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.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Why Can't I Pee in the Sewing Room?

Dear Greyce, I am a six-year-old flame-point Himilayan and live with my brother, Andy, and an older companion, Cedric, a cream Persian age eight years. We all get along very well together. We have four litterboxes with unscented, clumping clay litter which are kept very clean for our use. Three are in the furnace room and one is under the stairs as you head down to the basement.

My problem is simply this: For some time, one of those litterboxes was in the upstairs sewing room. I found this to be a most convenient toilet. Then Herself moved said box to the basement! I don't know about you Greyce, but when someone takes such drastic measures without one's consent, well . . . I've been trying to tell Herself that I really prefurr the old location; indeed I persist in peeing there but since there is no box, I go on the carpet instead. Herself responds by attempting to clean the carpet! How can I get her to understand my point of view? Your puzzled reader, Amos.

Dear Amos, First let me compliment you on getting along so well with your feline companions. As you know, my last blog entry was about companions who were having difficulty getting along. So it is wonderful to hear from someone for whom this is not a problem.

I certainly understand your frustration with your purrson. Sometimes no matter how clearly we give them a message, they just don't get it. But let's start off with reviewing what she is doing right. You have four litterboxes. This is an excellent number - for the general guideline is one box per cat plus one more; and in your three-cat household that would mean 3 + 1 which equals 4! The boxes have unscented litter which is a godsend, for most cats do NOT like scented litter AND for cats such as yourselves whose facial structure is more akin to the Persian rather than the Oriental breeds, scent would even be more difficult to deal with. And your boxes are kept very clean at all times, meaning that you don't have to negotiate amongst piles of waste in order to do your business. So I think you have to give Herself credit for being so conscientious.

Usually in homes with more than one floor, the recommended practice is to have a box on each floor. This helps the cat who 'has to go' have a conveniently-located option at all times; it also comes in handy if there is another cat in the household who likes to guard litterboxes (since he can't be in two places at once); and it is helpful for kittens and cats with stiff joints who may just not be able to manage a lot of stairs, especially when nature calls. So in my opinion, it would be prefurred if there was a litterbox on each floor of your home. (And even as I write this, I fully admit that my boxes are the in the basement since I refused to use one on the main floor. But since I'm an indulged cat, I'm allowed to do as a please and have my servants bend to my wishes.)

Notwithstanding my prefurrence, let us get to the sewing room itself. You say that one of the boxes used to be located there. It is obvious from your behaviour (in the absence of said box) that you have developed a locational prefurrence. That means that particular location is especially valued by you for your toilet function. (Other cats have substrate prefurrences, meaning they only like certain textures of litter; box prefurrences related to size, wall height, and/or the presence of a cover; cleaning prefurrences related to frequency; etc.) You have 'told' Herself of your prefurrence but I think she is not aware that cat's have such prefurrences and so may be interpreting it a stubborn behaviour on your part.

So here is what to do:
Herself needs to bring one of those litterboxes back to the former location in the sewing room. After a week, she needs to decide if she can live with it there OR needs to relocate it elsewhere. If the latter, then I urge her to consider another location on the same floor (given my statement about litterboxes being available on every floor of the house). REGARDLESS, should she decide to move said box then she needs to move it S-L-O-W-L-Y, that is, at the rate of one to two inches per day (2.5 to 5.0 cm in Canadian)! She is likely to be surprised by this, so let me explain.

What she has failed to understand is that the litterbox is an important part of your territory. She may not be aware that you have a cognitive map (that is, a map in your superior brain) of everything in your territory and exactly where it is placed. You monitor it regularly by going on patrol and  refreshing your scent marks on important entrances and items (usually with your cheeks). When something is missing or out of place (and you can easily tell when it is even a 'little off') it becomes threatening to you and you get anxious. Moreover you may persist in re-visiting the spot where something important to you is missing, because your brain has not registered that the missing item will not return. (My purrson demonstrates this seeking behaviour regularly when she misplaces her keys and keeps returning to the place she usually keep them, even though she knows they are not there!) The best way to alleviate this is to make territorial changes slowly so you an re-incorporate them into your cognitive map.

The slow movement of the box needs to be done at a pace you can handle. In some cases, cats are fine with the first several inches and then have a setback. That means the pace was too fast. The appropriate solution is to move the box BACK to where it was before the setback (often just a matter of inches) and let it stay there another few days before attempting to move it again.

So the bottom line is this:
  • Direct Herself to restore said litterbox to the sewing room.
  • Allow Herself the option of slowly moving said box to another location (as per my instructions).
  • IF even after the slow moving of said box, you persist in your locational prefurrence, then Herself needs to admit defeat and allow you to have a litterbox in the sewing room. I'm sure she would agree that a tidy box is prefurrable to a urine-soaked carpet.
And speaking of cleaning up urine, be on the look-out for my upcoming entry on the subject - because improper cleaning attracts cats back to the soiled spot like filings to a magnet!

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