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.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Guess Why I Won't Use the Box.

Dear Greyce, I'm a 8+ year old, orange tabby who is affectionate and playful though skitterish at the noise from construction outside. I'm an only cat doted on by two adult purrsons. I don't want to use my litter box and my purrsons don't like that. Here's the situation:

I go outside on a harness and leash when the weather is nice. Last fall I developed a prefurrence for going to the bathroom outside. I really like to use the garden or the dirt by the back fence for my toilet. But the folks think I should like the stuff they have provided inside the house, especially in the winter when they believe it is too cold to go outdoors.

I had two, uncovered litter boxes: a large one on the basement landing near a wall, and a smaller one on the main floor bathroom beside the washing machine; with the good weather and the chance to do my business outdoors, the small box has disappeared. There used to be liners in my boxes but, thank goodness, that is a thing of the past - since I caught one of my claws in one! My litter is that fine to medium, unscented, clumping clay type. I like my boxes to be kept clean and my folks comply. I really, really, really DON'T want to use these boxes!

I used to go anywhere in my box, dig a bit, do my business and then cover it. Now I go near the edge of the box and don't cover. Sometimes I will sniff the box and the run away. Right now, if I need to pee I hold it until the folks come home and put me in the box. Yes Greyce, they put me in the box and only then will I go (because I have no alternative and I'm in need). When I have to poop I get all puffed up and when I feel I'm about to go, I bolt through the house and find a spot upstairs on which to deposit my waste.

I am in pretty decent health (though the vet is after to me lose some weight), but I had a problem with my stomach a long time ago because of something I ate. I have had no history of urinary infections or diarrhea. I've also been given some new food to deal with constipation issues.

Greyce, this problem is driving us all nuts. I'm hoping you'll be able to help. Max.

Dear Max, Thank you for writing about your problem because it gives me the opportunity to climb up on my cat tree and pontificate about litter box issues, a favourite topic of mine. Because there are other cats who read this blog, I want to give it the full treatment. So I'm going to go through all the possible reasons why cats get turned off from using the box (and what to do about them); BUT hang in there, Max, because I WILL address your problem(s) specifically as well. And to make things a bit easier for you, Max, I will highlight the areas I think pertain to your issue in green. Please start with Problem #1, Max, because you have an issue with constipation.

Cats 'go off' using their litter boxes for many reasons.

Problem #1: Illness. There is a reason I call this the #1 problem: It is the biggest reason why a cats stop using the box. They are ill and the primary illness is a urinary tract infection. Herself recommends urine testing for almost any cat who stops urinating in the box. (Even 40% of cats who spray have urinary tract infections!). Bacterial infections like cystitis are painful and Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) - also known as crystals in the urine - if left untreated, can be deadly in relatively short order - especially for males. With the former (cystitis), you have to go all the time and it is painful or uncomfortable to do so. You figure it's the box that is causing the problem, so you try to find another location that will be easier on you. It is not unusual for cats with the burning pain and sense of urgency of cystitis to choose cool surfaces like lino or tile floors, bathtubs, or sinks instead of their litter boxes. With the latter (FLUTD), you are blocked internally so either produce a few dribbles or nothing at all; the toxins in your urine recirculate through your body. No wonder FLUTD can be deadly!

As for solid waste: Diarrhea and constipation can also turn a cat off using the box. And either can result in leaving tracks: a small smear of poop a distance away from the box because you couldn't get to it in time or you had to suddenly go just after using the box; a small round stool some distance from the box because it either stuck to your bloomers and came off its own accord, or you were not aware that your poop job wasn't completely finished when you left the box. (A pile of poop, rather than a bit or two of stool, is a different matter.)

There are other illnesses that can lead to litter box problems. Generally it's something like kidney failure or uncontrolled diabetes that turns someone off using the box, because the box becomes a swamp; it quickly fills with clumps of urine, starts to stink and is sticky on the paws. In addition, arthritis or an injury can make it difficult or painful to climb in and out of the box, or to squat fully. And some senior cats have cognitive issues meaning that it is difficult for them to remember where the box is.

Solution: Rather obvious, I think. See your vet! Now! The sooner you get treatment, the better BEFORE your start to form distinct prefurrences for that new place or new 'something' on which to deposit your waste.

Prevention: What comes out of your system (your pee and poop) are prime indicators of your health. So the wise caregiver will keep an eye on your waste activities. As a rule-of-paw, the average cat pees twice a day and poops once a day (some poop every other day). Now you may or may not be average, Max, but whatever frequency you have should be taken as a baseline. That way, if it starts to change (go up or go down), your folks will be alerted to the possibility of a problem. (Since I suspect constipation may be an issue for you, an increase in quantity or quality of stool may be a sign that you are headed in the right direction as a result of your new food.)

You know what 'good' urine looks like; it is a medium-yellow tone (probably impossible to discern in clumping litter). Anything that is at all pinkish is a sign of blood in the urine and requires immediate veterinary attention. If your purrson wipes up a urine 'accident' with a white cloth or paper towel and it is pale pink, that's blood too.

As for poop: the first class stool is dark brown in colour (other colours may indicate problems), shaped like a small cigar (NOT a little round ball), and holds its form on evacuation. If someone got really scatological, they would be able to press a spoon against a fresh stool and find a slight indent; it would NOT be hard as rock and it would NOT be pudding. Yes Max, I'm sure you already know that pudding-like stool is basically diarrhea and that a long bout of that can turn you off the box because of a churning stomach, the need to go (often before you make it to the box) and possible inflamation of the anus from repeated evacuation. Not a great deal!

I had the trots once (after being on my own for almost a month). When Herself found me and I started to eat real food, my stomach reacted. It was awful until we found a diet that worked for me. I'm a great advocate of seeing the vet to deal with the trots, especially since it is so easy to become dehydrated.

The opposite side of the spectrum is constipation: Stools are hard even when first evacuated and the more constipated you are, the more they resemble small, round balls. Round balls are NOT good. These are difficult to evacuate and can be painful.

For the past year, I've been plagued by constipation. Instead of special food (which is an option that your are trying Max), my vet recommended adding fibre to my food along with a special flax water recipe for moistening my soft food. Because everyone's problems may differ I will refrain from providing details. Ask your vet if you think one of these options might be useful and s/he will give you information on what to do and what amounts to take.

Keeping your system flushed is a good idea but we cats are not the greatest water drinkers because we are able to concentrate our urine. Proper hydration is also essential if your have diarrhea (which is dehydrating) or constipation (because the extra water will help soften your stools).

Your people can help by providing you fresh water (changed daily) at suitable location(s) - at least one - in a suitable vessel of your choice. I have two venues of choice in my home: a pot by the bath tub which gets a daily fill and the toilet bowl. Like many of my colleagues, I have a thing about the fresh, cold, highly aerated water from the toilet bowl. Because I have kidney issues and so require good hydration and because I am adamant about the use of said bowl, Herself keeps it available for my use and NEVER cleans it with anything other than water. (Fountains - the obvious solution for many - have never interested me.) Outside I found the most marvellous pool: a butterfly water station made of rough concrete and located under the shade of a climbing clematis. Some of my Persian friends prefurr drinking from a glass that is filled to the brim because they can just get their tongue on the surface without soaking their fur. My cousins, Lucy and Emma, prefurr their bubble-shaped cat drinking fountain. And my former colleague Smudge used to like drinking from a heavy dish of coloured glass; the colour made it easier for him to see the water level so he didn't have to pat it with his paw.

The other thing my folks do to help me keep my system going is to feed me wet food, in addition to a portion of dry. And to that wet food they add water until it has a pudding consistency. That helps me get my water quotient.

Problem #2: There is something about the litter (that stuff inside the box) that turns you off. Your litter is called substrate by technically-oriented humans and I introduce this term in case I need to use it later. Since a dislike of the substrate (there's that word already!) is the biggest problem with cats who are otherwise healthy, I've given it the second spot on my list. And Max, I think this is PART of your problem. Cats with a substrate aversion (yep, that's what it is called) may be distressed when they go to their box, may move around it and even sniff it but won't touch the litter. Other signs of this problem: Refusal to use the box, or evacuating beside or very near it BUT NOT in it, or hanging on to the edge of the box (or staying near the very edge) while toileting, or refusal to dig in the box (when you used to). This really sounds like you, Max.

Here is a list of things to check for, to determine if you have an aversion to what is in your box.
a) The kind of litter you usually use has suddenly been changed. As I've repeatedly said in other blog entries, abrupt changes in any aspect of our territory signal threat to us. They are anxiety-provoking. Some purrson gets it in their head that another brand or kind is cheaper or more convenient and just dumps it into your box unannounced. Surprise! No wonder you react by refusing to use the box. Sometimes a dislike of the litter is slow to develop; there is something about the substrate that you don't really like but you don't dislike it enough to really turn you off. And then something happens, you find something else (like the bathroom carpet) that is suitable, or you don't feel well and can't bear the thought of putting your paws into that stuff even one more time, and you stop using the box.

If a human must change the litter brand or type, the change should be done s-l-o-w-l-y: starting with 100% old type; then a week later mixing 75% old type with 25% new; week three mixing 50%-50%; week four 25% old and 75% new; and week five, 100% new. If at any time you start to object, your purrson should revert to the previous week's proportion and then change the proportions even more slowly. There may be a point (at less than 100%) where you, as a cat, just put your paw down. And your paw is the law!

b) Paw feel. Some litters and some cats' paws just don't mix. For example, if you've been declawed you may prefurr compressed newsprint which is softer and lacks the fine grains that could irritate your incisions. Some cats, especially those who live life indoors and thus have softer paw pads, dislike the sharp edges of the larger-sized non-clumping gravel litters.

c) Scent. No cat I know of likes scented litter because most scents are put in litter to make it more appealing to the human buyer - not the cat! Part of the purpose in using the litter box is to mark the spot (as well as to evacuate your waste). We want to mark it with our scent and NOT Eau de Spring Breezes thank you very much. There is one exception: Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract Litter Additive which has an herb scent especially to attract us back to using our litter boxes if something has turned us off. By the way, feel free to boycott any litter box locations where there are room deodorizers (or plug-ins) nearby.

d) Depth. Signs of distress: You dig down to the very bottom before you settle down to do your business OR you fling the litter over the side of the box. Every cat has a depth prefurrence. The wise caregiver will start with a box filled with about 5 cm (2 inches American) of litter - enough to dig but not so much that it gets flung outside the box. Cats who prefurr smooth, reflective surfaces often like much less depth. You may recall Bear (The Stove Top Pee-er, blog entry of 2/25/10) who is happy with one-half inch of litter in his box because he likes to dig down to China to get at the smooth surface, before he gets down to business.

e) Dust. Signs of distress: sneezing, runny eyes. Some litters give off more dust than others. And while many humans may be concerned with dust if they have allergies, they should think about their cats. Our respiratory systems are very sensitive and our noses are very close to the litter. So if you are a cat with allergies or asthma, insist on the most dust-free litter possible. You may even request the installation of a portable air cleaner in the vicinity, to suck up any residual dust and keep your air clean.

Solving the Dislike of Substrate: Wouldn't it be lovely if your purrson could speak cat? Then you could tell them outright what was so bothersome about the litter. Instead they must offer you choice. Choice means simply this: They need to get another litter box and put it beside your current one. When I say 'beside', I mean between 6 to 12 inches away from your current one - enough so you could travel between then and evaluate your options. In one box they need to put your current litter. In the other, another litter that is of a different TEXTURE. The several different kinds: the larger, gravel type non-clumping clay; the finer clumping clay; the compressed chip (usually made of wheat or corn or pine); the pearl type (that looks like round balls); and the compressed newsprint (that looks like large, grey flakes).

For example, if you already use an unscented, clumping clay litter, they should offer, say, a compressed chip like wheat or pine litter in the other box. Suppose you don't like that? Then they should throw that away and get another, different kind of litter for the second 'test' box.  The idea is to offer you a choice and change that choice every 4 to 7 days until they find one you like.
"Oh, but you told us to grade it in slowly," your people might reply. Only in cases where the human changes the litter for some reason (cost, availability, veterinarian's orders); not in cases when you, magnificent feline that you are, are refusing to use the box!

Warning: While you are avoiding the substrate you hate, you may also discover something you prefurr - like carpet, or lino, or smooth surfaces, or towels to name a few. And if that prefurrence sets it, it will take even more time and patience to convert you back. That is why it's a good idea to deal with litter box problems ASAP. And it helps, if your folks can find a litter texture that is similar to the texture of your new prefurrence, if that is possible.

Now Max, I believe that part of your problem may be a dislike of your substrate but since it is only part of it, I will ask you to hang on for now. 

Problem #3: Location. Just like in real estate, a good litter box is about location, location, and location. And we cats like accessibility, security and privacy. Have a look at the checklist below Max, because I think this may relate to your issue, too.

a) The location of your box has suddenly been changed. Again this is usually due to human ingenuity. Some human has decided to move your box without your purrmission! Another change in territority that is anxiety-provoking. Even a move of a couple of inches is a LOT for a cat. They forget that we have cognitive maps of the exact location of all key points in our territory and are highly attuned to even the most subtle differences.

Should the location of your box need to be changed, then your human MUST do it slowly. A move of between 1 and 2 inches (maximum) per DAY is about what you can handle. Yes, it will take a while to get it to a more desirable (from a human point of view) spot, but thems the breaks.

b) The box is not accessible. Accessibility means that you can get to the box when you need to use it. If you are a kitten or an elderly or arthritic cat, you need to have a box on every floor in your home because going up and down stairs may be too much for you. Herself once did a consultation with a kitten whose only box was in the third-floor laundry room of a 5,000 square foot home; needless to say, there were litter box problems. The humans didn't get it until she put it in human terms. If you have a two-year old who was potty trained, would you expect them to climb three floors when they had to use the bathroom? End of argument. Accessibility also means that it is in a place where you're folks are able to get at it easily or, I'm sad to say, they will forget about it and that will create other problems for both of you.

c) The location is noisy For those of you who are somewhat anxious (the skitterish type) or fearful, the box needs to be in a quiet area. The worst location for you would be near equipment that has a timer - like a washing machine, furnace or TV that could go on unexpectedly and scare the willies out of you when you are in the act of toileting. One such episode and your use of the box is toast.

d) We are boxed in. Many people think they are doing their cats a favour by putting the litter box in a corner or up against a wall. To tell you the truth, they are probably doing themselves a favour by putting it in a corner out of sight, because they don't want to look at it. What they don't realize is that they are blocking your possible escape venues. And since toileting leaves you vulnerable you need to have options when it comes to escape, whether or not a predator could come after you. Moreover, most of us like to wander around the outside of the box in search of the purrfect point of entry (away from already-soiled areas). So leaving some open space around your box (like about a foot) would be a good idea.

e) The area is too busy. Locating a box in a high-traffic area does not give you the privacy you need. Anyone can encounter you in your most private act at any time.

f) The box is beside your food and/or water dishes. Humans do the silliest things! Do they have breakfast while seated on their toilets doing their business? If so, they have more problems than I can deal with. (I'm so distressed about that possibility that I even let my participle dangle!)We don't make it a practice of eating or drinking near where we pee or poop. And some of us, when presented with both choices, will choose to eat or drink there, and deposit our waste elsewhere.

Warning: Don't like your current location? Chances are you will find someplace else. And most people will react by trying to get you back to the past location. They need to understand that the old location doesn't work for you - no matter how wonderful it seems to be from their point of view. Instead they need to place a litter box at your new location. If you start to use it, it means that your old location was the problem. If you start to deposit your waste near it but not in it, it means you like this location but don't like the substrate. And if they absolutely cannot abide your location selection and want to try for a quick result, they can try putting a dish of your food in there instead. Many of us don't want to eat and deposit waste in the same location, so the presence of food can act as a deterrent - for some of us. Max I think location is part of your problem and I will get to your purrsonal solution at the end of this entry.

Problem #4: There is something about the box that is just not right. Yes, aside from the litter itself and the box's location, there can be other things that turn you off your box. Check these issues out.

a) The box changes abruptly. I've already mentioned these unannounced changes that humans make to our environment several times. I think you get the message. But in this case it's usually because some human has decided to buy some new-fangled box they saw on TV - that is a different shape or has a motor in it or some such. In most cases, too much of a change is NOT a good thing -- unless we really didn't like our old box. But most cats are quite happy with a rectangular box, thank you very much.

b) The sides of the box are too high for you - likely because you have an injury, are a kitten, or have arthritis. Solve the problem with a low-sided box. Have your slave cut the height with a carpet knife and then tape it over with duct (or other heavy) tape so you don't hurt yourself on the sharp edge. Or use something like an edged cookie baking sheet.

c) The sides of the box are too low for you, because you don't fully squat (or maybe don't squat at all) so your waste goes on to the wall or over the side. A high-sided box is the solution for you. For instructions on making such a box, see my entry, Stand and Deliver (10/20/09) which can be adapted with an point of entry on the narrow or the wide side of the box, depending upon the circumstance.

d) The box is too small for you. You still have the same box as when you were a kitten and you've outgrown it. You need to have a box that is big enough to house your entire body (okay the tail can hang out - unless you are using a covered box and have to get your tail in, too) and still have some room left over to maneouvre. You deserve a big enough box!

e) There aren't enough boxes. The box is fine but there just aren't enough of them. The rule of paw is to have a box on every floor of your home; and in multicat households to have one box per cat (regardless of the fact that most cats share). Now I know purrfectly well that many cats manage quite well in households with less that the so-called desirable number of boxes. But it is worthy of consideration if there are litter box problems.

Some cats prefurr separate boxes: one for pee and one for poop and shown when the box has one kind of waste in it and the other, is deposited elsewhere. The solution is obvious unless there is a multi-cat household. In the most challenging cases, the fastidious cat is given an electronic collar (a collar that has an electronic key) that opens a cat door to a private room where said litter boxes are housed; no other cat in the household can have access because no other cat has the key. A similar solution is implemented when there is a cat who refuses to use the litter box of a cat companion (for social reasons - meaning that the cats do not get along).

f) Your folks got one of those new-fangled boxes (like the ones that have an automatic cleaner) that reduce the actual useable area you have. In short, they are too small. Herself once met a handsome Siamese who was having to contort his long, lithe body into one of these contraptions. As soon as his purrson purchased an ordinary box, he was fine.

g) The box is covered. Most  cats do NOT like covered boxes unless they are shy (the cats that is and not the boxes). But covered boxes are a human convenience so that people don't have to look at the contents of the box. Now if people only scooped the box regularly (even a couple of times of day) the issue of looking at the contents would disappear. (I hope those people who insist on buying covered litter boxes also consistently close the lids of all the toilets in their households, each and every time! After all, what is good for the goose is good for the gander or however you want to translate that into feline-appropriate analogies.)

The covered box gives you less useable area because you have to accommodate your tail as well as the rest of you, when you do your business. Herself saw many covered boxes where, when the lid was removed, there were fecals stains all around because the cat could not get the bum far away enough from the edge. And did the human clean them (those litter box walls, not your bum)? Of course not! All they did was scoop, leaving their cat to contend with the smear, sometimes even having to turn and face said smear while pooping in order to have a clean area!

The human makes the situation worse my 'storing' the litter scoop (still dirtied, of course, never rinsed clean after scooping) on top of the box filter, so that the odour can permeate to the inside. Any human involved in this practice should immediately remove his or her own toilet and install a backyard biffy instead - because for most cats, the covered box is the feline equivalent of the biffy - a scent-infused pit.

And yes, there are times when a covered box is a godsend. For example, my friend, Tibby, liked to pounce on his ladyfriends when they were using the box. A covered box shielded them from this Lothario when they got down to business. And as I said before, some of us are just too shy to pee or poop in an open box and will gladly put up with a cover.
Problem #5: The level of cleanliness is unacceptable

a) The box is not cleaned often enough. The frequency of cleaning depends on the number of boxes and the number of cats. But really, a daily scoop shouldn't be that difficult - even for a human! If your box resembles a modern sculpture of randomly arranged clumps and turds, it's time to consider firing your caregiver. This is a problem that often happens when your folks go away for days and ask a neighbour to take care of you. The neighbour may forget to clean (or be lazy about it) and that can turn you off using the box.

b) A liner is being used. Liners are a human convenience for those who are leary of cleaning boxes. But we tend to dislike the paw feel. And like you Max, we can get a claw caught in them. And then it's game over.

c) A deodorizer has been added to the litter. Tell your folks to see the section on scent if they haven't got the drift yet. I've yet to meet a cat who loves the fizz of baking soda under his tail as he takes a whizz.

d) The box is cleaned with scented products. See (c) above. No ammonia please (it smells like urine). If your humans are phobic about germs, telepathically give them the following message: Just use water and dilute bleach if you must (one part bleach to nine parts water) and then rinse and rinse again.

Problem #6: There is a social problem in the household that turns you off the box. Max, this applied to you though it may now be a thing of the past.

This is a complicated issue but here goes.

a) You object to the scent of another cat who is using the box. This usually happens in households where one of your is not getting along well with another of your companions. See #4 (e) for the solution.

b) The household dog is bugging you. This usually  happens in households where the family dog loves to eat feces and it particularly attracted to the feline variety because of its higher protein content (because we eat higher protein food). You trot off to use the box and Bowser is nipping at your tail, waiting for your goods! Your folks need to construct a barrier so you can toilet without an audience. The usual solution is a baby gate - and if the dog is large then a small entry can usually be made in it for your to go in and out.

c) Another cat is guarding the box or victimizing you. The feline companion sprawled by the box and looking so innocent my be up to no good. You know it and so do I, but your folks just don't get it. You know darn well he is waiting for you to need the box and then will initimidate the heck out of you so you are forced to leave before your can do what you came for. And cats who pounce on you or make life difficult when you are going to the box or getting out of it are just as bad. The solutions to such situations are often complex. Start with a number of litterboxes in different locations (since Attila can't guard all of them at once) and consider that electronic door I mentioned before, if need be. But chances are if you live with Attila, your folks needs to have a behavioural consultation so the household can get on a normal footing.

d) You are being harassed or victimized by a human either when you are in the box, when you are going to use it, or when you are leaving it. Sign: You MAY hiss, growl or slink by the box. Max, your humans in their desperation have succeeded in harassing you in your use of the box by forcing you in it. And that cannot be pleasant for anyone. I understand they did this with the best of intent because they didn't understand your problem and couldn't bear feline waste on the floor. I understand they have stopped doing this - which is wonderful.

And now Max, for your special section. You'll have to pretend that the rest of this blog entry is coloured in green because it is all about you!

Now that you have patiently read to this point, I'll narrow down to the factors that pertain to you:

1. You have a history of constipation. That must make it uncomfortable (at at times even painful) for you to do your business. No wonder you don't want to go to the place you associate with such unpleasantness. As mentioned, seeing your vet is the answer here. And you have! I hope your new food will work well for you. Your vet should be able to tell you how long it should take to get results and exactly what results to expect. Pay attention to the signs of a good stool and if the food doesn't produce the desired results, keep bugging your vet until the right solution is presented.

2. You don't like the substrate. A guy who goes near the edge and doesn't cover when he used to be a first-class litter box user, just doesn't like what is in the box. And since this seems to have come as a surprise to your folks, I guess that it was an aversion that built up over time. You have a litter than didn't ring your chimes and something pushed you over the edge. And now you have developed a secondary substrate prefurrence: the dirt outdoors.
3. You don't like the box's location (at least for poop). And now you have developed a secondary location prefurrence: outdoors and the living room floor (behind large furnishings - for privacy, no doubt).
Since in your case I believe these factors may be joined together, I will address them together.

Keep your usual big litter box where it is (basement landing) for the time being because you seem to use it at least sporadically (though I'm not clear whether you use it on your own or only when your folks place you in it). And if you need to, tell your folks to stop forcing you into the box because that is only making the situation worse even though it keeps their floors clean. (I believe they no longer do this, but just in case . . . ).

Get your folks to buy you another large litter box and install it in the upstairs living room behind the sofa or large chair. Oh they probably won't like this one bit BUT from the layout you sent me (which I've not chosen to share with other readers since it is so specific to you), it seems that you like to use the living room floor for your poop and that you prefurr the privacy of going near and behind large furnishings (like the sofa). So at the risk of giving your folks a heart attack, I recommend they install the new box behind the sofa or the sofa chair.

Remind them that they probably won't have to live with this forever but we do need to get you back to using the box! Later when you are back to first-class litter box habits, we can consider moving the box s-l-o-w-l-y.  BUT not now! (I know of cats that insist on going where their people least prefurr; their people have learned to like it and have screened off the area with a small privacy screen or a few, low silk plants. Poop and pee on the floor or in the litter box? The choice is theirs.)
If you use the box upstairs (that new big box in the living room), well and good. If you don't BUT continue to poop near that box (in the upstairs living room), then tell them to take the smaller litter box you used to have (and I assume is still there but hiding) and start giving you a choice of litters as I outlined above (solution to Problem #2).

In your case, since you are already using unscented, clumping clay litter, I suggest they start by offering two choices: 1) your current litter - put in your big new box and 2) Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract Litter Additive (available from a pet supply store) mixed with your existing litter brand (assuming it is still unscented, clumpling clay - because this additive only works with that type of litter) according to directions, put in your smaller box.

If the litter with the Additive is not to your liking, they must offer other choices as per the schedule I outlined. The point is to stop when they find what you like. And then they can put that in your box on the basement landing, too. If the litter buffet doesn't work for you, then at last resort they can put potting soil (without any additives like peat moss, etc.) or dirt from the yard in it and give it a try. If you like that, then they can s-l-o-w-l-y revert to a more acceptable (for them) litter, closest in texture to what you prefurr - again as per my schedule for litter changeover listed above.

Yes, they can try the food where you poop trick to see if that discourages you from using the living room as your toilet. But since you are alone during the day, I figure you might just eat the food first and after the dish is empty go back to using the area as your toilet.  But you never know! Regardless, please encourage them to experiment with different kinds (textures) of litter so they can find one your like. I suspect that it is paw feel that has turned you off and that you like a litter that is closest to the dirt outdoors - an educated guess on my part.

4. You were harassed into using the box, which ironically just turns you off using it more! Since this no longer appears to be an issue, I'll go no further with this.

With the improvement in the weather. you can use the outdoors. This buys us some time to train your people about your prefurrences. I do recommend that we find the right box location and litter for you because there will be times when you'll need to use the indoor facilities. Trust me on this.

In any event, I wish you the best in re-training your people. Do let me know how it goes!

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