case because you live in a multi-cat household. I doubt a 'for urine only' sign over one box would work in your household.
The largest population of cats with such problems in the use of the box (that is, substrate prefurrences and/or aversions) are long-haired. No, this does NOT mean that all long-haired cats have such problems, just that if there is such a problem, it is more likely associated with a long-haired cat. While behaviourists are not certain of the reason for this, they think it has to do with your long, fine hair: soft, fine substrates catch in soft, fine fur. Yuch!
Solving the Problem
In order to solve your problem, your purrson needs to careful study your toilet habits, to eliminate the unlikely factors and narrow them down:
- substrate prefurrence
- substrate aversion
- changes in toilet behaviour when caregiver is away
- changes in toilet behaviour with diarhhea
- aversion to using the same box for both kinds of waste.
The key to solving such problem is to nip them in the bud as soon as possible. Unfortunately from what I understand, you have developed longstanding habits. And the longer the habit the harder it is to break.
Substrate prefurrences. Since many of your prefurred locations relate to the bathroom, the simple matter of keeping the door closed when not in use, might help, though it wouldn't solve the problem completely, especially if you cannot stand the substrate that is available.
Substrate aversions. Switch to another substrate. For cats such as yourself, there are two options:
1) compressed newspaper (such brands as Yesterday's News) which might have a soft paw feel without sticking in your fur; however such litter is NOT clumping and thus larger amounts of litter will be required; OR - and this is the one I'd try first if I were you, 2) Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract Litter for Long-Haired Cats (www.preciouscat.com/precious-long-haired-litter-p-13.html ) (made by Precious Cat). This particular brand is sold at pet supply stores. It contains an herbal attractant which is said to lure most cats to the litterbox. It comes in three forms (a clumping litter; an additive than can be used with existing, unscented, clumping litter as long as that litter has no baking soda in it; or a litter especially formulated for long-haired cats). Yes it IS more expensive than regular brands, but it would be worth a try. And given your history, I'd recommend going straight to the long-haired cat formulation first. Just empty one of those three boxes in your furnace room and replace the litter with this one. That way everyone has a choice and hopefully none of your companions will be upset by the change.
Changes when caregiver goes away. I cannot really help here because it depends on who is looking after you. And if that is a neighbour or friend, it will be more difficult for your purrson to insist that usual cleaning practices and schedules be followed to the letter.
Changes with diarhhea. Here, of course, the solution is to work to solving that problem. Enough said.
Dislikes using the same box for both kinds of waste. The usual solution (more than one box) is difficult to achieve in your household, as I've said.
If the solutions I have proposed do not work, or do not work completely for you, there is another one to consider: the installation of a cat door to allow you access to the outside. Now this is a whole other matter; I plan to do some entries on safe outdoor access in the upcoming months, so I won't go into all the details here. But I do want to leave you with another, related, case example.
Years ago, Herself taught a course on litterbox habits for cat-loving humans. One of the participants was a man who lived with a Persian cat who behaved just like you, that is, he loved the outdoors and prefurred it as his toilet. When kept inside (especially in the cold Edmonton winters), he would use the basement (in his case, the wall-to-wall carpet) instead. After spending $800.00 in repeated carpet cleaning, the man was ready to get rid of the cat (a euphemism for euthanasia).
From all accounts, this was a delightful, friendly Persian male cat who was a wonderful companion in all respects - except for his toilet habits. He was very much loved by his family; so they paid for the man to take my course in the hope that another solution would present itself.
After listening to me quite carefully, he opted to install a cat door in a basement window and construct a series of small, stable, staggered shelves leading to it; this way the cat would have access to the outdoors on demand. Case closed.
But if it were me (and given the Edmonton cat by-law and the potential outdoor hazards for cats), I'd have installed a cat enclosure or cat fence, too, so that the cat would not be in harm's way from wandering dogs, roaming cats, or mean humans, while doing his business. And I promise, Cedric, I will provide more details about cat doors, enclosures and fences - leash walks, too - in the upcoming months -- in time for all those do-it-yourself humans to think of providing safe, outdoor options for their cats.