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, January 4, 2010

When Your Purrson Hates Litterboxes - Part 11 of Litterbox Blues

Dear Greyce, I am a Russian Blue senior who is fearless and affectionate. I live with a dog, a human child and a purrson. Recently we've moved from a cabin in the woods to another home just a short walk away. At my old place, I would use the outdoors as my litterbox via a very convenient cat door. At the new place, there was no cat door for a few weeks; my purrson left a window open instead, in the hopes I'd use that as the means by which to access the outdoors. But frankly, I was not amused. I peed in her shoes and on the door mat. The dog thinks my stools are a snack, so ate that evidence.

I now have a litterbox beside my new cat door. I love that litterbox. I use it faithfully. But here's the problem: My purrson hates litterboxes. She wants me to pee and poop outdoors and I no longer want to. I want to use my litterbox. Sometimes she hides it, to 'encourage' me to use the outdoors instead; but then I just pee in her shoes. She is really getting ticked off with me. What am I doing wrong? Saidie the Litterbox Lady

Dear Saidie, There is nothing wrong with you. You are purrfectly normal. In your old place you had a routine that worked very well for you. You had unrestricted access to the outdoors which was also where you deposited your waste. Good for you!

In your new place, your purrson violated important rules of territoriality. She probably didn't understand the importance of getting you used to your new territority and all the smell-changes it would require. You needed time to incorporate all the new smells, to lay scent trails with your paw pads, to mark various key spots with the pheromones in your cheeks, and to determine the overall layout, entrances, exits and corridors -- both inside and out. She thought that you'd just jump at the chance to use the open window (instead of the door) to go out and toilet, while you were still trying to figure your way around all the many changes that had happened to your turf.

My goodess your human missed the boat! She didn't appreciate the important of installing the cat door ASAP -- indeed before you were transferred over IF she wanted your outdoor toilet habits to continue. She didn't realize that you would voice your concern and feeling of the lack of an appropriate option by which to do your business, by depositing your waste in her shoes (an odiferous spot often chosen by cats in distress) or the door mat (an important territorial entrance and often a source of interesting invader scents). And I bet that she doesn't understand that the move may only be a short distance from your old home, but it is an entirely new location for you and you now have to get used to different access points in your outdoor territory as well. And now there is a cat door to the outside, but you've already had a chance to use a litterbox and much prefurr that.

Okay I'm on a roll with my first post-new-year rant. Please indulge me, for I will soon get around to solving your problem.

I get the humans don't always 'get it' when it comes to cat behaviour. But then she does the 'right' thing by providing you with a litterbox by the patio door. And you use it. And now she doesn't want you to!

Well dear, here is the explanation: Humans are funny critters at times. Some will hunker down and seriously keep litterboxes in good order at all times, regardless. Others will put them out of sight (often in the basement or a storage room) and 'forget' to clean them unless you demand otherwise or start distributing presents around the house, because they don't like the clean up and they figure it doesn't matter. And there are some humans who are purrfectly happy to take care of their own waste products but get the heebie jeebies when it comes to disposing of animal waste. It IS a mystery!


If this truly bugs your purrson beyond belief, then her option is to try to please the both of you, by SLOWLY altering your new habit. While this process is going on, she needs to keep the box clean and the litter re-filled, just like she would if it were indoors.

Step One: Place the current litterbox which you love and use, beside your cat door ON THE OUTSIDE. It will be important to ensure that it will not get wet -- which would be very distressing. No cat in her right mind wants to get her paws wet! So if that location isn't already protected from the elements, she will have to put on her thinking cap and put, for example, something that would provide a roof over the box (like a small table) but be high enough and open enough for you to enter. Please ensure that she does NOT resort to a covered litterbox at this point. On second thought, if this action plan appeals to her and she can't find a way to protect the box, then she probably should bite the bullet and get a LARGE covered box for you -- even though we will be getting rid of it in the long run.

Step Two: Once you are using the outdoor litterbox consistently, she can SLOWLY move it away from the house (to a location that will work for the both of you). By slowly I mean at the rate of no more that 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm in Canadian) per day! If you stop using the box and start peeing in the house when she has moved the box, it means the move was too fast for you. She should move it back to the spot it was before you voiced your opinion, leave it there for a few days and then start the moving process again. This will seem like a lot of bother to her, but she needs to realize that cats are very aware of small changes (small to humans, that is) in their environment and need time to incorporate those changes; faster change than you are comfortable with just signals a change in your resource base and in security, meaning that you sense the possibility of a threat and then all hell can break loose. So slow really is better.

Step Three: Once the box is far enough away from the house that she is satisfied (and as long at you are continuing to use it) she can remove the box and just spread the litter (same amount and same area) where the box used to be. (I'd suggest that whatever protection was over the box, remain in place. So if it was a covered box, then she needs to put a low table or some such over the spot to keep it protected and get you used to the idea of a really open toilet.

Step Four: Slowly, over a period of several weeks, she should mix the litter with whatever is on the ground (dirt I guess). When I say slowly, I mean that she starts with 100% litter. Next week maybe 75% litter mixed with 25% dirt. And proceeds in that fashion (50 - 50 and then 25 - 75) for however long it takes (about a month).

Step Five: If the protective cover is still in place over the area and she cannot stand it, then she can try moving in away slowly -- just like she did the whole box in previous steps -- and over a period of time it should cease to be an issue and can disappear.

REMEMBER: While this process is going on, she needs to keep the box clean and the litter re-filled,  just like she would if it were indoors.

I suspect you prefurr your indoor venue for one of following reasons:
  1. It is more protected from invaders and/or the elements.
  2. You prefurr the substrate (the litter) to what is available outdoors, especially if the ground is hard; for example, I don't dig in dirt unless it is the veggie patch which Himself keeps nicely turned over with loose, soft soil.
  3. You have 24/7 access.
If your purrson can figure out which of these really turns your crank, it may help her figure out how to make the outdoor venue more appealing.

Before I close, let me touch on two more, related issues - the dog and your seniority.

The dog's snacks: Yes, many dogs do think that the higher protein in cat stools makes them a treat. And if such treats have litter on them, it can lead to tummy difficulties for the dog. Your purrson will need to keep an eye on that growler while the box is still in operation, for I assume your dog companion also goes outside.

Your seniority: I don't know how old you are, but if you are a senior your prefurrence for an inside box may have to do with age. Purrhaps your joints aren't as flexible, or you don't feel as secure doing your business outside, or your need for warmth when you do your business is such that an indoor location works better for you. And while your purrson don't realize it, it IS a good way to monitor your business and know what is normal for you. In our senior years, we can develop chronic conditions (diabetes, kidney disease for example) that are often first detected by changes in the amount of urine in the litterbox.

My dear, I have presented a plan for your purrson's consideration that might be okay for you. Just make sure she follows it carefully so there is the best chance of success. I wish you and your purrson the very best on this venture. Do let me know how it turns out.

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