My kitten wont use her litter box
February 28, 2012 8:49 AM   Subscribe

First-time cat owner. Adopted a 7-month-old kitten from the local Humane Society. The only problem we’ve had is that she’s not real sure about her litter box.

She seems to know that’s where she’s supposed to go but when she’s in it she kind of sticks her butt out the side and pees on the floor instead. She’s also peed not in the box a couple times and peed on us a couple times (though I’m pretty sure she was just scared, I don’t think she likes being picked up). She peed 3 times this morning within an hour, once attempting to use the litter box, but squirting it out instead.

She pooped on the floor twice since we've had her (Sunday evening) in full view of us, not even close to the litter box. Just came out as she walked around. I’m not sure she knows that’s where she’s supposed to do that. She doesn't seem to dig around in the litter, other than nibbling on it every once in awhile. We’ve tried being very sweet and encouraging when she tries to pee in the litter box (even though the pee is actually on the floor) and when she’s gone elsewhere we’ve picked her up and shown her the litter box. We’re gonna take her to the vet to make sure she doesn’t have a bladder infection, but apparently she had trouble potty training in her last home as well. We've tried both a covered and an uncovered litter box.

Other things we will be trying: a higher box so the pee doesn't squirt out when she does choose to use it; a litter attractant smell we bought on Amazon; a different litter type; isolating her in a room with the litter for a few days.

Any other ideas/suggestions? I know it can be so many possibilities, but some hope that she'll eventually be able to use the box normally would be encouraging at this point.
posted by rbf1138 to Pets & Animals (32 answers total)
It wasn't the same situation exactly, but when my parents brought in a cat that had a hard time with the litter box, the vet told them to put some dirt in the litterbox and it helped.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 8:53 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

We had a similar problem with our kitten. What I did was, every time I went to the bathroom, I took her in with me (the littler box is in the bathroom) and put her down in the litterbox, and then I did my business. She figured it and within about 48 hours we had no more accidents in other rooms of the house.

As for the pee or poop going over the side of the box, maybe you need a bigger box? Not with higher sides, but just a larger area? Or, one that has a cover would eliminate that problem entirely.

And lastly, yes, do try other types of litter. We've had good results with the pellet-type from Trader Joe's.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:05 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sitting the kitten down in the litterbox and perhaps saying something like "Good kitty" always seemed to work well when our cats were kittens. As for the peeing over the edge of the box, some cats like to be very close to the side. This is definitely one of the reasons we like boxes with high sides. The clever cat is awesome in this regard, as the cat gets in through the top, but i would hold off on something like that until the kitten is bigger and has passed Litterbox 101. Good luck.
posted by chosemerveilleux at 9:19 AM on February 28, 2012

Definitely go to the vet. Attempting to pee 3 times in an hour is a bit of a red flag to me that she might have an infection (not at all uncommon when adopting pets).

Also, have you tried moving the litter box? If it's currently somewhere in full view, she may want somewhere more private to do her business.

FWIW, it's possible that this may simply be an ongoing behavioral problem. My first cat, Rudy, was an amazingly loving cat who lived a long, healthy life, but he had chronic litter box issues. You learn to accommodate.
posted by mkultra at 9:21 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

It may just take more time. I've never heard of a cat NOT figuring out to use their litterbox.

A different type of litter might do it, but otherwise patience might be the real key.
posted by imagineerit at 9:21 AM on February 28, 2012

A larger box may not help the over-the-side issue. My recent rescue has that problem and the box I have is a huge plastic cement mixing pan. She does the scratch litter, etc. but misses the mark. I figure that's why she was homeless.

I put the box in an unused shower after taping over the drain hole. The only other thing that helps keep her business in is something with very high sides all around. Think storage container. Make sure the bottom is smooth for easy cleaning and don't cut an access hole. Once she gets the idea right about where she's suppose to go using some ideas upthread you've probably solved it.
posted by mightshould at 9:24 AM on February 28, 2012

My guess is it's the litter you're using. If she's not digging around (and you said she NIBBLES on it?!?!) then it sounds like she doesn't think it's where she's supposed to put her bizness. Whenever I've found the right litter for my cats I know because they immediately jump in and dig around and make a big old mess as soon as I pour fresh litter into the box.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:57 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding what ablazingsaddle said: put dirt in the box. I've heard multiple stories of people whose cats couldn't figure out the box until a little natural element was added.
posted by komara at 10:14 AM on February 28, 2012

Can you get a covered box, to avert the pee-over-the-side problem? We've always had one for our cats and it's worked fine. They seem to prefer the privacy.
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:59 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, sorry, missed the sentence that said you'd already tried a covered one.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:00 AM on February 28, 2012

The taller litterbox in addition to the larger one is where I'd start. There shouldn't be an opening/door, she'll have to jump in. You can go to Target and just buy an appropriately sized storage bin, instead of an actual litter box, as long as you find a liner that fits.

What kind of litter are you using? There are a lot of alternatives, and some cats respond better to different kinds of litters. Try a non-scented clay litter, and try a silica based (crystal) litter.

It might help to clean the litter after every use, if you don't do it already.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:05 AM on February 28, 2012

I had a younger kitty who wasn't sure about the litter box, and I would pick him up once or twice a day, put him in the litter box and use his front paws to do a bit of digging in the litter. He wouldn't always go when I did that, but he would sometimes, and it seemed to help him work out what it was all about.

At first, he would poo and then dig, and he would dig IN THE POO, flinging it out of the box and getting stinky feet. But after a couple of incidents of washing cat poo feet in the sink, he seemed to figure that out too.
posted by emilyw at 11:38 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The taller litterbox in addition to the larger one is where I'd start. There shouldn't be an opening/door, she'll have to jump in. You can go to Target and just buy an appropriately sized storage bin, instead of an actual litter box, as long as you find a liner that fits.

What kind of litter are you using? There are a lot of alternatives, and some cats respond better to different kinds of litters. Try a non-scented clay litter, and try a silica based (crystal) litter.

It might help to clean the litter after every use, if you don't do it already.

Just got back from Target actually, with two different storage bins of varying size/heights. I figure I can lay the lid horizontally over part of it, so she could use it as a platform to jump onto then down into the box. And, what do you mean a liner? I can't just put the litter in it? I also bought a different litter at Target, a smaller, more sandy type, as opposed to the pebbly stuff we bought at the shelter. As for cleaning it more often, there's been no need to clean it yet, nothing is in it :)
posted by rbf1138 at 11:43 AM on February 28, 2012

Aww, little demon cat.

Yeah: dirt (sometimes even pebbles) is a a hugely effective trick.

The Humane Societies often use one of the "natural" litters too, not the cat litter we get, so she might not have seen the stuff you're using before.

All your ideas are good, and so are the suggestions above.

Be warned with your recent Target purchase: she might totally be like WTF IS THIS. Also if the lid isn't secure, she won't be happy jumping on it--in fact, if it slides and whatnot, that could be a HUGE setback. (Most people cut a big hole in the lid, and then tape off the edges or some such.)

I cannot be of further assistance without pictures of the cat in question.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:02 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Jersey is her name!
posted by rbf1138 at 12:06 PM on February 28, 2012

ooooh, gorgeous!
posted by easily confused at 12:16 PM on February 28, 2012

I use a Target storage bin as a litter box too, leave the lid off for now. If she takes to it, you can saw a hole on the top later. She's more than athletic enough to leap into the box without an intermediate step.

I don't use a liner, just fill the bin up at least 5" deep. If you're using a clumping litter, pee will never hit the bottom in litter that deep.
posted by jamaro at 12:22 PM on February 28, 2012

Dirt, yes. Plenty deep for digging.No liner. Tall sides (except in front) or put a cardboard box with bottom and top cut out inside the pan. If worse comes to worse, you can lock her in the bathroom for a couple days till she figures it out. Of course, you'll go in and spend most of the time in the bathroom with her, sympathizing. With a really slow cat catching on, I've put their box in the back of a large dog crate (20x36) and only let them out to eat and be played with for a few days. They never want to curl up in their own excrement, so that does the trick. What ever you do, if the training takes place other than where you want the box, move the box out slowly, so she can figure it out.

The pee frequency bothers me a bit, too. She's a beautiful kitteh, but her hair coat seems like it's not totally healthy. You might just have the vet give her a general once over.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:55 PM on February 28, 2012

Best answer: poo...just came out as she walked around.

Everyone else has great advice about switching things up to make her litter box more appealing.

But this worries me. She didn't pause, scrunch her body, or even notice it was happening? That is unusual. I wonder if she has a nerve problem back there?
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:55 PM on February 28, 2012

If she poops on the floor again, pick it up and put it in the litter box for half a day or so (longer if you can stand it). It'll help her realize that the box is for pooping, too.
posted by phatkitten at 12:55 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The suggestion of a nerve issue is striking a chord here...We had thought it was just cause she was young, but occasionally it seems she has a wobble with her back legs. I'm wondering if she does have some problem back there, that makes going into the correct downward position to pee into the litter and to control her pooping is the problem here. I'm taking her to the vet Thursday morning, though, so that should hopefully shed some light on this.
posted by rbf1138 at 1:02 PM on February 28, 2012

Response by poster: I should add that she's had no problems jumping any height, chasing toys, etc. so I could be totally wrong here.
posted by rbf1138 at 1:08 PM on February 28, 2012

If she has some type of infection in her urinary and/or anal region that may also make it uncomfortable to squat.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 1:24 PM on February 28, 2012

We’re gonna take her to the vet to make sure she doesn’t have a bladder infection, but apparently she had trouble potty training in her last home as well.

You may feel a bit more optimistic if you replace this 'but' with 'since'.

Four weeks ago we adopted a cat with a bladder infection, who had failed out of two previous adoptions due to litterbox issues, and only after the second one did he get vet care. (None of this information was in his file, and the shelter in question is now under new management.) Even if Jersey did get vet care, bladder infections often recur (at least until you figure out the right regimen of food and meds), and even if she's cured, litterbox issues may outlast the illness itself, since the cat remembers that the litterbox hurts. (Happily, the various changes you're making to the litterbox should help the cat not perceive it as the 'same' litterbox that was the culprit.) Finally, it is not impossibly coincidental that your recently adopted cat has developed both a bladder infection AND clogged anal glands -- ours had.

Good luck! She's a seriously beautiful cat.
posted by feral_goldfish at 2:04 PM on February 28, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the encouragement. I'm just really hoping the vet will have an answer so that I can be more optimistic she'll be ok and not be in any more pain if it is an infection. The shelter didn't tell us there was an issue, and while we should have gone through all of the paperwork at the shelter, it does seem strange to me it wasn't mentioned. We told them we had never had a cat and I specifically asked if there was anything I should know about taking care of her/a new kitten, in general. It's so upsetting for me to imagine that the people prior hadn't taken her to a vet to get checked out when she had problems.
posted by rbf1138 at 2:11 PM on February 28, 2012

Response by poster: Little update: My girlfriend just got home from work, and Jersey had peed in one spot. Ten minutes later, she pooped for the first time today. So it seems she only poops when we're home. My gf took the poop and Jersey and put them in he litter box, Jersey covered it up, but then nibbled on the litter again. I'm going home shortly and will use the new container/litter, and move everything to the bathroom to isolate her with it.
posted by rbf1138 at 2:28 PM on February 28, 2012

I'm a bit late here, but something no one has really mentioned is that your cat might not like the feeling of the litter on her paws. Mine doesn't. My cat will only use the litter box by balancing with her paws on the plastic sides. (It's kind of ridiculous-looking). And she won't cover it up while standing in the box: only (reluctantly) while standing outside the box and leaning over the side. She is totally cool with peeing/pooping/covering up with DIRT, though, so nthing those who suggest trying that in the litterbox too. I've experimented with a few brands of litter, and she seems to prefer softer ones (made of paper pellets, etc). Poor delicate little flower :)
posted by lollusc at 5:12 PM on February 28, 2012

If you ever see the cat begin to go to the bathroom outside the litter box you should pick her up immediately and put her in the box. Don't let her start doing it. Clean any stains extremely well so that she doesn't get used to the smell of pee or poop outside of her litter box and start thinking its OK. It's really important you don't let her establish a pattern.

Given that you just got the kitten, how much space are you giving her? When we got our kitten we kept her most the time, and always when we weren't around, locked in the bathroom (with the litter box) for a couple days until she got used to her surroundings. Yes, it feels mean to the cat, but cats (especially kittens in a totally new world) are highly sensitive to their surroundings and it's better to give them a small space where they can feel secure too. Then, once they've shown they're comfortable, you can let them expand their territory. It's possible the stress of the new location is messing with her movements.

Lastly, as others have mentioned, I'd be worried about infection. Our kitten developed poop problems soon after coming to our place: it was a developing giardia infection that she must've picked up right at the end of her stay at the shelter. If the cat seems to have trouble controlling her bowel, or the movements are particularly liquidy, that does seem very suspicious and you should bring her the vet. They'll check the poop for parasites. However, it's also possible that it's just stress.
posted by switchsonic at 7:00 PM on February 28, 2012

Oh yes - get enzyme cleaner (available at pet store) for cleaning up her pee and poo stains. It removes the lingering signal that tells the cat "pee or poo here again, this is a great spot". Spot-test before using on natural fibers like wool.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:17 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the opinions so far. The developments tonight included: her pooping a few minutes after my girlfriend came home, so that's been poop once a day in the evenings while we were home. She peed once outside the litter box (original one) but has since gone in a few times and peed (with some squirting out). She also still continues to smell and nibble at the litter. She has the new litter in the new box also setup now inside our bathroom. She hasn't used it yet.

We live in a medium-sized apartment (bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room). Tomorrow we plan on isolating her to just the bathroom with the new litterbox. I assume it's ok to put the food/water in the bathroom, just on the opposite side from where the litterbox is.
posted by rbf1138 at 7:27 PM on February 28, 2012

Response by poster: Had the vet appointment this morning. Nothing conclusive but the vet suspects its neurological but whether it's from trauma or disease we can't know for sure. We're trying antibiotics but if that doesn't work not sure what were going to do...her X-ray showed she had a lot of poop in her which indicated she has an issue back there, but again not sure if it's pain, function or both. :(
posted by rbf1138 at 10:13 AM on March 1, 2012

Oh poor kitty; very sorry to hear that. Fingers crossed for the antibiotics.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:21 PM on March 1, 2012

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