In which Magsie the Cat will continue to urinate in the laundry receptacle
July 21, 2011 9:38 AM   Subscribe

Why does our kitten believe that dirty clothes hampers and toilets are one and the same?

Our approximately four month old kitten, Magsie, will occasionally pee in our laundry hampers. Understandably, my girlfriend and I do not approve of this behavior. How do we get her to cease?

She was a rescue - we found her behind the house in one of our flowerpots when she was about a month old. She took to us really quickly, and now she's extremely well-adjusted: sweet, social, energetic, everything one could ask for in a kitten. She doesn't seem to be harboring any anxieties, but who knows? She has access to all parts of our house and is the recipient of much love and attention. Maybe she's spoiled - please don't judge us. She is an only cat.

This has been asked before, back in the AskMe's prehistoric days, but it didn't really seem to be resolved. This is the only thing she does that she shouldn't be doing. It happens once every few weeks. Will we have to keep our closet doors shut at all times or just have to learn to live with pee-soaked hampers? We'd rather get to the root of the problem.

I know pictures will be demanded, so here you go.
posted by item to Pets & Animals (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My eldest will consistently do that. I keep my laundry in covered baskets as a result. I believe it's a marking thing - it smells like pheromones, and she wants to play, too. (Although she'll also pee on damp towels if they're on the floor.) After 11 years, it's easier to just work around it than to keep futilely trying to train her out of it.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:41 AM on July 21, 2011

I know it's not a way to stop the peeing per se, but could you get covered laundry hampers?
posted by greta simone at 9:41 AM on July 21, 2011

Is she spayed?
posted by hermitosis at 9:44 AM on July 21, 2011

Don't put stuff where the cat can pee on it. There is no why, and there is no stopping them.

We disallowed access to the bathrooms and put hampers in there. Shoes were put in closets with doors closed, along with suitcases and travel bags. Mine were fairly good about not peeing on made beds, so we tried to keep all of them made when not in use.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:45 AM on July 21, 2011

Kittens/cats like to pee on softer things that are really private. If the litterbox isn't private enough, or isn't clean enough, sometimes kittens and cats will seek alternatives.

That said, it's a hard habit to break. Hide the laundry hampers or cover them, because once a cat thinks a place is for peeing, it takes a lot to convince it otherwise.
posted by xingcat at 9:48 AM on July 21, 2011

(There is actually kind of a why: to hide their scent from predators. If you have house coyotes, you may have to get someone in to take care of that, but otherwise the threat exists in their tiny little walnut brains and you can't really reason with them.)
posted by Lyn Never at 9:48 AM on July 21, 2011 [6 favorites]

She's not spayed. She's scheduled for the de-sexing in another couple of months. I thought that that only affected male cats in the peeing game - I have no basis for this belief, though. Will that maybe help matters? I hadn't even considered that.

It's looking like we're just going to have to keep our stuff in the closed-off closets. I was just hoping that maybe there was some magical voodoo that I could perform on her to make her stop.
posted by item at 9:51 AM on July 21, 2011

Oh lord, I hope we don't have coyotes, as we live across the street from a school oh and also in the middle of a giant urban city.
posted by item at 9:52 AM on July 21, 2011

My theory was always that it's cozy and nice to them, and probably smells "safe" (i.e. like your dirty sweat). It's probably the cat equivalent of using the nice bathroom off the master bedroom with the extra-comfy seat.

I had a couple of cats who did this. They were less inclined when they got older but the best bet was to hide the laundry.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:55 AM on July 21, 2011

Get a hamper with a lid, and put it in a closet with a door.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:56 AM on July 21, 2011

I don't have a specific answer, but popped in to day that instead of a traditional laundry basket, we use a tall kitchen trash can with a swinging lid, like this. Takes up less floor space, and would be pretty hard for a cat to get into.
posted by Specklet at 10:00 AM on July 21, 2011

Hide the laundry and get her checked for UTIs. My (neutered male) cat did this until we got him treated for a UTI and then started feeding him prescription food.
posted by desjardins at 10:02 AM on July 21, 2011

My family's cat had a kidney stone which we found after she went to the bathroom in our laundry basket; lo and behold, that appears to be one of the symptoms. So you may want to take your cat to the vet to be sure.
posted by mlle valentine at 10:04 AM on July 21, 2011

I really don't think that at around four months, her kidneys have been around long enough to develop stones.
posted by item at 10:09 AM on July 21, 2011

Get an extra litter box and put it next to where you do your laundry. Keep it very clean. I have had this same problem with my two year old cats (both spayed females), and since I implemented this change, the problem seems to have disappeared. Keeping my fingers crossed!
posted by Betty's Table at 10:15 AM on July 21, 2011

I really don't think that at around four months, her kidneys have been around long enough to develop stones.

Except that you'd be wrong.

Has she been licking herself a lot, especially after she uses the litter box? Does she strain while she's in the box? It's also entirely possible that she has a UTI.
posted by crankylex at 10:15 AM on July 21, 2011

Our cat started doing this out of the blue when she was about 7 or 8 years old. She got the full-court press for medical testing and was UTI and kidney stone free. Just spiteful, I guess. We've had to keep any piles of clutter off the floor and keep piles of laundry/open suitcases away from her reach. She'll still sneak in an angry pee now and again, but blocking access was really the only way to deal with it.
posted by goggie at 10:20 AM on July 21, 2011

Also remember that cats think with their noses. If your hamper smells in the least bit like cat urine (far, far less than our puny human noses can detect) it is a litter box. And, as I have mentioned often enough that I should be receiving royalties, the stuff that has worked for us is Nature's Miracle. Its pricey, but it works. Any pet store should carry it, and of course its on Amazon.
posted by rtimmel at 10:25 AM on July 21, 2011

The hamper is comfy, safe, can be dug in, and already smells like pee (even if you can't smell it, she can). Hence, it is her chosen litter box.

Definitely Nature's Miracle to clean, unless it's a cheap laundry hamper. In that case I'd probably just toss it and get a new one.

Also, since no one has yet said it - cats are weird.
posted by cgg at 10:35 AM on July 21, 2011

As somebody whose cat expressed his unhappiness by weeing on my bed at five in the morning, I feel your pain.

In my experience, there's several reasons your cat might be doing this: unhappiness with her litterbox, anxiety, or a medical condition.

So I'd first do the obvious things:
- Make sure the litterbox is scrupulously clean.
- Scoop daily.
- Use less litter, but change it every couple of days.
- Have two trays. Clean the one not being used by soaking it overnight in a mild bleach solution (rinse well).
- Make sure the box is in a quiet place. You might also look into a litterbox hood, if you don't have one already.
- If you have the space, put another tray someplace like the laundry, second bathroom, etc.

And yes, Nature's Miracle.

If kitty is still going in the hamper, a chat with the vet might be a good idea. In my case, after we ruled out any physical problems, we started treating my cat for anxiety. My home has now been wee-free for several months. So there's definitely hope!
posted by Georgina at 11:02 AM on July 21, 2011

We've got at least one laundry-basket pee-er in our midst, and we've not been terribly successful in preventing the behavior. Some datapoints:

Our cats are about 4 years old, both spayed females, no UTIs. We have one litter box in the laundry room and one elsewhere. Having a little box in the laundry room does not prevent this. They only pee in low-sided hampers, not tall hampers or springy-sided ones.

The logic for me is that dirty laundry smells sour and pee-like. And once a cat associates a particular place with peeing, they will pee there even if it's clean laundry.

Pro-tip: for the same reason, do not leave unzipped suitcases anywhere accessible to cats.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 11:08 AM on July 21, 2011

Your cat and her background sound almost identical to that of my dearly departed Peter, aka, Mister Fluffypants. Peeing in dirty laundry was his hobby, his obsession, his vice. It never ended, even though he was neutered very early in his life. We simply learned to buy covered laundry baskets and keep laundry off the floor.

I don't know if it's related to the fact that he was born feral, or if it's just a thing some cats do, but in his case, it was impossible to fix, so we just worked around. Now that he's gone, after 13 years, my kids (ages 8 and 12) seem to think it's a free pass to fling dirty clothes around the house on a whim. I'm actually finding that I kinda miss my little laundry enforcer.
posted by SamanthaK at 11:44 AM on July 21, 2011

My female ex-feral kitty actually went into her first heat at four months old (at which point I scheduled an appointment to get her spayed IMMEDIATELY, once I got over my shock at seeing my tiny girl going egregiously boy-crazy). Luckily she didn't get into the habit of marking anything, but as kitties can mature WAY fast it's a definite possibility that your kitty is trying to leave signposts for any, er, traveling salesmen that might be apt to show up near the house.

There's also the fact that, reproductive precociousness notwithstanding, a 4 month old cat is most definitely still deep in kitten territory. It could be she simply doesn't see an appreciable difference between a bin/basket with one soft substance in it and another bin/basket with another soft substance in it.

Echoing what others have said, definitely cover your laundry while kitty is in the learning phase. And if you aren't already doing so, treat all her accident-spots with enzyme cleaner (yes, even clothes, as regular laundry-washing might remove the compounds humans can smell but leave pee-beacons perfectly detectable to cats).

You can also try putting a food bowl on/near the laundry baskets, as cats don't like to soil where they eat. I had success with this method when it came time to move one of my cats' litterboxes from one room to another: in order to dissuade them from crapping in the old litterbox site I put a small plate of crunchies there, and had no problems at all with anyone trying to use the old spot.
posted by aecorwin at 11:52 AM on July 21, 2011

You can try and make her litter boxes more attractive, also. There's a litter called Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract that is supposedly treated to smell enticing - I know some cat foster people who have had success with it. You might also offer an additional litterbox. You could even test her out on alternate litters to see if there's one she prefers - use throwaway baking tins for the test, and set out a range of litters to see what she goes for. It may not work entirely, but it may make her shift her focus away from the soft stuff.

I had a boy cat who was perfectly litterbox trained, except for the day we brought home the papa san chair. Something about the way it was shaped said, "Poop in me."
posted by PussKillian at 1:20 PM on July 21, 2011

>Except you'd be wrong

My vet has informed me that 3 or 4 months - the age of my cat - is indeed too young to develop kidney stones with the diet we're feeding her. I'm often wrong, but not this time.
posted by item at 1:35 PM on July 21, 2011

Thanks for the suggestions. I'm gonna go head with the thought that since it happens on such an infrequent basis, it's just something that we'll learn to live with. We'll try to reduce 'accidents' by keeping our hampers locked up in their respective closets.
posted by item at 1:44 PM on July 21, 2011

I had a cat that would do this, and also pee on clothes or blankets left laying on the floor as well. Just had to learn to restrict her access to the laundry hamper, and to never leave clothes laying around.

But then every now and then, I suspect when she was angry at me, she'd piss on my bed.

Cats are weird.
posted by BryanPayne at 3:10 PM on July 21, 2011

Who knows why any cat does anything?

I, like many others, eventually gave up and bought laundry hampers with lids.
posted by ErikaB at 4:19 PM on July 21, 2011

One of mine, as a kitten, starting pooping in the laundry basket, and I'm afraid that my show of displeasure made him litter-box skittish. 7 years later, he still has occasional anxiety, so my advice would be to be very low-key about it. I regret that I got mad and scared him back then (no hitting or abuse of course, but too loud clapping and clucking).
posted by feste at 5:33 PM on July 21, 2011

My cat does this (she's an adult). It is anxiety related. For some reason, she gets stressed and anxious when we clean or change something in the house, so she tries to tell us something is wrong by peeing on the floor or on our clothes. We bought some of that Feliway in a diffuser and it has helped. Also, as someone else has mentioned, Nature's Miracle will get the smell out and it is AMAZING. We have it in a bottle marked "magic cat piss."
posted by ForeverDcember at 5:43 AM on July 22, 2011

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