obsessive behavior
July 6, 2011 5:56 PM   Subscribe

obsessive litter box behavior - what does it mean?

My girl cat never goes outside the designated litter box, so I don't want to be punitive about this. She has never buried her "evidence", but instead gets out of the box and scratches the nearest vertical surface, This has been a wall, a nearby piece of furniture, and, recently, the footboard of my bed, My apartment is tiny, and this is absolutely the only place for the litter box. Recently she has taken to obsessive scratching that can go on, and on, and on. I will call to her, and she will stop for awhile, calming down, then run back to the box and start again. I don't fall asleep until I am exhausted. I clean the box several times a day, don't know what else to try. Suggestions?
posted by ljoct to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried different kinds of litter? Some cats are picky about how the litter feels when they're scratching, and she may not like it - but is compelled to go through the motions of covering it up because of instinct.
posted by HopperFan at 6:01 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Our female cat does this too, sometimes. She has damaged the wall doing it, so I feel you. Our girl REALLY knows her name, and responds to it, so we'll call to her and praise her for using the box. Essentially trying to get her attention in a positive way, and when she comes over to us, we praise her more and pet her and make much of her so that she *always* associates being called with HAPPY FUN TIMES! Hopefully more fun than obsessively going after the box.

YMMV. Ours does all the time.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:01 PM on July 6, 2011

Is she the only cat in your apartment? If not, she's definitely marking her territory. It's possible she doesn't like the type of litter or that it's getting stuck in her paws, but maybe you could try a vertical/hanging cat scratcher. Maybe she'll get her scratching urges out a little faster (and possibly quieter).
posted by eldiem at 6:03 PM on July 6, 2011

Not one, but two, of my 3 do the same thing (although I suspect the kitten learned it from her mommy). I call it 'scratching for sport'. It's loud and annoying as hell; I feel your pain.

I've found it's not so bad if they have something really appealing to scratch, like a good solid scratching post, right by the box. When you catch your cat doing her scratching, just reposition her paws to the scratching post to help her get the idea. If that's not possible, maybe try attaching a spare carpet piece to the wall and encourage her to scratch that. It'll deaden the sound, at the very least. But you have to attach it really well (I failed at this part), so YMMV.

Also, try burying the offending mess yourself. (Oh the things we do for our cats...) It doesn't always work, but it has cut short a scratching session or two in my experience.
posted by cgg at 6:10 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Our big male does this-- although he buries his droppings--he scratches at the wall next to the box for up to ten minutes at a time. We clean the box at least once a day, sometimes twice. We thought his scratching might be correlated with his constipation, but it doesn't seem to be. He does this less often with the "crystal" type litter than the clay scoopable stuff, but he still does it. We keep his claws very short, and he's never damaged the wall. We have had no success modifying the behavior, so we've just learned to ignore it.

I would suggest trying a different litter and hanging a carpet remnant or a wall scratcher where she's scratching.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:11 PM on July 6, 2011

Response by poster: 1. She is one of 2 cats.
2. They do have a scratching post, I could move it next to the box.
3. Switching litter brands is worth considering.
4. Burying the evidence myself is worth trying, definitely.

Thank you all so much for the quick responses.
I would have posted her picture, but could not figure out how.
posted by ljoct at 6:15 PM on July 6, 2011

Switch her litter (clump to clay, or vice versa). And bury it for her when she starts to scratch, then call her away and praise her. You might try saran wrap on the wall she scratches, sometimes cats don't like plastic wrap.

You might try a covered litter box, too.
posted by dchrssyr at 6:20 PM on July 6, 2011

Take her into the vet and have a blood panel done.

posted by TheBones at 7:08 PM on July 6, 2011

Both of my cats completely fail to bury their evidence. Instead, they will scratch at the litter mat and the top of the litter box. Sometimes I wonder if it's that they have the instinct to bury their waste but aren't smart enough to figure out how. When I go over to bury it myself, they seem to calm down a bit. They usually don't go back to scratching.

(And it makes my nose happier, since they are also the stinkiest fuzzballs ever.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:50 PM on July 6, 2011

My Siamese does this and has since she was a little kitten. As near as I can tell it's the intersection of two thoughts in her little pea brain:

1. Man, something smells! I should cover it up.
2. Litter is icky. I'm not putting my paw in that gross stuff. (She pees by straddling the box with a paw on each side. She *really* doesn't like stepping in litter.)

Therefore, she waves her paw around, scratches the wall, drags stray receipts and socks to the box, etc, but it never really covers up the stink so she keeps going until she gets distracted. (Which doesn't take long; see above, re: pea brain.)

Covering poo myself helps, as does cleaning the box if it needs it. Otherwise I just call her over and she forgets everything she's ever known up til that moment and comes running .
posted by restless_nomad at 7:51 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I forgot to mention that one of my cats also does this on occasion, and always on the wall next to the litter box - so I stuck a flattened cardboard box between the litter box and the wall, and now he can have at it with no worries about damaging the wall etc...
posted by HopperFan at 8:46 PM on July 6, 2011

I was going to suggest changing the litter too, also maybe try a larger litter box too, if that's possible as I know you said your apartments small.
posted by wwax at 8:54 PM on July 6, 2011

My (male) cat basically does this. He buries his droppings about half the time then sticks his head out the top* and scratches on the top, then crawls onto the top of the box and scratches on the top for a while. Sometimes he walks away and comes back a minute or so later and jumps up and scratches on the top again.

*We have a top-entry covered litter box but he basically did the same thing when we had the normal side entry kind.

I have no help other than yeah cats be crazy.
posted by magnetsphere at 10:22 PM on July 6, 2011

My dessexed male cat does this. He will drag a towel or bathmat over the tray if there is one handy, and once he got his paws on some paper towel and would tear off squares and tuck his poop in with paper. He sometimes buries now, but often won't.

I have used several different trays and lots of kinds of litter.

FWIW I have also seen him bury his food with 'floor and wall smell' so I can't steal it from him, and he gets in the middle of my bed after I change sheets and does some busy fake burrowing. There seems to be some kind of smell transfer going on I just don't get. He has very tufty feet so perhaps it is more about getting the smell off them rather than anything else?

Who knows. Just point and laugh. If she is damaging the surfaces try putting something over them that doesn't feel nice.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 10:42 PM on July 6, 2011

I've had a few cats with this behaviour, and it mostly seemed they were too grossed-out by their output to risk getting it on themselves.

To wit: calling them away from it then burying it myself or scooping it into the litter-disposal bin always ended the struggle. I always praised them for their efforts and spoke sweetly as I took care of the problem. No yelling or waving of arms.

I wouldn't put that scratching post near the litter box - it could turn it into a verboten item, which I'm sure you don't want.
posted by batmonkey at 2:01 AM on July 7, 2011

My cats do this. I thought it was just that they were taken from their mom before she could teach them to cover their poo correctly and their instincts got a little off track. They will sometimes get into what I call a "loop" and just scratch, and scratch, and scratch - the wall, the side of the tub, the inside or outside of the litterbox (We've always used covered litterboxes). Especially in the night, this drives me NUTS. I used to have to get up and smack the top of the litterbox to get them to quiet and get out of the litterbox, but now I've found that if I have a can of plain air freshener, they really don't like the hissing sound when it sprays, so I give it a couple quick bursts and they take off. It's cheap to try, at least ;)
posted by lemniskate at 5:01 AM on July 7, 2011

Response by poster: update: getting up and disposing of the evidence did the trick! I think like the other cats mentioned, when scratching the footboard did not cover up the smell, she just kept trying! Thank you all so much!
posted by ljoct at 6:03 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Zuzu, who has kitty OCD, does this with the litterboxes regardless of who's just used it. She also tries to bury my coffee, my dinner, her food, her water, my shoes, and, if I'm not careful, she'll jump up onto the countertop to bury the onions on the cutting board while I'm cooking dinner.

posted by mudpuppie at 11:37 AM on July 7, 2011

My cat does this too. Cats are just weird.
posted by BryanPayne at 1:05 PM on July 7, 2011

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