No you CANNOT poop behind the refrigerator
October 20, 2012 2:20 PM   Subscribe

My 8 year old cat (The Dude) fairly recently decided that pooping in his very expensive litter robot is just not for him. Instead he poops just outside of the robot, and this morning he decided to go in around the same location but much more frustratingly located: behind the refrigerator. I've tried various solutions, and there is a lot more to the story...

Okay, here's the quick back story: I am currently 9 months pregnant, and 4 months ago we moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Prior to the move there have never been any behavioral problems with the Dude so I assumed he was pooping outside his box because he traumatized by either or both of these major life events. However, he was diagnosed with hypothyroidism that was treated with radiation therapy about a month ago.

Prior to his diagnosis, I tried getting the Dude another regular old-fashioned litter box, thinking that maybe he suddenly decided he no longer likes to poop where his brother does (we are a 2 cat household). After successfully using the new box for a few days, the Dude began pooping outside of THAT box too!

At around this time I took the Dude to the vet where he was diagnosed with a raging case of hypothyroidism, and he was hospitalized so that he could receive radioactive iodine in quarantine (poor guy). Now that the Dude's back and his thyroid tumor is but a memory, I was hoping I'd see this behavioral quirk fade away along with the constant panic-attack meowing he was exhibiting prior to his hospital trip. But no such luck. He still poops outside of the box unless I manage to kick him outside at the exact right time (around 5-6 a.m. so it's not a true solution). I have resorted to laying down newspaper in his favorite spot, but this morning he decided that he really liked the privacy afforded by going behind the fridge. ARGH!

Because the second litter box was only effective for a few days I decided to retire it when he returned from quarantine because it was creating a lot of mess with no reward. Since then I sometimes grab him and point his face toward the poop and say "NO!" which just makes him run away guiltily. But it has done nothing to improve his manners.

Luckily for the Dude he is extremely cuddly, aggressively affectionate and charming in ways too numerous to count. So giving him up for adoption is not an option.

Do you have any other suggestions for me? Should I give the 2nd litter box another try? Do I just need to wait him out as his tumor disappears? Is he mostly traumatized by the imminent arrival of his little sister? Should I hire a cat psychic to talk some sense into him? (I'm mostly joking about that last one, but since this is LA and since I am desperate, I'm not willing to really take anything off the table).
posted by ohyouknow to Pets & Animals (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have no advice to offer, our cat did the same damn thing; switched from in-the-box to out-the-box when we moved. It's been 6 years, I don't think he's ever going back. We moved the box into the garage and put in a cat door so that at least the stink is more contained. He will poop right outside the box and then progressively further out if you fail to clean it up in time. We're just thankful he isn't peeing outside the box.

I did try confining him overnight in a space so small there was only room for his clean box, his food, and him lying down. The next day, he'd pooped on the floor and was sitting up in the space remaining. I gave up.
posted by emjaybee at 2:28 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Veterinarian because cats will associate potty pain with the box. So they skip the box part of the routine.

I had a cat that was peeing outside the box and it turned out she was doing that because she had bladder cancer that made peeing uncomfortable. By the time I was annoyed enough to ask about it at the vet they asked me how long she'd had blood in her urine. Which I had never noticed because when she wasn't using the box she was peeing on dark colored things (bedding and clothing).
posted by bilabial at 2:33 PM on October 20, 2012

One of my cats went through this, right down to the "pooping behind the fridge" part. I locked her (with food and water and litter, obviously) in a bathroom for about a week. I'd go in every day and hang out and pet her, and if she'd pooped outside the litter box I'd place the poop in the litterbox and clean up the spot.

After about three days, she'd started pooping in the litterbox in the room. I left her in there a few more days to make sure that it had become a habit, and then let her out. We haven't had a problem with it since.
posted by MeghanC at 2:48 PM on October 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

Have you tried changing the type of litter? Even in the second box? I'd try a few types of litter, and litter boxes, for that matter. Try litter with really fine grain, clay clumping grain and Yesterday's News. Do you use a litter liner? If so, try removing it. Sophia Yin has some great suggestions.

You might actually need three litter boxes -- lots of folks subscribe to the "number of cats + 1" theory. I'd get three or four and STICK TO IT FOR SEVERAL WEEKS.

Have you kept the current litter box exactly as it is, and moved a few others around the house? Particularly where the cat has been pooping? Other quiet areas? On another floor?

And did you discuss this problem with your vet, when the hypothyroidism was diagnosed? Did they run any particular tests or have any suggestions or ideas?

Have you tried Feliway plug-ins? How many for how long?

Barring any other issues, I'd do what Meghan C. did and confine the cat to a small familiar place, with two litter boxes, and stock up on enzymatic cleaner -- something even better than Nature's Miracle, like Anti-Icky Poo.

The grabbing and pointing and saying NO isn't helping, and could be hurting. Cats won't learn like that and will just associate pooping with trauma and anger from you. Not really helpful IMO.

There has been a lot of change in the cat's life recently - a big move with preparation beforehand, the move itself, unpacking, baby preparations, maybe more stress in general? Then the thyroid thing can be traumatic and make cats pissed off for at least a month.

In general, I'd suggest many more options, for a longer period of time, combined with feliway, then move to confining to a smaller room with a few litter box options.
posted by barnone at 7:29 PM on October 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have had a problem with a cat peeing outside of the box. She still has an accident once in while, but it's very rare now -- where at one point she was doing this every day.

The biggest thing I did to fix the problem: Have two litter boxes, both of which are CLEAN. You didn't mention how often you clean the litter, but you should be doing it everyday if you're not already. My cat will go back to her old problems if the box isn't up to her standards. (She didn't used to be this picky before the problem started.)

I also made sure that each time she had an accident, it was cleaned up thoroughly, and for a while I moved a litter box directly on top of the spot where she liked to pee a lot so she HAD to go in the box if she wanted to pee there.

I use "Cat Attract" litter, too. I'm not sure that makes a big difference, as I switched around the time I got the second litter box, but as long as she's not pissing away my security deposit I'm not feeling like going back to regular.

I have a friend who had a cat that was very intent on going right in front of the box and nothing at all would work. She finally fixed the problem this way: She bought puppy pads, and put them on the problem spot. After a while, she moved the puppy pads INTO the box. The cat followed. After a while longer, she replaced the puppy pads with litter.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:27 PM on October 20, 2012

- Get "Cat Attract" litter. It's amazing. You can also buy just the herbs that come in it and use those.

- Try unscented cat litter if you're not already.

- Clean the carpet and/or floor in the problem areas with an enzyme cleaner that will totally eliminate residual odor.

- Try to catch him in the act of pooping in the box and reward him (probably impossible, I know).

- I have heard of litter box re-training by keeping the cat in a small enclosed area for a number of days (when he's unattended) so that he's either pooping in the box or in his bed or food area.

- Give a lot of thought to any other possible sources of stress: is he getting the same/enough attention? Play? Is the other cat stressed and giving him a hard time? Does he have places to go to de-stress? Talking to cats really comforts them, by the way.

I hope something helps.

Those are my ideas. Good luck.
posted by amtho at 11:22 PM on October 20, 2012

The Cat Attract litter worked for us, too. Or at least helped. Cleaning up really well after each out-the-box poop and spraying that area with Nature's Miracle odor remover helped too. Attract the dude to the correct place, repel the dude from the wrong place. Good luck!
posted by fivesavagepalms at 6:58 AM on October 21, 2012

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