How can we prevent our cat from ambushing the other cat when he uses the litter?
December 5, 2012 2:16 PM   Subscribe

How can we prevent our cat from ambushing the other cat when he uses the litter?

Our cats Peter and Clem generally get along well, except Clem has taken to starting fights with Peter. He's almost twice as big and he's hurt Peter with a claw or tooth to the stomach that drew blood.

Our apartment has a long hallway with a bathroom in the middle that is the litter room with two covered litter boxes. When Peter uses the litter and Clem hears the scratching he'll wait outside the door to ambush him. If he catches Peter (usually right outside the bathroom) they'll become a ball of claws, teeth, fur and snarling. If he doesn't get Pether there he'll chase him and sometimes catche him and fight elsewhere. Peter's only defense is that he can jump to higher places in the apartment, but he has to make it to one of those locations.

Peter is fastidious in the litter room and spends a while cleaning up. He also grooms Clem a lot which is good as his eyes need it, but Clem puts up with that only for a short time and then swats at Peter. That usually doesn't lead to a full blown fight as Peter will generally stop once he gets swung at.

We've used medicine in the past which leaves Clem laying around in a daze, and we've used feeliway without affect. We've spoken to the vet and they recommend an animal behaviorist. We don't like using drugs, and don't have a spot in our apartment where another litter box could go. Any suggestions before we hire the expensive animal behaviorist?

And of course photos: Peter One Two and Clem One Two.
posted by ridogi to Pets & Animals (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried giving Clem a squirt bottle to the face while he waits in ambush? It probably won't solve the underlying problem, but it could at least get him to stop with the sneak attacks.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:23 PM on December 5, 2012

We can call Clem if we see him sitting there and he'll come to us and not ambush, but we aren't always watching of course.
posted by ridogi at 2:29 PM on December 5, 2012

We do separate them after these incidents (or mid incident if possible) by putting Clem in a second bedroom for 10-15 minutes. They are both normally allowed in there but this gives Peter the rest of the apartment to recover and calm down and is hopefully 'punishment' for Clem. It's also so Clem has time to calm down, and these incidents are every few days as far as we can tell. We have't squirted water at Clem.
posted by ridogi at 2:36 PM on December 5, 2012

Well, you need to be careful in that anything you do doesn't make Clem avoid the litter room, so I would not spray him with water. I know that you don't want to medicate him, but what med(s) have you tried? Sometimes some cats act like (adorable) assholes and a few months' worth of an antipsychotic can be really useful.
posted by crankylex at 2:39 PM on December 5, 2012

Could you put some kind of tall cat tree right by the door of the litter room - something that Peter can climb, and Clem cannot? Then, when Peter is done with the box, he can climb up somewhere high & safe immediately. And, hopefully Clem will lose interest.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:44 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

We've used clomicalm.
posted by ridogi at 2:44 PM on December 5, 2012

You say that Peter can jump up higher to avoid Clem; is it possible to set up something like this for him to use to leave the bathroom out of Clem's reach? Only thing is, it might be tricky to do if you have to regularly close the bathroom door. But it's the first thing that came to mind, and I know there have been other AskMes involving cats where high perches have eased fighting.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 2:46 PM on December 5, 2012

There is already a chest of drawers in the hallway immediately outside the litter room that only Peter can get on, but once he's been pounced on he can't make it up there. His instinct is to run to the house in their cat tree, which doesn't actually offer protection and he usually doesn't make it there anyway.
posted by ridogi at 2:47 PM on December 5, 2012

We can't really install something like that as we rent, and Clem would likely just adjust and start waiting for him at the end of the hallway in the kitchen. I've seen him do that and then he advances up to the bathroom. He's like his own swat team.
posted by ridogi at 2:52 PM on December 5, 2012

My cats dislike one another, and one quit using the covered boxes entirely and the other one will only use the covered one at night. I would try uncovering them and seeing how it goes - it might help.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:53 PM on December 5, 2012

Using only covered boxes in a multi-cat household with an existing ambush issue is basically like putting up a big sign in Cat Language reading, "We really want at least one of you to start crapping on the floor!" Your cats are clearly stressed by the current arrangement, and it totally makes sense that they would be...the combination of hooded boxes plus both boxes in the same location is pretty much a recipe for territorial anxiety. You're not going to be able to "train" the attacker not to ambush the victim...this is an environment problem, not a behavior problem; the cats are acting in a fully rational manner in cat terms. Modifying the environment to reduce stress is the key here.

Thus, your options are:

(1) Uncover at least one of the boxes. Or better yet, replace one of them with a large plastic storage container with a cutaway in one end for easy access. I am an absolute zealot for this type of 4 cats have 3 of these and it is seriously the Best Thing Ever in terms of scatter-control, maintenance, and kitty-stress-avoidance.

(2) Try moving one of the litterboxes elsewhere. Even if you don't have a "good" place for it to go, at least come up with the least objectionable place and try sticking one there. In my house I ended up putting one box in the bottom of a closet that consequently just lives with its (sliding) door open all the time.

Other than should definitely be making sure both boxes are being scooped every day, without fail, if you aren't already doing this. Smelly boxes = stressed cats (not to mention the fact that whatever they step in could be transferred to you next time kitty walks across your lap!).

Finally...if you consider the use of covered boxes to be essential, at least try and get a see-through cover for one of the boxes, rather than an opaque one. This alone would remove a fair bit of ambush potential.
posted by aecorwin at 3:11 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Can you put a litter box somewhere other than the designated litter room? There are ottomans and other nice-looking furniture you can keep the box in so it doesn't look like a box. With more than one cat, it can really help for each of them to have their own designated potty territory.

Whenever I've had multiple cats, I've usually had to keep two different litter areas. Right now I have three cats, and if I didn't have several different litter stations, my alpha female might well terrorize the others away from HER potty. (For the same reason I have two different feeding stations, which means my subordinate female gets to eat without the alpha girl bullying her.)

If stink is an issue, Dr. Elsey's Precious Cat litter does the best job of controlling the smell (IMO).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:12 PM on December 5, 2012

This sounds absolutely like something that can be solved by correct litterbox setup. In addition to what others have said, the rule is:
# of litter boxes = # of cats + 1
posted by DoubleLune at 3:20 PM on December 5, 2012

Unfortunately, one of the better options we had for this problem was to put a litter box in the middle of the bedroom. Where it's positioned now, our tiny cat can either jump towards the windowsill, the bed, or upstairs. We also do our best to tucker out Big Cat so that he doesn't have excess energy to stalk Tiny Cat. When fights start breaking out, it's mostly because Big Cat is not getting enough stimulation. We've had to re-up our efforts with the winter hours, possibly because there's less window-watching stimulation.

That said, our issue is that big cat thinks they're always playing, while tiny cat is older and lazier. Blood and/or teeth says to me this is bigger than dominance and territory. Medication is absolutely appropriate. There's a trans-dermal gel that would be fairly easy to both apply and get to a low enough dosage to avoid the "drunk cat" symptoms.
posted by politikitty at 3:20 PM on December 5, 2012

There isnt room for a third litter box in there. It is a small bathroom so we have a piece of plywood on the tub and the boxes are on that. I have issues with dust allergies so we'd like to avoid litter box in either the second bedroom (my office) or the living room (our only other room as they aren't allowed in our bedroom). They are also particular about the brand of litter we use.

We also don't want the smell in either of those locations or the litter pellets traipsed around on the floor.

They are the same age (about 7 years), and Clem likely views it as playing. He bats his tiny stuffed mice toys all over the apartment and has a circlular track with a ball that he plays with. He is territorial and they each prefer the same food bowl, but Peter will relinquish that when they eat at the same time.

Clem will certainly be difficult to give medicine to. We're used to it with Peter as he needs heart medicine daily but Clem is not good with pills.

Maybe removing the tops will help. Need to consult with my girlfriend on if that has been tried in the past.
posted by ridogi at 3:33 PM on December 5, 2012

Clem will certainly be difficult to give medicine to. We're used to it with Peter as he needs heart medicine daily but Clem is not good with pills.

If you do go the medicine route, I highly recommend politikitty's transdermal gel suggestion. This is how one of my cats gets her meds twice a day (and will have to for the rest of her life, whee). She is a pretty near impossible to pill--she struggles and will spit them out later--but within about two days I had her trained to sit still for a her meds (the routine: put her on her favourite chair, give treat, swipe of gel in her ear, give another treat). It is a walk in the park compared to administering pills, and the single-dose amount of gel is easy for your vet to adjust, so your cat's not overmedicated.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:43 PM on December 5, 2012

We had a sort of short-lived ambush issue around here several years ago, and we found the best thing for this was a top-entry box.

This is good for lots of reasons:

1. It's technically covered, so you get some of that "initial smell containment" that a hood is good for.
2. It provides privacy (which some cats really care about)
3. But that privacy is essentially from the neck down - that is, the cat in the box sits there like a tank commander, and can see the other cat coming.

Ours learned to use and love the boxes really fast. We've switched away from them only because the one cat has had a leg amputated and he finds regular boxes much simpler to use (although he will still use a top entry box). They've long since stopped harassing each other at the box.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:24 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm ridogi's girlfriend. It seems like there is some confusion about the fighting. Clem is not attacking Peter outside the litter boxes. Instead, Clem is attacking Peter outside the litter box room. Clem does not need to use the litter boxes, and he is not interested in the boxes.
posted by Four-Eyed Girl at 4:32 PM on December 5, 2012

So, Clem is being territorial about the litterbox room, not lying in wait to jump on Peter when he exits the box?
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:39 PM on December 5, 2012

We once had a cat who did this to my daughter. She would turn the water off after showering, and the cat would immediately slink to the doorway and lie in wait. As soon as she opened the door after getting dressed, the cat would pounce with all claws and teeth ready to sink into tender 6 year old skin. She still has some (minor) scars.

We had to get rid of the cat eventually because, well, it was demonic.

If I were you, I'd be saving hard for a behaviourist.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 4:42 PM on December 5, 2012

Correct. Clem waits at the bathroom/litterbox room door for Peter. When Peter exits the litterbox and walks to the bathroom door, he gets attacked.
posted by Four-Eyed Girl at 4:43 PM on December 5, 2012

Hm. without seeing the actual set up it's hard to know whether a top entry box would still provide that line of sight that Peter could use to deter Clem. Otherwise, it becomes about giving Peter adequate exit space to not be trapped/pounced upon.

Can you move the boxes around in the room at all to change the exit dynamic?

If they can both jump, well this would be a pain in the ass, but if you put up a cheap (I mean, $11) baby gate in the hall, I wonder if the thump would provide a warning to Peter when Clem comes to call, or if just the barrier in general would give Peter that small amount of time it takes to get out of reach? Doesn't have to last forever - once it stops being fun and repeatable, and stays that way for a while, Clem might forget it was ever fun.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:55 PM on December 5, 2012

We already use a baby gate to keep them out of the bedroom—well the door keeps them out and the gate slows them down when we go in or out, and reinforces the idea that they aren't supposed to scratch the door. Four-Eyed Girl is short so we certainly don't want a barrier in the middle of our apartment (bedroom, office, our bathroom one end and kitchen / living room / dining room at the other) as she has trouble getting over it.

No room for a litter box on the floor, and even if there was it would be closer to the door and likely worse.

Moving the chest of drawers to the other side of the door is a possibility but Clem would likely then just hide behind it or wait on the other side where the chest is now.
posted by ridogi at 7:43 PM on December 5, 2012

The simple answer is that you need to move one of the litterboxes to a different location so that stalking is no longer profitable and Peter always has free access to a litter box. If there isn't room, make room. Unless you want Peter picking up the lovely habit of not using the box at all, that is.

If that alone doesn't solve the problem completely, you can uncover the boxes or switch to top entry boxes. If cat litter dust is a problem, switch to swheat scoop or compressed wood pellets.
posted by zug at 7:05 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you can say it's not possible all you want, but your problem is that Clem is territorial about the bathroom. The litter box sounds like a red herring. You need to give Peter a place to go that isn't in the bathroom. Do you have a closet or corner you could use?
posted by DoubleLune at 7:34 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

What zug said. You're running the risk of Peter being so sketched out about going in the bathroom knowing he'll be attacked as soon as he comes out. The normal cat response to that would be to start pooping and peeing somewhere safe, i.e. not the litterbox. The only real option is to find some place to put another one.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:01 PM on December 6, 2012

We have a top entry box on order that will go in the living room. We hope it works. Thanks everyone.
posted by ridogi at 4:46 PM on December 6, 2012

Follow up from months later: They have no interest in using litter in the living room. We also set up two separate locations for food which didn't help. We hired a behaviorist who only could suggest playing with them (with a piece of fabric tied to string), which we observe only makes Clem more aggressive and territorial. Clem has now been on Prozac for about a month and there have been no incidents. He seems like his old self—not doped up and not aggressive. They even curl up each night and sleep together in a chair.
posted by ridogi at 7:46 AM on April 8, 2013

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