Will It All Come Down to the Smell of the Pee...
March 19, 2010 12:23 AM   Subscribe

I've been thinking of adopting a cat from the local shelter...HOWEVER...I am starting to hesitate because of all the problems people have with cat pee.

I have never had a cat. They seem like very cool, lovely animals, and I was excitedly thinking of adopting one that might need a home.


Every other post about pets on mefi (and yes, I'm only slightly exaggerating) seems to be about someone lamenting about trying to get the smell of cat urine out of wood floors/clothes/walls/carpet, etc.

I am VERY sensitive about odors. A bad smell will actually send me into a bad mood; a stubborn bad smell will make me insane.

Do I still want a cat? I know cats are mostly housetrained, but I worry that it might occasionally spray, and even if it doesn't, I worry about old age creeping in, and the cat not being able to hold its bladder well and peeing all over the place. Yes, I know I'm overthinking this, but I like to consider all the possibilities, since if I get a pet it will be FOR GOOD, and I don't want to send it back or abandon it, for whatever reason.

So help me, mefi. Is the pee problem so very bad? What's the likelihood we'll end up with a cat that sprays in some spot repeatedly? Can you really smell the litterbox throughout the house if you don't clean it every day?

Please don't tell me "I'll get use to it." There is a weird smell in one of our closets that still makes me literally upset every time I'm in it.

Thank you...I appreciate your comments.
posted by The ____ of Justice to Pets & Animals (51 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've had two or three cats over the last fifteen years (and one of the current three is fifteen and elderly). The only time there's been pee where it shouldn't be is when one had a urinary tract infection and urinated in a house plant, which has happened about four times in total over that time. It's always easily fixed by treating the infection, something you'd have to do anyway, and hasn't resulted in any kind of ongoing issue. There are enzyme based products which work well for removing the odour for accidents so the occasional event can be dealt with effectively.

The reality is that the vast majority of cats pee in the appropriate place more than 98% of the time, it just seems more common that they don't because it's so noticeable when things go wrong. Cats house-train themselves (not like a puppy) and normal cat behaviour is to prefer going to the toilet in the appropriate place. Individual cats do sometimes have problems for whatever reason so I'd suggest you adopt a cat with a known history rather than a kitten, if it didn't pee inappropriately before it's not likely to do it once it lives with you.

We also have a cat litter tray inside which gets fairly well used (although my cats can go outside there isn't really a garden around they can dig in so they defecate in the tray). We use normal zeolite based litter, non clumping, not scented, nothing fancy, and we only change it every two or three days, and it rarely smells (only when they leave an uncovered poo or we don't change it for more than a couple of days). If we scooped out the faeces and changed it every day or two days then it wouldn't smell. If they do leave a stinky uncovered poop removing or covering it with fresh litter removes the odour immediately so even if there is a problem it's short lived. It's definitely not an all pervasive chronic odour around the place (although I open the windows in my house as a matter of course so it's well ventilated in general).

Of course all pets have some smell associated with them as they do have bodily functions etc but then so do people. It may also be that I'm immune to the smell, although visitors have commented that my house smells fine, and maybe you'd be more sensitive. Have you been to houses with cats in them? In my experience they don't smell (assuming a good owner), you may feel differently. That would be the best way to decide how much of an issue it will be for you. But definitely the idea that all cats pee around the place or make a mess is wrong and it's strong smells aren't a standard part of cat owning.
posted by shelleycat at 1:17 AM on March 19, 2010

Oh I should also point out that if you go to a shelter or cattery then yeah, those places will smell. So many animals in one place, generally with the animals stressed and ventilation maybe not ideal, it's inevitable. But that's not a good test for how your house will smell so don't let that part alone put you off.
posted by shelleycat at 1:21 AM on March 19, 2010

I had my kitty for 16 years, and until about two weeks before she died she never peed anywhere except in her litter box. I used clumping litter and Arm & Hammer deodorizer, and there was really never a problem with pee smells as long as I cleaned it every day.
posted by OolooKitty at 1:23 AM on March 19, 2010

Response by poster: Liketitanic...now I'm frightened. But for the others...wow, so all these stories of cats peeing on the bed/clothes/walls might be less common than I think?

Thanks for the feedback so far. I find it amusing that the pro-overblown-concern comments come from users shelleycat and OolooKitty. :-)
posted by The ____ of Justice at 1:48 AM on March 19, 2010

I have had cats all my life and very rarely had any problems with them. As far as I can think back, it's only been when one has been accidentally locked in a room or somehow away from the litterbox.

The smell is terrible, yes, but if it's a one-off it's not a big deal to clean up.

I think cats are great, and well worth the hassle, but I think you are being very sensible in considering what would be a big problem for you. I don't think you are overthinking this at all - how can you overthink taking on responsibility for another life? So I applaud you for that.

I have male cats and neither of them have ever sprayed. As far as I know, as long as they are neutered in time you won't have problems. I'm not aware of it being possible to neuter them too early (as liketitanic suggests), but I'm not a vet so YMMV.

Old age and/or illness could cause your cat to lose bladder control. In fact, peeing outside the litterbox is often how a cat with a urinary tract infection will let you know that something's wrong. Just like with kids, the occasional accident is probably inevitable, but for most people it's really not a big deal.
posted by different at 2:07 AM on March 19, 2010

But break down what liketitanic is actually saying, it's worded all alarmist but there's not much there.

If it's a male neutered too early or too late, highly likely.

So don't get a male and forget to neuter it. Instead get a 1+ year old neutered cat with previously good litterbox habits and the chances will become vanishingly low.

Um, yes. An open box of shit? Yes.

So don't let the cat litter become 'an open box of shit'. A box full of shit is a health issue regardless of the smell and given that it takes at least five days for my three cats to create something like that cleaning regularly after one cat won't be a problem.

I do agree that cat pee smells if it's not cleaned up or there's many layers in the same place but the chances of that happening actually aren't that high.
posted by shelleycat at 2:54 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you are so sensitive to odors that a weird smell in one of your closets continues to upset you, perhaps you are not the ideal person to have pets. Litter boxes have odors when they are not cleaned properly, wet cat food reeks, vomited up furballs are gross.

What happens if the cat develops a urinary tract infection and pees on the floor? Do you decide that the cat goes back to the shelter? I don't think that's fair to the animal.
posted by crankylex at 3:50 AM on March 19, 2010

Best answer: The reason why most posts to AskMe about cats are about how they smell or how something went wrong is because people only ask questions about stuff when stuff messes up. Relationships aren't all messed up, even though you'd get that impression from reading AskMe. Not everyone has a pain in their back. Not everyone has car problems. Thus is the nature of AskMe. If you wanted, I could easily ask the question "Why is my cat so awesome?" because he really is and I really can't figure it out.

We have two cats in a small apartment and smell is not a problem. How big is your apartment? If it's tiny, then that could be problematic because you won't be able to "hide" the litterbox anywhere, but it will also be good because you can keep things clean at all times. If your apartment is larger or you have a little "mudroom" or something like that, then half the battle is just putting the litterbox in that one spot.

The other thing is that there are tons of different kinds of litter out there. Find the one that works and you'll be fine.

I've known people with one cat whose apartment/house smelled. BECAUSE THEY WERE DIRTY PEOPLE. I've known people with four cats and two dogs in one small house and you'd never have known they had any pets at all because they were incredibly clean people and made a huge effort to keep things incredibly tidy.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 3:58 AM on March 19, 2010 [9 favorites]

Our cat is an outdoor cat and is meticulous about where she pees. She does not cause any smells in our house.

When we first got her, we kept her in for a few weeks to acclimatise. During this time she used a litterbox. From this I know that her poo smells TERRIBLE from the first moment she deposits it. Removing the poo instantly, however, would also remove the smell.

You would not want to use your own toilet if it was still full of poo from last time; cats are more sensitive to smells than you, so they probably like it even less; therefore, if you're not prepared to let your cat outside or clean the litterbox extremely regularly, you probably shouldn't have a cat anyway. Even if you can't smell anything.

Does your toilet smell if you don't always flush it once a day? I don't even want to know.
posted by emilyw at 4:04 AM on March 19, 2010

Response by poster: crankylex--if the pee is an isolated incident or for a limited period of time, of course it's not going make me give up the cat. (in fact, if was even for an extended period of time, it wouldn't make me give up the cat.) however, after reading so many posts here about persistent, intractable spraying problems from frustrated and stressed-out cat owners, i started imagining this is a common problem. one person will say "my cat keeps peeing on my bed" and numerous other people chime in going, "I feel for you...my cat has the exact same problem and I'm at my wit's end."

the anecdotal comments like this made me feel this problem was more common than i thought. like, i'd have a 1 in 4 chance i'd be dealing with a spray-happy cat and scrubbing urine out of my bed for 14 years. though the answers above seem to indicate this is more uncommon and my concerns are overblown.

i haven't even thought of cat vomit. but it seems like the urine is the more problematic item because of its crystals and bacteria that cling to surfaces.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 4:14 AM on March 19, 2010

Response by poster: emilyw--outdoor cats--i was wondering if this made a difference.

this also brings up another issue (perhaps related) that i have with getting a cat. i am told it is more "responsible" to keep a cat indoors, which i was feeling like i ought to do...

but i should let it out if i expect it not to spray inside?
posted by The ____ of Justice at 4:18 AM on March 19, 2010

Best answer: You could always foster a cat and if that goes well, adopt for real, or, if it goes poorly, chalk it up as an experiment that didn't work out.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:18 AM on March 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

If you're concerned about litter tray smell, you could always try and train your cat to use the toilet. It takes a fair bit of patience and effort, and not all cats are convinced (splashback!), but it can and does work - you can build your own litter tray out of cardboard for the training so you don't have to buy the plastic version. Some cats even figure out that flushing works like burying...
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:26 AM on March 19, 2010

I've heard plenty of people say that keeping outdoor cats is irresponsible: they may get run over, and the average lifespan of an outdoor cat is less than an indoor cat.

This is probably also true of children - but then, people who live near busy roads either accompany their children outside or teach them the green cross code, neither of which you can do with a cat.

My cat hates being stuck inside. She likes to burn off energy by tearing around like a lunatic, jumping on things and stalking anything that moves. Our garden has far better scope for this kind of thing than inside the house. Plus, her favourite time of day for games is about 4am, and she is LOUD when she stomps about, so it's in everyone's favour for her to do her stomping outside.

Personally, if I didn't live somewhere I thought was safe to have an outdoor cat (i.e. not near busy roads) I wouldn't have a cat at all. Most people don't seem to agree with this though!
posted by emilyw at 4:28 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with the fostering suggestion. It's a test drive! In addition to the potential pee issue, you might (for example) think you want an active playful cat, but end up liking a quieter cat that loves to sit by your side and purr.

Cats are awesome. We have two young males, and they never fail to make us laugh and awww-cute! every single day. We had one turd outside the box, and that was due a health problem; he couldn't get there in time. There have been no pee issues.
posted by WowLookStars at 4:32 AM on March 19, 2010

Best answer: The terrible, terrible stench of cat piss is the stench of old cat piss that you've failed to detect and remove before it's gone off, and it is indeed a fearsome thing. But you, being sensitive to odours, will probably never end up dealing with that inside your living space. Fresh cat piss has a distinctive but not overwhelmingly unpleasant scent, and cleaning it up is not too hard if you get onto it promptly.

If there's a puddle on a hard surface, just drop a whole newspaper on it and leave it for an hour, then discard the newspaper and wipe over with vinegar. For clothing or bedding, a prompt cold wash does the trick. On carpets or soft furnishings, pour a huge pile of salt on it, leave it sit for a few hours to draw the moisture out, vacuum up and discard the salt, then dampen the affected area fairly heavily with BAC to Nature or Nature's Miracle or something similar and leave that to dry on its own. Those bacteria-based deodorants are also good for wiping down an area that's been sprayed: they do a good enough job that puss will most likely not feel moved to re-spray the same spot.

If you use a wood-based litter and get a slotted scoop so you can easily lift out and flush the turds every day, your litter box won't stink. Don't use plain sawdust - it tracks, and does puss's paws and digestive tract no good.

On balance, sharing your home with a cat will likely cause you far more contentment than distress.
posted by flabdablet at 4:46 AM on March 19, 2010 [7 favorites]

Covered litter boxes are a godsend - check out the Booda Box or some such. I wouldn't be thrilled about an "open box of shit" either, and I love my little furball to death.

If dealing with pee & poo in general squicks you out, then maybe pet companionship just isn't for you - it's a pretty hands-on situation. Amazingly worth it, though. H20's suggestion about fostering a cat is brilliant - even if it doesn't work out you've helped an animal and that's wonderful.
posted by mintcake! at 4:50 AM on March 19, 2010

Response by poster: "If dealing with pee & poo in general squicks you out, then maybe pet companionship just isn't for you - it's a pretty hands-on situation."

if you can believe it, it's really not pee or poo per se. I just really hate foul odors. not allergic to them -- but it's a weird personal quirk, I guess.

thanks for your feedback.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 5:08 AM on March 19, 2010

Just get a female cat, keep its litterbox clean, and take it to the vet regularly. I have posted about cat pee problems, but it is always my male cat -- he has FLUTD, which is more common in males because their urinary tract is more easily blocked (and being blocked leads to pain when urinating which is a major cause of urinating outside the box after they associate the litterbox with pain). I have always had cats, and I have always had lots of friends with cats. The only people I know who ever have problems with cats peeing outside the box are people with (1) Sick cats (which is easily remedied by a trip to the vet), or (2) Terrible housekeeping skills who have filthy litterboxes.

I am pretty sensitive to odors but with a large covered litterbox that we clean daily (scoop daily and change litter weekly), we have no problems. I do sprinkle the litter with baking soda after scooping which seems to help the odors. I used to use scented litter, which I kind of liked, but one of my cats is allergic to it. No problems with unscented litters, though.
posted by tastybrains at 5:22 AM on March 19, 2010

I keep the litter box for our 2 cats in my office, which serves 2 functions. First, my office door has a cat-hatch cut into the bottom and the office serves as sort of sanctuary for them. Second, keeping the box within sight/smell prompts a strong motivation to clean it regularly. About every other day. It's a covered box, but I still need to vacuum up little bits of litter from in front of it.

I use World's Best Cat Litter, based on some reviews I read here, and it's fantastic. It has a sort of cereal-smell when it's new. Basically there are few to no odors at all. Diet helps of course, and these are 2 spayed females. So: good litter + aggressive cleaning of the box = stink-free household.
posted by jquinby at 5:25 AM on March 19, 2010

I've known people with one cat whose apartment/house smelled. BECAUSE THEY WERE DIRTY PEOPLE. I've known people with four cats and two dogs in one small house and you'd never have known they had any pets at all because they were incredibly clean people and made a huge effort to keep things incredibly tidy.

(1) Sick cats (which is easily remedied by a trip to the vet), or (2) Terrible housekeeping skills who have filthy litterboxes.

Awww . . . as someone whose boy cat has had peeing problems in the past (he's still sometimes a jerk and sprays, but nothing like it was a few months ago), I object to that. In fact, when the problem was at its height, I was cleaning constantly. But the source of cat pee odor can be difficult to detect, even in a small apartment with a black light in hand.

I used to assume that people who had cat pee problems were poor housekeepers, too, until Sammy Katz developed an emotional peeing problem (long story short? he sprays if we spend too long in bed in the morning! And yes, he's seen the vet). However, female cats are much, much less likely to do this sort of thing, for whatever reason. Get a female cat, get a covered litterbox or two with world's best or feline pine litter (smells much better), and take the cat to the vet regularly, and you should be okay.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:32 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am very much like you, Justice. I HATE strong smells. HATE THEM. I have a very, very sensitive nose, too, so it just makes things that much worse. And, I have four cats. We keep the litter boxes immaculate (one per cat) and clean up any accidents immediately. I can walk into any house, anywhere, and tell if they have dogs, cats, ferrets, whatever, but I can walk into my house (say, after a week or so away) and not know that four cats live there.

It's all in how well you take care of the litterboxes and any accidents. And, FWIW, I've had a total of eight cats in my life, males and females, and only one of them has had litterbox issues (which we took care of).
posted by cooker girl at 5:45 AM on March 19, 2010

I "adopted" an un-collared kitten that wandered into my friends' home during a party 2 years ago. I had never had a cat before (just a lot of dogs) but for some reason, I just had to rescue her from the streets. I took her home that night. Since getting her, I have read Askmefi cat questions to learn more about having a cat and have seen all of the horror stories too. Had I read any of these before getting my sweet kitty (since I had never had a cat before), I probably would have not taken her home that night.

But she is awesome!! She pees and poops where she is supposed to do such things. But more importantly, she is a joy to me every day. I thank my lucky stars that I got a good one, but as someone mentioned upthread, I think most are good ones, but we just don't have questions to ask about their awesomeness!

For what it's worth, when Mr. Murrey and I married, he brought 2 cats with him. They are awesome too.
posted by murrey at 5:48 AM on March 19, 2010

Echoing what jquimby said about Worlds Best Cat Litter. I have no idea if it really is, but it is definitely far superior to just about everything else we've tried. We are a 2 cat household with 2 litter boxes (one upstairs, one downstairs) in an attempt to give the rulers of the house as many options as possible. We still get the occasional accident when the big bully cat bushwhacks the smaller nervous cat and she has a involuntary discharge, but in the main the cat stinks are kept to a minimum - so long as we scoop on a daily basis.

Cats are the coolest things you can have in your life (most of the time) and you will probably not regret getting a rescue kitty. Nothing beats getting some deep cat love on a cold winter afternoon.
posted by 543DoublePlay at 5:56 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've only had one cat that sprayed, and that is because I was young and irresponsible and didn't neuter him soon enough. These days, I have five cats in a smallish house and none of them sprays. One of them occasionally poops outside of the litter box, but he is old and set in his ways and, well: Five cats*. These things happen. You're talking about getting one.

I've also lived with a litter box in a very small apartment (with only two cats) and rarely smelled it, likely because that small apartment had huge windows that I kept open as much as possible (not due to the litter, but because I could). So, for one thing, the smell really depends on your house. Hardwood or vinyl floors are better for litter boxes, so any accidents around the litter don't get soaked in anything. Ventilation is important.

If smells are really going to bug you, the question you need to ask yourself is: How often are you going to deal with the litter box? I think it needs to be done at least once a day, and that will have a lot to do with whether your cat ever pees anywhere besides the litter. We only have one cat that ever does that, and she only does it if we're bad about the litter for a day or two--she's just finicky, and it's been a few months since she last did it.

Cats really like using litter. They want to dig. Just get a young, healthy female cat. Get her fixed and keep the litter clean.

Oh, and I also want to second the recommendation for World's Best Cat Litter. We use it. I have to scoop twice a day (again: five cats), but I rarely smell it. I have tried many litters and it is, by far, my favorite. It clumps so well that scooping doesn't suck as much, and it's light.

*It was a Brady Bunch cat situation.
posted by hought20 at 5:58 AM on March 19, 2010

I'm not exactly a cat expert, but I quite recently adopted two cats from the Humane Society. They are both female, neutered, over a year old and housebroken. So far I have had zero problem with them going anywhere inappropriate, although I have found little dried piles of cat puke, but not lately. I think they just did that when they were nervous about their new home.

I have two cat boxes, in different rooms. I scoop them twice a day and use that baking soda litter box deodorizer. I wash them with soap and change the litter once a week. A can of air freshener is essential because every once in a while one of them lays a real stink bomb (which I scoop up and dispose of ASAP). In general, though, I don't think my house smells any different than before.

The best thing anybody told me about keeping cats was to get one of those cat scratching boxes that is like brown corrugated paper box material sliced up and standing on edge. They use those things all the time and so far I have had no problem with them messing up the furniture, which was something I was worried about.
posted by lordrunningclam at 5:59 AM on March 19, 2010

I've had indoor cats (three in all, but not at the same time) for 10 years now. All three were/are male, and had been spayed promptly. I have never, ever, not once, had a pee problem with them. The worst I've had to deal with was a few days after I'd adopted the third. He was still adjusting to a proper diet (he'd been on the streets, under the watchful eye of a volunteer, from whom I "adopted" him), had diarrhea one day, and although he did use the litterbox, some of it got stuck to his paws when he tried covering it up... thank goodness I have tile floors, it was easy to clean and disinfect. If you feed a cat properly, it won't have that problem (he's never had diarrhea since; I feed my cats Orijen and Acana dry food).

That said, every month or so the one who'd been on the streets horks up his food because he forgets he's not on the streets any more and doesn't have to scarf down his food like there's no tomorrow (I leave a distributor out for him, he's been getting gradually better at figuring out the food won't disappear), but it's no biggy. And the smell while cleaning kitty litter isn't any worse than when cleaning a human toilet :) You just have to do it more often, but, eh, when my kitties jump onto my chest while I'm laying on the couch and purr like adorable little fur-covered motorboats snuggling with me, I forget all about it.
posted by fraula at 6:03 AM on March 19, 2010

Neutered, not spayed. Females are spayed, sorry.
posted by fraula at 6:09 AM on March 19, 2010

crankylex--if the pee is an isolated incident or for a limited period of time, of course it's not going make me give up the cat. (in fact, if was even for an extended period of time, it wouldn't make me give up the cat.) however, after reading so many posts here about persistent, intractable spraying problems from frustrated and stressed-out cat owners, i started imagining this is a common problem.

It is not an uncommon problem, let's put it like that. I have seven cats. I can talk about cat pee for hours, really. The most common reasons cats pee outside of the litterbox are, in no particular order: dirty litter (you really have to scoop daily or get an automatic litterbox), wrong litter (cats are like people in that they have preferences to certain products), illness (UTIs are a common culprit), and behavioral (intact male cats spray, intact female cats sometimes pee out windows to entice male attention from the neighborhood, sometimes the cat can be scared while in the litterbox and then decide the area is unsafe, etc.)

I think the fostering idea is good for your situation. Foster a spayed or neutered cat, keep the litterbox immaculate and in a quiet, easily accessible space, make sure the cat is fed an appropriate diet, and give it a lot of love. Make sure you keep your living space free of piles of fabric or stacks of newspaper -- those can be prime spots for inappropriate urination. Everything will most likely be fine.

As for the indoor/outdoor cat debate, my $0.02 is to keep cats inside. I passed two dead cats on the road while driving to work this morning. I don't want that to happen to anyone's cat. Keep it inside, and train it to walk on a leash. Best of both world. If you have more in depth cat questions, please feel free to memail me.
posted by crankylex at 6:10 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've had nine cats over my life (no more than two at a time). Not one of them has sprayed, or peed anywhere but in their litter box. Most cats also cover their urine and feces with litter, so the smell is neutralized. There are plenty of self-cleaning litter boxes out there, if you want to be 100% certain that nothing will create an odor.

I've had both indoor and outdoor cats, and the indoor cats invariably live longer, healthier lives than outdoor cats. From The New York Times' article on outdoor cats:
Experts disagree sharply these days over how to manage our multitudes of stray and feral cats...[but] when it comes to pet policy, and the question of whether it’s O.K. to let [your cat] wander at will and have their Hobbesian fun, the authorities on both sides of the alley emphatically say, No.

It isn’t fair to the cat. Regular stints outdoors are estimated to knock three or more years off a pet cat’s life. “No parent would let a toddler outside the house to run free in traffic...A responsible owner shouldn’t do it with a pet.”
Arsenio's comment that "people only ask questions about stuff when stuff messes up" is 100% correct. If you were shopping for a computer, and browsed the discussion boards at each brand's site, you'd never buy a computer, since 90% of the customer posts on those sites are about things that break, fail, or otherwise screw up the user's experience.

so all these stories of cats peeing on the bed/clothes/walls might be less common than I think?

Way, way, way less common. Of all of my cats, and all of my friends' cats (many, many friends, with many, many cats over the years), I can only think of one cat who peed outside the litterbox, and it was a boy who had been neutered too late.
posted by tzikeh at 6:12 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

The only time our cat (female, spayed) peed outside the litter box was when she was sitting in a basement-level window and got startled by an outdoor cat.
posted by Lucinda at 6:19 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Forgot to say: outdoor cats are more likely (please note I'm not saying *always*) to forgo the litter box when they are inside, because they get used to doing their business outdoors. So if you're not around to let them out, they might go on the floor.

And yes, as crankylex says, keep the litter box clean. Both you and your cat will be happier. I currently only have one cat, and I scoop once in the morning and once in the evening. I've found that when I go to someone's house and can tell they have cats just by smell, it's because they only clean the litter box once every few days. I'll never understand that.

There's an awful lot in this thread about pee and spraying and poo and so on--well, because you asked *g*--but the truth is any kind of cat odor problem is just not that prevalent a problem, if the cats are cared for properly.
posted by tzikeh at 6:20 AM on March 19, 2010

There's a lot of difference, btw, between the way UK people feel about indoor/outdoor cats and the way USians do. In the US, it's verboten unless you are living in an exurban/rural area. My mom and dad live in a very, very rural area, and their indoor outdoor cat would pee in the sink in the powder room before he would go in the floor. So really, as long as the cat is well cared for, you are not likely to have a problem. And, if you do, it's quite a bit like having an actual kid. You just deal with it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:31 AM on March 19, 2010

The only time I've had a cat pee outside the box was when she was terrified. (She'd gotten tangled up in some netting I was about to put on outdoor plants. Not a happy kitten.)
posted by kestrel251 at 6:31 AM on March 19, 2010

If you are as sensitive to smells as you say, and have no experience caring for cats, do not risk getting one.

The amount of smell from a litterbox and an animal in general (including you and me) is directly related to how much effort you are willing to expend maintaining it and its environment.

Make it known you would like to cat sit for friends and you will soon be put in service--a great way to get an idea for the amount of work/care required vs. cat odor.
posted by quarterframer at 6:57 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

As someone who has 2 cats and 2 dogs and LOVES animals, because my Siamese has pee issues (behavioral) and sprays even though he's fixed, I'll never, ever, EVER have a cat again.

He's sweet as pie and I love him. But the pee thing (and litter box) killed it for me. I dig dogs. Open the back door to the yard, go poo and pee outside.

So you can try another animal perhaps that are more caged. Bunnies?
posted by stormpooper at 7:28 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about this: go to a friend with cats and sniff around their house to see if it bothers you.

Maybe my nose just isn't sensitive anymore, but I don't notice the cat smells at all. I have a shelter rescue, and there was no spraying (although she was distressingly playful with the litter), or other excretory shenanigans. Litter trained from day 1.
posted by _cave at 7:40 AM on March 19, 2010

We have two cats and have had zero problems with pee. There was one poop incident, but I think we had that one coming to us as that particular cat is very skittish and we had a large number of guests staying with us and I don't think she felt comfortable passing by them to get to the litter box. The younger cat (he's about 8 months now) still needs a piece of errant poo removed from his backside every once and a while though.
On the the other hand, my sister had two cats and one of them loved to pee in full laundry baskets. I have no idea if something could have been done to fix this, though I suspect. He was a hateful little bastard.
posted by yeoldefortran at 7:55 AM on March 19, 2010

outdoor cats are more likely (please note I'm not saying *always*) to forgo the litter box when they are inside
I'm not sure that this is true. In my cat experience -- both friends and my own -- it's captive cats who pee in the wrong place whereas free cats have are more responsible. Basically the mentally and physically healthier the cat the less likely it is to pee in the wrong place. Free animals tend to have better mental health, to be less stressed and to have more sense of agency than captive animals.
However, that's a diversion. The most important thing is to get a cat who seems calm and confident, not a scaredy cat. A healthy confident cat, just like a healthy confident human, is going to be less trouble all round.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 7:57 AM on March 19, 2010

I'm always shocked at how many people on metafilter seem to have this problem. Just for anecdata: I've lived with about a dozen cats over the years (between the cats I grew up with and roommate's cats), and only one of those cats ever peed in an inappropriate place. And that cat was suffering from dementia.
posted by lunasol at 8:01 AM on March 19, 2010

Do I still want a cat? I know cats are mostly housetrained, but I worry that it might occasionally spray, and even if it doesn't, I worry about old age creeping in, and the cat not being able to hold its bladder well and peeing all over the place

Oh, and just popping back to say that our very elderly cat, who passed away when I was in college, had about a year of bad litterbox behavior. He pooped in a bed once, and at some point decided that the corner of the living room was his litterbox. So we moved the litterbox to that corner, and everything was fine. Old animals are just like old people in that they can become senile and incontinent--but I, personally, wouldn't feel inconvenienced if that happened with a beloved pet in old age, and I suspect that if you had a pet for years, you wouldn't either (any more than you'd find it a pain to say, deal with bathroom stuff with elderly relatives--when you love someone, you understand).

I would recommend keeping kitty inside all of the time from the outset if you want to avoid indoor spraying--that was the source of our problems with our cat, though the trade-off in safety has made it worthwhile. He really, really prefers going outside, and boy, does he not have problems telling us that. Like I said, though, over time, and with persistence (and by adding another box and changing his litter brand), he's started to adjust.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:05 AM on March 19, 2010

I have three cats and a dog, so accidents are occasionally inevitable despite my best efforts. As long as it's caught reasonably quickly, cleaning up pee spots on carpet is no sweat and leaves zero odor.

My personal formula:

1) Use folded rag, towel, or paper towels to soak up the urine. Remember how Vince cleans up the soda in the Sham-Wow ad? Do it like that. Don't punch the rag, just press and release repeatedly. Use another rag if you have to.

2) Once all the pee is gone, spray liberally with Nature's Miracle. Leave to soak for a minimum of ten minutes, longer is better.

3) Repeat step one on wet spot from Nature's Miracle

Wham, no smell, no wet spot. You only need to leave Nature's Miracle on the spot if it's been left long enough to soak down into the pad.

If you have an old spot that's soaked in, I find Nature's Miracle doesn't do shit no matter how much you soak it. A while back, one of my kitties got some kidney disease that left him miserable and caused him to pee profusely in the corner. He didn't start that until I was away for a couple of weeks, so I didn't notice it until I returned, by which time it was too late. I have pulled up the carpet and soaked the carpet, pad, and subfloor in NM and it did absolutely nothing to the smell. I've had much better luck with chemical cleaners and vinegar on the set in stuff.
posted by wierdo at 8:14 AM on March 19, 2010

Definitely don't get a cat if odors bother you that much. Or at the very least visit all your friends with cats and ask to wander around their places to check if you can detect any smells.

I, as a non-cat owner with a sensitive nose, can always always smell people's cats when I visit their places. It's a subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) aroma of animal, pee, and poop. The only two exceptions I can think of are people who are both fastidious about cleaning and have hardwood/tile floors. Carpet or anything less than constant vigilance about cleaning/changing out the litter? Forget it.
posted by 6550 at 8:20 AM on March 19, 2010

I have had three male cats, all rescues (two having been nearly-feral and rescued as kittens), all neutered, all indoors, always having two of them together (which some say makes males more territorial). Not one has EVER sprayed. The second one had bladder problems near the end of his life, but we were pretty well able to keep up with that, even though it meant carrying him up and down the stairs to his litterbox near the end, and putting some grungy old towels on his favorite sleeping spots.

The first one once got locked out of his litterbox once for HOURS, got frantic for somewhere to pee, but is a very fastidious cat. He finally managed to wriggle his way into the fireplace so he could pee in the ashes, which reminded him of litter. Easy to clean up, anyway, and left us with adorable little ash pawprints on the carpet. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:20 AM on March 19, 2010

I'm one of those who has posted here about her cat peeing on the bed and in other inappropriate areas. To her credit, my lovely little 14 year old limits her errant peeing to easily washable items. She doesn't pee on carpet or furniture (other than the bed) or walls.

This is not a common behavior for her - or wasn't, at least, during her first 13.5 years. She started doing this because she was physically sick. She's ancient, in kitty years, so I forgive her for everything. She's given me 14 years of loving companionship and humor. I would clean urine off my bed every night if it meant I could keep her healthy. Of course, she is healthy again, so she's back to peeing in the litterbox and life is good. Moral of the story: she peed outside the box b'c she was sick.

I have a young male, neutered, as well. He has gotten jealous of my 14 year old; she gets 'special attention' (she and I know that she's getting stuck with needles and forced to take medicine, but he doesn't undestand that part). Because of this, he's peed outside the box twice; both times, he made sure I was watching and urinated on his litterbox's hood. There was a definite cause-and-effect immediately before he did it.

In the past, my 14 year old was consistent about her habits, as was my 16 year old. My 16 year old never peed outside the litterbox - ever. She was the Best Kitty in History, though.

The suggestions to foster are decent, but beware that some fosters have their own issues, depending on what their history is. Good luck and kudos for thinking over this idea.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 8:21 AM on March 19, 2010

Best answer: In my experience, the smell of the litter box varies widely according to the size of the box and where you keep it, and hidden is not necessarily better. If cleaning it becomes part of a routine, then it's easy; and you can keep modifying your routine (daily? 3/week? 2/day?) until the results suit you.

We have a spayed female kitty, with a covered-top litter-box. When we were choosing where to keep her box, I had the choice between out traffic but highly visible (under the front stairs in the entryway), in the basement (too far out of the way for me to want to clean regularly, and I hate the idea of keeping the cellar door propped open), in the little office (ideal, except it's carpeted), and in the bathroom. The bathroom was the worst choice in a lot of "ugly cat paraphenalia" ways but was the best choice for me, because it's part of my morning routine. Get out of bed, feed the cat (who is more excited to see me than her food, and spends the whole time I'm on the toilet demanding pets), sweep the vinyl floor while she eats (we use unscented basic clumping litter, which mixes poorly with shower-damp feet), scoop out her litter (I use old grocery sacks, and knot the tops (not just tie the handles) to totally close it in, and toss it in the (unenclosed) trash can). Waving the noisy plastic bags usually startles her out of the room, so then I can close the door and take my shower, washing all thoughts of litter-gross away (it's a mental thing more than physical germs that a handwash wouldn't fix, but I hate doing the litter box in my office clothes or immediately before getting into bed). Initially, I did this 100% every day, and emptied the bathroom trash more often than weekly. Now that the litter box is larger (it took a new full-size bucket to get the recommended 3" depth) and she's eating better food (cheap food means more stinky poop) I scoop every 2-3 days, or whenever I notice it. The problem with keeping the box isolated (mud-room, laundry, unused guest bath, basement) is that it becomes a chore to initiate with no reminders, (or a trek to the cellar in my pyjamas) unless "letting it get so stinky that it reminds you once a week" is an option.

Sorry for the long anecdotal post. Conclusion: happy female kitty means almost no non-litterbox mess, and large litter box frequently cleaned means almost no litter box smell. An elderly cat will smell worse than a young cat, but that was true of my grandma's last year, too, and I loved her anyway.
posted by aimedwander at 9:07 AM on March 19, 2010

i have 4 inside/outside cats & 4 outside cats (aka, 4 cats i consider part of my family; 4 i consider strays). one of the outside cats, mr. kitty, desperately wants to be an inside cat & takes every opportunity to sneak through the door when i'm entering/exiting. mr. kitty likes to go through the house and spray on just about everything. it's terribly annoying. and stinky. i've taken to using arm & hammer carpet freshener on the areas rugs, and i wipe down the pee areas i can track down. that seems to take care of the smell.

i also clean the litter boxes (i have 4) at least twice/day, usually 3x/day. it takes about 3 minutes to get all the boxes cleaned out.

when people come to my house, they're often surprised to find out that i even own cats. the little buggers run & hide when i get company, and it's usually the sight of a litter box, not the smell, that gives it away.

kitties are great!
posted by msconduct at 9:10 AM on March 19, 2010

Best answer: With all due respect to the cat-lovers out there, smell is not the only issue, although I know that's the one you specifically asked about. People will tend to gloss over the unpleasant stuff, because it's what they're used to, and they've had cats all their lives. I know that's a stereotype, but there are a LOT of pet owners who can't really understand that some people just aren't pet people.

I never had cats, but I married someone who has 2 and have been living with them for a year, so I'll give you the litany of stuff that annoys me. Some of these are constant, others daily, others weekly.

1) smell....it's not always there, and I've honestly never noticed a pee-like smell, but if they "make a deposit", it can be like a noxious green fog. Not always, but sometimes.
2) shedding fur. On every single surface and item of clothing.
3) destruction of personal property. Especially prized family heirlooms, sentimental objects, or important documents.
4) pay attention to me/feed me behavior: yowling/clawing/rubbing/chewing
5) cats walk in their litterbox, then also walk everywhere else. Like your kitchen counter or dining room table.
6) barfing/hairballs. It'll happen. Probably on your nice oriental carpet or behind your couch where you can't reach. Can't say when it'll happen, but it will.

I'm not trying to discourage you. There are benefits to pets, as all the pet people can relate with ample and often awesome examples. I knew what I was getting myself into. You just need to decide if the benefits outweigh the drawbacks for you. :)
posted by specialnobodie at 11:57 AM on March 19, 2010

Re: specialnobodie, while I can't contest #2, and #6 does happen (although you can take steps to control hairballs, and some cats are just barfier than others), #3, #4, and #5 definitely DON'T need to be part of the equation. #4 to some extent depends on the cat's personality, but cats getting positive attention generally aren't as needy, and having two cats to keep each other company can help. None of mine yowl, claw, or chew (except their chew toys).

But none of my cats have ever destroyed my personal property -- the worst they've done is nap on a pile of paper that I left out -- and NONE of my cats have EVER been allowed on counters or tables and they KNOW it. They can be trained. Beds, yes, seating areas, yes, but they know better than to get on counters and tables. We just non-negotiably don't allow it; most of them figure out within a month of us firmly removing them from flat surfaces and commanding "DOWN!" that those places are off limits; only with one cat did we have to even get to the "water sprayer" stage. (My latest arrival took all of two days to figure out the tables were off limits, but I think because he had the existing cat to give an example of good manners.)

Frankly I think cats on the counter is kinda gross. Not tables so much -- I use plates, after all, but counters? I wouldn't put up with that.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:36 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am insanely smell-sensitive, even more so when I stopped smoking 7+ years ago. (Drives me insane because Mr. M. can't smell a damn thing.) I never smelled the cat unless I had been delinquent in the litter box area.

I adopted the late Mr. Cat from a shelter. He was 7 at the time. I jury-rigged my apartment against many things, but he never scratched a damn thing. There were some adventures with him trying to find sunbeams on my desk (he laid down on a keyboard, it made noise, he never did it again) but the only time he ever eliminated inappropriately was when idiot here put the litter box cover on backwards.

My guy didn't climb on things, didn't knock things over, he would sometimes start to bite pieces of scrap paper left on the floor if he wanted attention and wasn't getting it.

He would sometimes go hunting late at night and make *that noise* which scared the bejeezus out of me because I didn't know what it meant the first time, and this time of year, right around the time change, he would be really active at like 5 in the morning and want attention.

But he left me a year and a half ago and I'll tell you right now that I'd give anything to hear those 5am noises again. I can't even bring myself to get another at just yet.

But you have to want all of this. You have to be prepared for the unpredictability of being an animal caretaker. It doesn't sound like that you are, and I don't mean that unkindly.
posted by micawber at 1:48 PM on March 19, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the fantastic feedback, folks. I "best answered" the ones that seemed to address or mindread my mindset fairly accurately, and even any underlying concerns I have (concerns I didn't even mention). If I didn't mark your comment as best answer, still be aware your comment was super helpful...and it does answer my questions!

I think I am coming to the conclusion I am not quite ready for a cat. It seems like most of them make excellent pets, but as Micawber said: I am not prepared for their unpredictability (perhaps too high strung?) Also, the jumping on me at 5 in the morning would make me INSANE, since I work weird hours as it is. So thanks for alerting me to that possibility.

I may see if there are "non-special needs cats" I can possibly foster for a while, to see how easily I acclimate to them.

It's wonderful to hear, in any case, how many cat-owners absolutely love their kitties. That makes me feel good inside.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:13 PM on March 19, 2010

« Older Perfect gift for someone who recently got into...   |   Are they just putting an 'Enterprise Grade'... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.