Cats with litter box issues, a case study.

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.


Nugget in her 'elevated' litter box, which was set up as soon as I knew she had a problem. She used it right away. I still maintain an elevated litter box, though a different one, and she uses it sometimes.

10 responses to “Cats with litter box issues, a case study.

  1. Great post, Molly! If you knew all the answers, you could bottle it and sell it! I’m not going to mention out loud what is (or is not!) going on in my household, so as not to tempt fate! As you may remember, Tiger was returned to the shelter by a previous owner for this very reason. (They kept him shut in the bathroom all by himself all day when they were at work.) I think I was meant to have him since I recognized the symptoms of a urinary blcckage and was able to rush him to the vet in time. (SHHHhh – we seem to be having “good times” at the moment, but don’t tell anyone!)

    Interesting observation about peeing outside the box, but not the other. I’d never thought of that before, but it’s true. I always had only 1 box in my house before Tiger. Now I have 3 for 2 cats.

    • TM I’m sure you’ve jinxed it! LOL. Just like me — every time I tell someone how well things are going, it back fires. 😀 I think these things ebb and flow too just like for us. Sometimes I seem to be anxious over every little thing while at other times I’m more capable of handling stress.

      • I know! I was afraid of that. I do think sometimes Tiger does that when he’s not getting enough attention, hard as that is to believe, since he makes sure he gets more than Lily, being king of the house! Another reason I’ll never have more than 2 cats (the other reason being how much it costs to feed FF to 2 cats). That would really set Tiger off, I’m sure.

    • Tiger is very lucky to have you! It’s a good thing those nasty people returned him…I’d love to know how THEY would feel locked in a bathroom all day!

      • I’m just glad I found Tiger! He is a very special cat. I’m sure getting locked up lead to his out-of-the box episodes.

  2. So far the only problem we have at my house (in this department) is Opossum’s arthritis, which hinders his squatting. Costco puppy pee pads are AWESOME.

  3. I’m VERY lucky in this department! Phoebe & Zoey have always shared one litter box. They’ve never cared if I changed brands of litter or bought a new litter box or changed the location of their litter box. The multiple times we have had to stay at my parents for a period of time they have never cared that they have a different litter box than we have at home. Phoebe has had a handful of “peeing outside the box” episodes over the last 7 years, but each time has been in response to a stressful situation and only occurred once. Zoey has never peed outside the box. Every once in a while I find a piece of poop outside the box, but I know that this happens because Phoebe flies out so fast when she’s done that sometimes she loses what my dad calls a “dingleberry” someplace…LOL! Even when one of the cats is having a flare of her IBD, she never goes outside the box. The last time Zoey had a flare, I was scooping the litter box when all of a sudden, Zoey was standing there crying. I moved out of the way and she got in the litter box to go. That really amazed me!

    To contradict your observations about cats not pooping outside their litter boxes, my sister’s cat, Lilli, will poop right outside her litter box if they buy a different kind of litter or even just a different scent of her litter.

    Who knows what really goes through a cat’s head!

  4. Molly that post was great !!! And it really made me laugh as well – even though it can be a major and frustrating issue with kitties and of course anybody 😀
    Mustard is using her litter tray more often these days – in actual fact I am pleased as she is getting older I can actually see now what she passes and keep an eye on things. But I do see her running down the garden also to her favourite flower bed where she frantically digs a hole does her business covers it all up – then goes to the other flower bed to ‘pee’ she never does both in the same hole ? so that must be similar perhaps to using the same litter box for peeing and pooing, but when she doesnt go outside she uses the litter box for both – same litter box as well ? Daisy on the other hand is a bit of a madam – she will NOT use the litter box inside or outside the house (I have tried both) and she has her own litter tray on the same as Mustard ….but she would much rather poo and pee on my lawn 😦 – not sure how on earth I can get her out of this, unfortunately I think she bought it back with her when she was down in Wales living for 3 years with my daughter,(i meant her bad habits not the lawn) they only had grass in their garden so I expect that is why. Tried everything smelly gells pepper but still she will 9 times out of 10 use the lawn, yet their are acres of woods just under the gate where she roams lol!!!

    • Interesting, Maggie. Well, you can probably identify with how low ones standards can drop when you have problems of this nature. In your case it’s better your lawn than your carpet or your bed. lol. Early on my dismay was in the extreme, but in the last year or so, it’s a little more along the lines of ‘business as usual’ though I don’t think I will ever stop trying to solve the problems nor leave any stone unturned in regards to cleaning and deodorizing, etc. As an adult now in about my 4th generation of kitties, Nugget is the first I’ve had problems with. I’m sure that it has to do with the number of cats combined with Nugget’s personality.

  5. Thanks for such an interesting post Molly….. hadn’t thought about issues of litter boxes that way before.
    I think cats are very cleaver to learn to use litter boxes in the first place, dogs don’t, do they! I also think cats are cleaver to use alternatives like sinks and showers too, as if they know it can be cleaned and washed away afterwards.

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