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.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Stove Top Pee-er

Hi Greyce, I am a handsome black cat who you've mentioned in your entry, The Pungent Scents of Comfort. Urine Marking #1 (1/10/10). That's me on the right, along with my bossy sister, Bailey. I have been troubling my folks with a penchant for stove top peeing. And yes, my urine was tested so I know an infection is not the cause of my problem.

The stove is gas. Mostly I used the top as a toilet (but only for peeing). Yes, I have a litter box which has been roughly in the same location since I was a kitten and I continued to use it (doing 'the usual' - dig, squat, pee and cover - but I do like to dig down to China first). I rebelled when the folks changed litters to one of those pearl-types because I didn't like its feel on my paws; it was then that I discovered my enjoyment of stove top peeing. I was able to revert to my previous and much-prefurred-by-my-folks' habit of using the litter box. Basically, they made the stove top inaccessible to me and found a more acceptable litter for me to use. And all was fine.

Alas, I reverted! There could be many causes. I've developed asthma and my coughing fits are anxiety-provoking to me. I'm a sensitive guy you know. And there have been times when my bossy sister, Bailey, perched on top of the kitchen cupboards looking directly over the stove top and we'd have a stand-off. After such an altercation, I have been known to leave a small piddle of urine (only a teaspoon or tablespoon at a time) on the stove.

In periods of high anxiety I have peed on quilts and pillows but mostly I stick to smooth flat surfaces like tile, counter tops and the beloved stove top. I admit it, I have had a good run at peeing on the stove but I am reforming. And I wonder if you'd share the tips you gave me with other readers who may be in the same situation.

Here's to peeing in the litter box! Bear

Dear Bear, I'm always glad to share tips that work with other readers. Let me start by explaining your situation more fully to them, so they can understand the reasons behind my recommendations.

First you mentioned that your were a devoted user of your litter box until your folks changed the type of litter used. That is a common problem in relying on humans for the quality of your toilet. They get ideas into their heads (often from advertising or displays at pet supply stores) and decide to act on them. Many humans are leery about litter boxes; they don't like looking at the contents, scooping and disposing of the waste, or encountering the resultant smells. And so the pet supply industry works hard at developing litters and associated products that will make such tasks more pleasant - for the humans BECAUSE they are the ones who purchase the products in the first place. Believe me Bear if you had a wallet full of cash, they would aim their advertisements at you instead.

Now I have no problems with trying to develop products that are useful. It's just that what might be prefurred by a human may not be prefurred by a cat. So you get a human buying a product that appeals to a human want, to be used by a cat who has other needs or wishes. Recipe for disaster at times! And this is what happened to you.

Now what does a cat in this situation do? Simply express concern. Many cats in your situation would react by depositing their waste outside but near the litter box. This would tell the humans that there is something about what is inside the box that is not to their liking. However if you are an anxious type you might instead find another toilet away from the offensive box. And that is what you did. In response, your folks stopped using the offensive litter and that helped bring you back to using the box, the first time around. Good for them!

Second you mentioned your prefurrence for smooth surfaces. This is shown by your need to dig down to China when you prepare to deposit your waste. Obviously you like the paw-feel of a smooth surface. And paw-feel is an important criterion for many cats, especially those who are kept indoors because the skin on your paws would be more delicate that those of your colleagues who go outdoors a lot and build up the feline equivalent of calluses. Stove tops are VERY smooth.

Third you mentioned that the stove top is an emotionally-significant spot because it is the scene of occasional altercations with your sister. As you know, we mark spots that are important to us and can choose from an array of rubbing, scratching, spraying, horizontal urine marking, and fecal deposition. Your horizontal urine marking shows that you are less confident than your sister (or say, than a sprayer) yet feel the need to make a statement. Indeed by such a statement you have been telling your folks that this area concerns you. Some detective work on their part would reveal the cause (i.e., those stand offs you have with your sister).

Fourth you've urine marked AND urinated on the stove. This is not surprising. Humans often remark on those of us who immediately use the litter box just after it has been cleaned or after a new layer of litter has been added to it. This is marking behaviour, just to ensure that everyone knows it is our box. And we can do it wherever we may toilet.


In developing recommendations for you, I needed to take several factors into consideration. Most importantly we needed to address the causes of your urine marking (those piddles) as well as your urinating, because they each require somewhat different solutions.

Dealing with Urine Marking

We know that the marks relate to the stand offs you've been having with Bailey. Now I know that you and Bailey are very close (even sleeping curled up together) but that from time to time you have differences of opinion. And I know that Bailey is the bossy one of your pair. Obviously there are times when this gets out of hand. There are several ways to approach this.

Bailey likes height. So having other parts in the house where she can be up high would be helpful - especially if, you, too, could also be up higher (for example on the staggered shelves of a cat tree); this would allow you each the benefits of height while respecting the relative differences in status, thus easing the tension.

Bailey obviously enjoys being dominant at times, a situation which you find unnerving. Your folks need to learn the signals that she is up to this subtle form of intimidation and nip it in the bud (by intervening ASAP, rather than allowing the altercation to unfold). This will ensure that Bailey learns that this is unacceptable behaviour. See my blog entry, The Pungent Scents of Comfort. Urine Marking #4 of 1/26/10 for ideas.  I know that you are helping your folks to decode these signals by keeping open relevant pages of the books I recommended. Here, for example, you're pondering the magnificent feline faces from page 15 of Bruce Fogle's Know Your Cat: An Owner's Guide to Cat Behavior.

How thoughtful of you to make absolutely certain that they know this book is of value. I assume you are the kind of cat who also sits on their reading material, to make your point. That a marvellous pose you strike!
Being indoor companions of a working couple, you need to be able to vent your predatory needs in acceptable ways, through daily interactive play WITH your humans. This can help Bailey 'get off your back' and can also help you manage your anxiety. See Only on My Terms, my blog entry of 12/20/09, for more information.

Dealing with The Unacceptable Toilet

Since you like to use the kitchen (and it is an important place for you), the first things your folks needed to do was to provide you with an acceptable alternative in that location: another litter box. And to encourage its use, they needed to make the stove top unavailable. The best way I've found to do this is to put a heavy COVERED pot or pan on EACH element, so that all spaces are taken; the covers discourage you from using the pot or pan as a toilet instead. While this may seem unattractive to humans with a penchant for a neat and tidy kitchen, it is a prefurrable alternative to cleaning up cat urine in a food preparation area.

In addition I suggested that only 1/2 inch of litter be put in the box they installed in the kitchen. This would make it very easy for you to get to the smooth surface you so desire, while enabling the litter to absorb your waste so that it could more easily be scooped.

I know most humans will want to know if they can ever remove items from the stove top and possibly move the litter box out of the kitchen. Yes, both are possible BUT MUST BE DONE at the proper time and even then, very slowly.
  • The proper time means allowing you a sufficient period to get used to NOT using the stove top (and that can be several weeks or even several months). If they balk at such a time period, they should figure out just how long it takes to give up something they got into the habit of doing and had to un-do - like giving up smoking or a penchant for snacking on chocolate.  
  • Only after that period has passed would I recommend the stove top be cleared - and EVEN THEN I would suggest they do it SLOWLY (that is, by moving the pots, say, an inch away from the peripheries, and leaving it that way for a few days, before moving them another inch yet again -- until in time, all are in the centre of the stove; then removing the pot from the least accessible burner and leaving the rest again for several days, etc. 
  • If at any time, you demonstrate an interest in returning to that location, the pots need to go back to the position they were in just before you showed interest. In other words, it's a bit of three-steps-forward-and-two-steps-back. The most important thing is for them to go at a pace with which you are comfortable (regardless of their own desires with regard to kitchen use and design).
Similarly when you have demonstrated a lack of interest in the stove and consistent use of the box(es) at your disposal, they can start to SLOWLY move your kitchen box to a more desirable (for them) location - at the rate of 1 INCH per day. "One inch!" they might exclaim. But just remind them that this is a significant part of your territory that is being altered and you need the time to adjust your cognitive map to be able to accept it. Given that you are prone to anxiety, I think one inch every two or three days would be enough for you to handle. I know humans can be impatient but I think it is a bit like weight loss. Humans with too many kilos of girth always wish for an instant fix but experts always remind them that slow and steady wins the race; a few pounds a week may seem like a turtle pace, but it really can add up. Same with moving the litter box. (Oh dear, here I go again mixing metric and imperial measures which just proves my Canadian background!)
I discuss another way to deal with the moving-the-box issue below, when I write about Venus - the cat, not the planet.

For the Future: A Lesson From Venus

A cat who is somewhat anxious may revert (in your case, to the stove top) from time to time. And should that happen, your folks need to realize that is it a warning system that something is awry. Not only would they need to cover the stove and add the kitchen litter box again, but also they'd need to examine what had happened that made you uptight. Extra play sessions (as I've already mentioned) and sessions with touch therapy could do much to put things right.

That reminds me of my colleague, Venus, a charming longhaired black cat who also chose the stove for urinating - except her stove was electric and she enjoyed using the burner which vented into the oven. Now I know that some cats like stove tops because the dark holes in them remind them of drains and the are odiforous; it's as if they had a sign saying, "Pee here!" Venus' purrson used the same strategy that I'd suggested for your folks (covering the stove and providing a kitchen litter box). AND she gave Venus more purrsonal time (in play and cuddles) and very soon Venus would stop. When Venus no longer used the kitchen box (and the box was not used for a week or two), it was simply removed and all went back to normal. From time to time, Venus would revert. The stove would be covered, the kitchen litter box installed, and a program of extra play and cuddles implemented. And all would be fine.

You may wonder why she would revert. Simply because her human would get busy with other things and forget the play or cuddle sessions; sometimes she was stressed herself (which Venus would pick up on). In short, her purrson was so pre-occupied that she didn't notice Venus was having getting more anxious until she peed on the stove again. So as soon as there was pee on the stove, she put 'the plan' into action.

One other important thing: since Venus' behaviour was a sign of her rising anxiety, her human resisted the urge to scold or punish her in any way because that would only make her more anxious, causing further anxiety-related problems and loosening the positive bond they had.

Cleaning Up

The easiest way to clean a horizontal, non-porous surface (i.e., a surface where liquid just sits on the top rather than being absorbed into it), is a follows: 1)  wipe up the area,  and then 2)  USING A CLEAN CLOTH OR DISPOSABLE TOWEL go over it again with an appropriate product (I'd say club soda here). If there is residual odour, leave some baking soda on the area for several hours (and the area blocked off so you cannot access it in any way). Of course, don't forget to wipe up the baking soda. (You can use a damp cloth but will have to rinse well in order to avoid streaks.)  (In the original posting I advised Bear to use vinegar in the clean up. My views have changed since the Humane Society of the United States recommends against it. For tips on cleaning urine, consult my page (at the top of the blog), Cleaning Urine and Other Stains.)

Any cloths that have been used for this kind of cleaning should be washed in biological washing soda (that is, products  - like Amaze - that are used to clean soiled baby diapers). "Why bother?" your human might ask. Simply to remove the fats from the urine that normal soaps and detergents do not take out - and that re-attract you back to them. Tell them that reason and I guarantee you they'll be running to the grocery store.

That about covers it, Bear. Thank you for the chance to climb up on my cat tree and pontificate on a subject so near and dear to us.