It’s said that one of the most common complaints from cat owners is that their cat or cats have bad litter box compliance. Shelters report that one of the most common reasons an animal is surrendered to them is for this reason. When you read things like this and talk to people who are dealing with this issue, it makes one think that this problem runs rampant in the feline-as-pets world. Many folks come to me for a female kitten because of the fear that a male kitten will take up spraying and yet the story I’m about to tell you is about a female. Percentage wise I don’t know if one gender or the other is more likely to develop “issues.” Multiple cat households are more likely and, of course, intact cats of either gender. However if you think about the millions of cats who are living with their human companions around the world, the number of cats who do NOT have a problem is surprising considering the feline has changed very little from the wild state through evolution.
I’ve been watching my cats. I have 3 with litter box issues. Simba Kahn gets a free pass as the resident stud. He’s a great little guy and I feel sure he will stop this behavior when he’s neutered. Sequoia gets a provisional pass. I suspect that some of her out of litter box experiences (OLBEs) are due to anxiety and she gets confused. For example I noticed that a great number of her OLBEs are during a time of chaos with the other cats milling around. Often if I catch her in time and set her in the box, she’s more than glad to use it. The other day she was sniffing about and I dangled her “princess panties” at her and she raced for the box. Adorable!
But this case study is about Nugget who, as you know, is now on Prozac for this problem. I had a thought the other day as I watched Nugget go from one box to another, sniffing and rejecting each in turn, of what it might be like for her to deal with this anxiety. Have you ever had bathroom dreams? No, don’t tell me! But they go something like this. You hunt and hunt and hunt and at great length find one after another, but each is unsuitable for some reason. If you are lucky there is no one like the great, hulking Kalahari lurking behind every door. THAT’S what it must be like for Nugget.
Now here’s the mystery: why all of that anxiety over peeing but not pooping? Most cats with OLBE’s poop in the box, but not pee. Is this some kind of primal thing? I can’t answer that, but it’s largely true.
This is how this morning went. Nugget was upstairs with the rest of the cats and she was *looking* — you know the signs if you’ve ever had this problem. She will often head for the shower. Now at this point in time with Nugget, THE SHOWER IS THE LEAST OF MY PROBLEMS, so I open the shower door for her (Kalahari had left it closed) and in she goes and sniffs around. Something is terribly wrong with the drain. I’m calm. I gently lift her up and put her in the bedroom litter box (for the third time). She leaps out like it’s full of hot coals and heads to other regions of the room, but I’m hot on her heels so she knows that’s not going to work either. Back to the shower – sniffing at the drain. It’s offensive. There’s something in there, she’s sure!! While she’s occupied with that I go get my emergency litter box out of the closet. Yes, I have one near by just for this reason. It’s a small one I can move around easily, and I set it over the horrible drain. She climbs into it in evident relief and uses it. Then she walks out and around the corner to the regular bedroom litter box to poo. This, by-the-way, is a good reason to have a minimum of 2 boxes even with one cat. I have at least 3 cats who will do this: pee in one box and immediately move to another box to poo.
As far as I’m concerned this shoots the whole litter box stratus aversion theories all to hell. I’ve tried a number of different kinds, including empty boxes. What we have here is a neurotic cat. Plain and simple. The Prozac has helped quite a bit, but it’s not 100%. And who knows why a cat gets neurotic? Why do YOU get neurotic? Who knows? I don’t? You do the best you can to get them started out well as kittens, you make sure that they have enough boxes. You experiment with location and litter, and you watch them and work with them as best you can. You might even win…. sometimes.