My apartment is not your toilet.
August 1, 2012 8:00 AM   Subscribe

I'm out of ideas - help me convince my cat that the litterbox is a good place to be. Long explanation with as many details as I can think of inside.

I've had my cat for about two and a half years now. She's been litterbox trained ever since I got her - mostly. Every now and then she decides that she's found a new and fun place to pee (she defecates exclusively in the box; it's only urine that finds its way elsewhere). For a while it was the gas stovetop until I covered it with a panel of plexiglass. Then it was a space by the trash can in the laundry room until I stopped leaving the door open. Then it was my shower, which I actually am pretty okay with since she does it right in the drain and I can just wash the smell away with a quick spray, so I never bothered to stop her from doing that.

It's been that way for months now, and she seemed to have settled into a pattern of urinating where she's supposed to. Then, about three weeks ago, she randomly stopped using either the litterbox or the shower. Now she pees in one of four places: the floor right next to my toilet, the sink counter opposite the soapdish, the corner of the kitchen (right next to where I feed her), and the corner of the living room right smack dab in front of her litterbox. This last place (the only one where her urine can damage the floor, naturally) is her favorite. It's also the hardest to see, the hardest to clean up, and the smelliest. Of course.

I took her to the vet when I found blood in her urine one day, and she was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection (very mild; the vet said I caught it way earlier than most owners do). She was given a round of antibiotics, and that was that. I figured okay, she'll take these and be back to normal.

No such luck. I've wiped every square nanometer of the places she urinates with vinegar multiple times - she goes right back again later. I added a second litterbox thinking that maybe she now had some kind of fear of her old one since she hurt while using it before - but she's been completely ignoring the new litterbox, and has been using the old one to defecate the entire time without fail. She's even urinated in the old one twice - but only twice in the last 2-3 weeks.

I can't watch her all the time; if I see her starting to pace around where she usually urinates and put her in front of the litter box (either one), she gives me the evil eye and leaves to take a nap, then pees on the floor later when I'm not around or actively watching her. Her issue isn't the litter - I've been using this litter (Feline Pine pellets) for a year and she still defecates in it with no issue. There has been no new stress whatsoever - no diet change, no notable increase or decrease in the amount of time I'm home. No new pets in the house, new furniture, new anything, and nothing removed either.

I have no idea what to do at this point. This issue needs to be fixed, and soon. It's disgusting, it's damaging my apartment, and since she sometimes steps in it as she's leaving the scene it gets tracked everywhere, which is not remotely healthy. Please, tell me what else I can do.
posted by Urban Winter to Pets & Animals (32 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I've had good luck with using cat attract litter to lure my kitten away from other pee spots. It helps if you clean the spots with Nature's Miracle -- works better than vinegar.
posted by *s at 8:11 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

We eventually learned that any time our cat peed outside of the litterbox it meant he had a UTI. We figured it was his way of telling us that something was not right in the pee department. He was an orange male, so prone to urinary issues, and it happened probably 2 or 3 times a year. Maybe she is trying to communicate the same thing?
posted by Rock Steady at 8:11 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

These problems are very hard to solve. (Some) cats are really picky about where they go to the bathroom. I don't think assuming that because she poops in the litter that the litter, the box, the location of the box, the cleanliness of the litter, etc. isn't part of the problem. FWIW, when I had a cat that had a similar problem (he pooped in the box, somtimes peed elsewhere), switching him to Cat Attract litter took care of the problem.
posted by primethyme at 8:13 AM on August 1, 2012

Yeah, you need to rule out UTI with your vet.
posted by amanda at 8:13 AM on August 1, 2012

Actually, i should add that a few times it was not a UTI, but urinary stones. Getting him on a prescription kidney diet helped with that a great deal, but never permanently solved the issue.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:14 AM on August 1, 2012

This is tricky because she's peeing in multiple places, but years ago I had good luck with a cat that had decided to start peeing in a living room chair by putting her litter box in the chair for a few days, then gradually moving it, just a little at a time every few days, to where I wanted it to be. Once she got used to peeing in the box in her favorite spot, she followed it to its new home.
posted by not that girl at 8:15 AM on August 1, 2012

Oops, I totally skipped over the paragraph where you said she had a round of antibiotics. Call your vet first and ask what you should do. I feel your pain!
posted by amanda at 8:15 AM on August 1, 2012

The only way we got our demented cat to use the litterbox to pee was to crate train her. She spent most of her time for two or maybe three weeks in a cage just large enough for her litterbox (hooded), a bowl of water, and room for her to lie down. We'd let her out to eat and that was it.

First rule out a repeat or never quite eradicated UTI and then good luck with whatever you try.
posted by cooker girl at 8:16 AM on August 1, 2012

Definitely get to the vet. I lost a cat a few years ago to bladder cancer, and she had been peeing (occasionally) in places that were not the litter box.
posted by tulip-socks at 8:24 AM on August 1, 2012

If there's no UTI or any other illness at work, I suggest getting a larger litter box. We got this spacious Rubbermaid container (in the same attractive color) for our guy, and it's worked out great. It's drastically cheaper than a pet-store litter box, and is big enough for our guy to keep his #1 and #2 segregated (pee up front, poo toward the back).
posted by Thorzdad at 8:33 AM on August 1, 2012

You need a multi-pronged approach here.

a. UTIs in cats can be hard to get rid of and require multiple rounds of antibiotics. I would have the vet check her urine again to rule out a continuing infection.

b. Cleaning the areas with just vinegar is not going to work to really get rid of the smell. You may not be able to smell it but she can. You need Anti-Icky-Poo. I realize the name is idiotic, but it works better than anything you can buy in PetCo/PetSmart/wherever. If you can't get AIP, then get another enzymatic cleaner like Nature's Miracle.

c. I know that she's been using the Feline Pine sort of successfully, but in your position I would change one of the boxes to a clumping fine grained litter as a test. I would fill that box with Cat Attract litter. Cats can be funny about the pine pellet's texture. Also, what kind of boxes are you using? Are they hooded? Some cats really hate hooded boxes.

d. As cooker girl said, the most efficient way to retrain a cat into using a litterbox is to confine the cat to a very small room (like a spare bathroom) or use a dog crate with a litterbox, food and water. When the cat starts using the litterbox in the crate consistently, you can then place the cat in a room with the food water and litterbox, and if the cat keeps using the box, then she can be allowed total freedom.

I used these methods to retrain a problem urinater (not before I had to toss two couches that he destroyed, however) and now I no longer live in fear that he's going to pee on something besides the litter box. I have five other cats as well, so I could talk about cat pee all day. If you want to discuss anything in detail, please memail me and I'd be glad to help.
posted by crankylex at 8:38 AM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

1) Back to the vet, definitely. Urinary issues can often recur. The fact that she's pooping in the box but not peeing in it suggests that she's still having an issue.

2) Has she ever used the new box at all, even to poop? There might be something about it than she dislikes. Where is it located, especially in regards to the old box? What kind of box is it - is it different? Have you tried using Cat Attract?

3) Is there anything covering the surfaces where she pees? Pet urine is incredibly difficult to clean out of wood, for example, because it seeps through. Cleaning it thorougly and covering it with something that can be wiped off might help save that spot. Also, I have had much better success with Nature's Miracle or an enzymatic cleaner than vinegar alone.

4) Is the outside the box peeing the only thing she's doing that seems off?

5) This may not be a thought wholly supported by other's experiences, but I think you really have to get your cat to solely use the litter box -- even peeing in the shower drain, while easy to clean, might send a mixed message about appropriate elimination areas.
posted by sm1tten at 8:45 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Once your kitty associates the litterbox with an owie, you're out of luck, she won't use it again.

Change the litter box itself, and if you can, change the location, even the other wall in the same room.

As for the pee spots, use an enzymatic cleaner to eradicate any errant smells.

that should do it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:49 AM on August 1, 2012

Is your cat declawed? The reason I ask is because on a recent episode of My Cat From Hell, a cat would not use the litter box and it was determined that because he was declawed the "normal" litter hurt his paws. They switched to a more powdery litter and that solved the problem.
posted by I_Zimbra at 8:50 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

We had a cat that did the same thing and scheduled a consultation with an animal behavioralist.

She suggested keeping the cat in a small room with 2-3 litter boxes filled with different litter substrates. We were instructed to make the room as comfortable as possible and to use different styles of litter boxes as well - so we had a couple plain ones and one with the cover that goes over the top.

We did this for 2-3 weeks until we noticed that our cat seemed to like the Feline Pine litter and was using the box in the room regularly. Then we let him greater run of the house. This would work for 10-12 weeks until he'd have to be re-educated by going back to Litter Box Camp (he wasn't very bright).

The animals behavioralist also suggested having 2 litterboxes on each floor of our house. This wasn't practical in your situation, but maybe something you could try.

Our consultation with the animal behavioralist (after we ruled out medical reasons) was about $40 for a 40-minute session.
posted by Ostara at 8:59 AM on August 1, 2012

Yep, I agree with much of what has been said. I would say:

1) Take the cat to a different vet with his records to get a second opinion
2) Get Cat Attract litter
3) Scoop the box as much as you can (1-2 times a day). I'm astounded when people tell me they are having trouble getting cats to use their box and then I find out they only scoop 2x a week. Cats a VERY fastidious. My cat will raise her butt in the air to pee while in the box (thus, getting it on the wall!!) if she doesn't feel the box is clean enough. So everyday, I scoop 1-2x AND I wipe the rim, inside and outside of the box with Nature's Miracle. I also assume you change the entire box and wipe it out thoroughly once a week?
4) Use Nature's Miracle in all the spots your cat pees in outside of the box. She can definitely smell it even if you can't and cats will continue to go back to places they have peed "successfully" in the past.

I definitely would NOT crate the cat (does not work with cats the way it works for dogs), however the keeping the cat in a room with 2-3 litter boxes is a good idea if the above doesn't work.

But seriously, scoop the box a lot, clean it thoroughly 1-2x a week, spray with Nature's Miracle and see what happens.
posted by superfille at 9:27 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

1. Try a scoopable litter in the second box. What's acceptable to her for pooping may not be acceptable for peeing.

2. Clean the places she's previously peed with a combination of Oxyclean (or something similar) and Simple Green. Make a loose paste, using a lot more than you think you need. (If the smell of the Simple Green is overpowering, you've used enough.) Scrub it good, and then let it soak for several hours or overnight. Then wipe it up. Just because you can't smell pee anymore, doesn't mean your cat can't.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:47 AM on August 1, 2012

nthing Cat Attract. Also, consider getting a big piece of Masonite from Lowes, and maybe waterproofing it. Then put that over the spot where the cat pees. That will (a) hide the odor and (b) keep the floor clean.
posted by novalis_dt at 10:11 AM on August 1, 2012

I definitely would NOT crate the cat (does not work with cats the way it works for dogs)

It's not the same process at all. It's litter re-training and it's not permanent. It really does work for some cats.
posted by cooker girl at 10:59 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been through the wringer with a couple of my cats and the litter boxes... I agree that she might not actually like the pine litter. When we were having problems, I got a new box, put clumping sandy litter in it and not just the peeing cat, but all four of the cats immediately switched and never used the pine again. A couple of years ago I had a cat with a stubborn UTI and even after she was better, she was in the habit of peeing in several places other than the box. We put foil down on those spots, which she did not like at all. I think if she'd still been sick, the foil would have just chased her to other not-the-litter-box pots, but since she was better, it worked to guide her back to the box. Oxyclean also worked really well for us on the carpet. The bucket has a carpet cleaning recipe on the side, I used that, worked great.

Good luck, I know how frustrating it is to have cat pee everywhere.
posted by upatree at 11:03 AM on August 1, 2012

Nightmare for you! So sorry.

The only other thing I might suggest is after doing all the high level cleaning of the spaces, you might tape foil onto the spaces where she is urinating. (Not sure about how to handle the shower except a closed door. Or you could use clear thick shipping tape as an alternative, but foil works best.

It is a deterrant for some cats, whether it be peeing, or scratching.

Good luck.
posted by Kitty Cornered at 12:29 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

My cat has this issue off and on. One thing which helps is despite the instructions on the litter to have it deep, my cat likes very shallow litter - doesn't matter what type (he was meh about Cat Attract) but big box with shallow litter is definitely preferred.
posted by pointystick at 1:25 PM on August 1, 2012

Is your litter box hooded? I have one cat who suddenly started hating the hood on the litter box after having used it just fine for years. She had a UTI, so maybe she started associating the hood on that box with the pain of the UTI. Anyway, after I got rid of the hood she went back to her previous good habits.

And yes, try a different kind of litter. My cats do not like any kind of litter except the clumping kind. The one I've had best success with is World's Best Cat Litter.

I have a box for each cat and I scoop each one daily because if I don't, there is the risk of pee/poo beside, not inside, the box.

A thought: does your cat have joint problems? If she does, how high is the litter box? I had to get a lower box for my older cat because she was having trouble climbing in and out of the higher one.

Also, do try an enzymatic cleaner instead of just vinegar. If you use Nature's Miracle, follow the instructions to the letter. The amount you need to use (a lot!) and length of drying time (long!) are both important to its effectiveness.

Good luck! I feel your pain. Cat pee is awful to deal with.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:53 PM on August 1, 2012

nthing change your litter. Your cat may just not like the litter that you're using for urinating. If you have two litter boxes with two different litters she may poop in one and pee in the other. It's worth a shot.
posted by patheral at 4:27 PM on August 1, 2012

Nthing the enzyme-cleaner recommendation for the pee spots. Cat pee doesn't just stink, it contains pheromones that can persist long after the spots have been cleaned to the point where humans can't smell them anymore. The enzyme cleaners (e.g., Nature's Miracle, Urine-Off, etc.) break down the pheromone components so that the spots stop sending out the "OH HAY PEE HERE!" signal that your cat is probably continuing to respond to. It's really, really important to make sure you use enough and let it soak into the affected surface (especially if said surface is fabric or carpeting).

In the meantime, while the enzyme cleaner is doing its magic (which can take a day or more), you'd best confine your cat to a small area of the dwelling, preferably one with only hard-surface flooring, so that the litterbox becomes the most attractive spot to pee in.
posted by aecorwin at 9:53 PM on August 1, 2012

Response by poster: I don't know if anyone will see this, but in light of some of the suggestions (and an unpleasant new discovery I made yesterday evening), I want to add some more information:

My cat: Not declawed. No joint problems. No health issues of any kind before this that I'm aware of. Restating: Vet found that she had a UTI, gave antibiotics, no bloody urine since (but no follow up visit either, which I will schedule if I try some things and they don't work).

The litter boxes: The old one has been in use with zero issues (apart from her occasional decisions to pee elsewhere; probably caused by me getting lazy and not cleaning it enough for a while, in retrospect) for almost a year. It is large, hooded, well-ventilated, and has the amount of litter I've discovered she likes best (about three inches deep). I only added the hood in the first place because she used to stand in the box and shoot pee right over the side onto the floor and wall. Removing the hood is not an option. The other box is smaller (which is probably why she hasn't been using it, but the pet stores near me don't currently stock larger ones other than the hideously expensive buddha boxes).

The litter: I use Feline Pine because it doesn't stink. I don't know if it's an allergy or what, but when I used clay litter or the non-pellet version of Feline Pine, I developed an off-and-on runny nose and congestion that began at home but would return at random elsewhere. It was marginally better with the other pine litter than clay, but not much. It took a good couple of months for my lungs/sinuses to get back to normal after I switched the litter. I'm willing to change the litter to something else, but I like breathing too. FYI: I went to an allergist, who said my only allergy is maple tree pollen and could offer no explanation whatsoever for my congestion. All I know is that I did loads of experiments on my own, but the issues started when I got the cat and stopped a little while after I changed the litter, with no other triggers around the actual time they disappeared that I hadn't already considered.

The apartment: There is a living room, then a single hallway with bathroom, my bedroom, and a kitchen branching off. She has found a spot to pee in every room but my bedroom, in which I think she has never dared. I am on a tight budget, and can't pay for a cage that can hold her and a litter box - although if I could I would try that. Floors are hardwood over concrete. Baseboard heat.

Last night I discovered why I even cleaning with vinegar didn't get rid of the urine odor: In addition to just leaving a puddle on the floor, she has been getting up against the wall and peeing right on it, both in the kitchen and the living room (she seems to have abandoned the bathroom for the two places I can't clean without a great deal of pain and rage). She has been urinating on the wall just about an inch above the baseboard heater, where it trickles down through the totally-uncleanable coils and onto the floorboards - and in the tiny gap between the floor and the building's foundation. I cleaned up the blackened gunk as much as I could, but there's a good portion of it that I just can't clean - it's going to be absolutely awful in here come the colder months when I have to turn the heat on.

I'll try to use the Nature's Miracle to clean the baseboard heaters too, as much as possible anyway, and then... Pray it works, I guess. But I have a dilemma. I have nowhere to put her while I let the stuff sit and do its magic. Who's to say she won't just walk right onto the same spot and pee right on top of the Nature's Miracle before it even has a chance to work? I could totally see that happening. Even worse, I could see her choosing a different wall - like the one behind my couch - that I really can't get to and clean even if she wasn't peeing on a thing I can't adequately clean in the first place.

Any advice for damage control while the Nature's Miracle works? Or... Adjusted advice based on the above? I'm going to change her litter today - not sure to what; I'll see what I can find that isn't clay - try the enzyme stuff, and when I clean her litter box this evening I'll scour it super-thoroughly in the hopes that maybe that'll help. I've emptied it, but haven't actually washed it out in a while. That's Plan A.
posted by Urban Winter at 3:42 PM on August 2, 2012

Just a note: the World's Best litter I linked to in my previous comment is made of corn, not clay, but is still clumping and scoopable. I don't find it that dusty, but it does get tracked around a little. It may be better for your allergies than dusty clay.

In terms of where to stash your cat while you are cleaning: can you put her food & litter box in the bathroom and keep her in there temporarily? Sounds like she can do less damage in the bathroom.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:58 PM on August 2, 2012

I use corn litter too, and the smell is nearly non-existent. Your cat may not like the pine. Mine didn't when I bought pine by mistake... He would urinate in the box but poop outside of the box. I went back to the corn. It's one of the cheaper "fixes" to try.

And yeah, the bathroom is a good place to stash her while you clean. She's not going to care if it's there or a cage, she'll want out either way. It won't be for long, and it'll be worth a shot.
posted by patheral at 6:41 PM on August 2, 2012

While I agree with others that cleanliness and health issues maybe a complicating factor, let me have a shot in the dark here: are your baseboard heaters also natural gas fed?

The reason I ask is that she was also peeing on the gas stove. Female cats in particular can be pretty territorial, even spayed females. Cats in general have very sensitive noses, and I wonder if the gas odorant (mercaptan, t-butyl) smells enough like cat pee to her that she's trying to mark her territory against an unknown "intruder".

In this case, a round of Feliway sprayed in all the non-desirable pee spots, along with all the other suggestions may help.

If she's been peeing on the walls, you may have to look into some more drastic replacement measures, as the urine soaks into the wallboard and doesn't go away. Sorry.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:34 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

One other thing that *might* help: put a bowl with some of her food at each spot where she is peeing. Cats don't like to go potty near their food/water bowls.

Once you get something cleaned up, try scattering some grated orange or lemon peels near the area. It'll help it smell better, and we've discovered that most of our cats (ymmv) HATE the scent of citrus. We use this method to 'train' our cats to stay away from areas we don't trust them in. ('Cause we've had LOTS of potty issues too.)
posted by tigerjade at 10:11 AM on August 3, 2012

A few more thoughts, per your updates:

- Urinary issues are not always accompanied by blood in the urine. This really should be one of your first steps, getting the cat to the vet, because none of this other stuff will help otherwise.

- Your cat is likely associating the old box AND its litter with pain while urinating. The new box is smaller (and I'm guessing hooded), and has the same littler -- I can see why she'd avoid the new box for the floor. Cats often don't like change and many cats don't like small enclosed spaces for elimination. You can try changing to another natural litter, like corn, but the box may still be an issue. Definitely let us know if thorough cleaning and whatnot help.

- There is really no way to guarantee your cat won't pick a new spot. What you want to do is make sure her health isn't compromised and her litter box is as appealing as possible.

Good luck! I've had my share of cat pee problems and it can be really frustrating.
posted by sm1tten at 10:29 AM on August 3, 2012

Re. the "peeing over the side" issue: I have become a certifiable zealot for the use of large plastic storage containers as litter boxes. Seriously, they are the BEST THING EVER. Much cheaper AND much bigger than pretty much anything you'll find at the pet store. (I went this route partly as a method of pre-empting "litter scatter" and partly because my ex-feral boy kittens grew up into such tall, strapping adults that they started easily overshooting the side of smaller boxes, which was obviously gross, and I didn't want to use a hood because that would have ended up making a mess with pee in the seam between the lid and box).

It is the most awesome arrangement ever as it pretty much gives all the benefits of a hood (litter containment, pee-overshoot-blockage) with none of the drawbacks (maintenance difficulties, kitty anxiety, "out of sight, out of mind" syndrome that results in humans not scooping often enough, etc.).

But I digress: the best boxes I currently have are from the clearance section in the Container Store -- originally they were $30ish but I got them for a mere $5 because they were missing their lids (which I didn't need anyway)! I just use a hacksaw to cut a little dip in one side (though not TOO deep) to make it convenient for kitties to get in and out. This has, and I do not exaggerate, revolutionized my life in terms of making both me and my cats happy about the litterbox situation. your followup comment? Backing up against the wall and peeing is a *classic* territorial thing. A lot of people are shocked when they see female cats doing this, and it's somewhat less common than in males, but it does happen sometimes and (presuming all medical issues are ruled out and/or fully treated/resolved) generally points to an "anxious spraying" situation.
posted by aecorwin at 1:30 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

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