How can I keep my indoor kitten happy, safe, and litterbox-using?
June 6, 2013 4:03 PM   Subscribe

I have a 7 week old kitten who is a rescue from a feral barn cat family. She is now an indoor cat for life, but I have never raised an indoor cat and I need information and ideas about how to keep her entertained while I'm at work. Also, what's up with her litterbox behavior?

A little over a week ago, I adopted a 6 week old feral barn kitten who needed to be rescued before her mother and/or siblings killed her (she is very much the runt). I know she's very young to be taken away from her mother, so I have taken a lot of caution in bottle-feeding her as much as I can, grooming her, handling her, and generally socializing her.

Unfortunately, needs be that I can't be at home all day to watch her and entertain her, and I also worry about leaving her alone in my one-bedroom apartment all day, so I shut her up in the bathroom with lots of toys, wet food, the fresh litterbox, and a radio softly playing NPR all day. (Which has led to her being named Nina Totenberg.)

When I come home from what are admittedly very long days (10-12 hours), she is very, very scared of me and hides behind the shower curtain for about half an hour after I open the bathroom door. This is even though the rest of the time, she is a very sweet and affectionate kitten who cannot get enough of sleeping on my lap/chest/head or rolling around on the floor with me. I am worried that she is so under-stimulated for so many hours that she gets freaked out and upset when I come home. What can I do to make sure she is happy and entertained while she's alone and stuck in there? Or that my coming home isn't an upsetting event for her every day?

Also ... she is very very good at using the litterbox when she is in the bathroom, so I know she knows where it is and what it's for. But as soon as she has the free run of the house again, she starts peeing on the carpet and my couch and I should basically buy stock in Nature's Miracle at this point and it's only been a week. Cannot count how many times I've caught her doing her little kitty squat and had to scoop her up and run for the bathroom with her. How can I make her stop forgetting that the litterbox is the only place she can do her business, even if she's allowed in the rest of the house while I'm at home?
posted by none of these will bring disaster to Pets & Animals (17 answers total)
What kind of litter are you using? We just adopted an older cat with "inappropriate urination" issues but we switched to a regular clay litter and he hasn't had any problem. Some cats, especially ones that have been feral, can be particular about texture.

I have heard good things about Dr. Elsey's cat attract litter, and the cat attract additive you can put in whatever litter you are currently using.

Elsewise, continue with what you are doing. She is only 7 weeks old and litter training can take some time. If you are feeding her regular meals, carry her over there after the meal. Also cats usually use their litter after long naps so when she wakes up from one take her over.
posted by donut_princess at 4:13 PM on June 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh, yes - agree with donut-princess about Dr. Elsey's. Get it as soon as you can. Also, put another litter box in the living room. She's very tiny to make the long journey to the bathroom. Later, when she's a big girl, you can cut back to one. But for right now - especially with the issue - add extras.
posted by crw at 4:18 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

She needs a friend. "A second kitten is the best kitten toy ever" is the truest thing ever said, and will remain true well into their adulthood.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:20 PM on June 6, 2013 [13 favorites]

Nthing get a second kitten. In my experience, cats are much happier when there is another cat to keep them company.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:21 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another kitten is an awesome idea. Lots of litter boxes.

She sleeps a TON during the day and is most rambunctious early in the am and at dusk. When I'm home during the day, my cats just sleep on the bed. They do a whole lotta nuttin' other than that.

So maybe see if she can handle free reign for a few hours at a time.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:30 PM on June 6, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you for the suggestions! Unfortunately, a second kitten is 110% not an option. Other ideas welcome!
posted by none of these will bring disaster at 4:39 PM on June 6, 2013

I would keep her in the bathroom for another few weeks. If you can, slowly expand her territory. Kittens have small bladders, and haven't quite gotten the timing down to know they have to get all the way to the bathroom to go. By suddenly giving her access to a huge apartment, it seems overwhelming to find the litter box.

When I introduced my second kitten into a studio apartment, he lived in the bathroom for the first few weeks. For socializing, I would hang out in the tub with a book. He would only pay attention to me for 5-10 minute bursts, so it was good to have something else to do. Occasionally I'd play with him, but he was pretty good at chasing his toys by himself for hunting/exercise/boredom.
posted by politikitty at 4:54 PM on June 6, 2013

Thirding Dr Elsey's, or maybe something like Arm & Hammer, which is a similar, fine grain texture litter. That helped with our problem pooper! She also tends to be finicky about the litter box being extremely clean; that wouldn't hurt anything if you aren't already scooping daily or twice a day.
You could also try another litter box, in another room, perhaps.
posted by PrettyKnitty at 5:39 PM on June 6, 2013

She's adorable, and so tiny! I'm so glad you rescued her :)

When our kittens were younger, we had a litterbox in each room. They would always use the closest one. Once they were around 3-4 months old, they picked a favorite and started using it exclusively, so now we just have one, but for such a tiny little kitten I'd definitely put a litterbox in each room (it can be small), or confine her to rooms with a litterbox only. We also had one pee accident because I was snuggling a kitten on the bed, and she was too scared to jump off of it - so be extra careful if she's on the couch or somewhere high up and there's a possibility she can't get down by herself (or thinks she can't get down).
posted by insectosaurus at 6:33 PM on June 6, 2013

what a cutie pie! i'd use another litter box (an old shoebox with low sides will work) in the living room area so she gets the hint. during the day i'd put in an old shirt that smells like you on the floor for her to smell and snuggle on. is NPR to get her used to human voices? while she is probably so up on current events that she could start a talk show herself i wonder if she may prefer some relaxing music. i know there are cds for dogs maybe there are some for cats too. while i'm no expert i would guess she's only ~4 weeks but maybe she's just unusually small. enjoy your little ball of fluff!
posted by wildflower at 6:56 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

As for toys, my kitties like the Scratch Lounge, little felt mice, and cardboard boxes.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:40 PM on June 6, 2013

oh my goodness. tiny little adorable kitten! she is very young still as others have said. when you come home, instead of letting her out of the bathroom, chill with her in the bathroom for a while to let her get used to you. then slowly introduce her to your apartment...we carried our cat around and gave him a guided tour a few times. she is so tiny that your apartment is very scary and large!

a dingle or a crinkle IN THE TUB will be a great play thing.

maybe every morning leave one of your dirty shirts or pajamas in the bathroom with her so she can remember your smell.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:21 PM on June 6, 2013

What a cutie!

1. Litterbox: yes, contain her in one room, probably the bathroom or kitchen, when you're not home. Use several shallow(ish) pans or boxes for litterboxes throughout your home. Make them easy for her to get in and out of. If she's habitually already using some spots, locate the boxes at those spots. I've fostered kittens, and by seven weeks they all knew where the litterbox was and used it w/o fail - I wonder if they were all just following their mother's example.

2. Boredom/fear: a) can you foster a kitten? b) can you invite mellow human company, so she becomes socialized to more than just you? Doesn't have to be when you're not home. The key is just to have her get used to people instead of person.
posted by tllaya at 8:57 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for all of the advice! I took her to the vet last week, who put her age at "six weeks, if she's a day," operating on the notion that she was the runt of the litter and her siblings/mother bullied her away from food. Which is why she looks so tiny (I hope).

She has a bed made of my t-shirts and pajamas in the corner of the bathroom. She just seems so unhappy in there every time I come home. I got home an hour ago intending to follow your advice and chill in the bathroom with her and keep her in there, but after about 30 minutes of me sitting on the floor, enticing her out of the shower with a kitty fisher while reading work e-mails, she parked her butt at the door and it was nothing but miaow miaow miaow miaow and I just felt so bad.

And I worry because the demands of my job make it so I'm gone ~10+ hours every day. A friend comes by to check on her/play with her for a few minutes about four hours before I get home, but that's still a long time for a little thing to be alone. I hope she spends most of the time sleeping. I know I would, if I were trapped in a bathroom.

There's now litterboxes in every room of the house, minus the bedroom, where she's definitely not allowed just yet. She's sticking to the one in the bathroom ... so far.

I'm worried now that I didn't think this through, and that a childhood growing up with outdoor cats who could entertain themselves maybe oversold me on the "cats are low-maintenance" thing. I love her to death and she seems to enjoy my company -- she's sitting on my shoulder and rumbling into my ear as I type -- but kitties can't live on love alone.

Anyway ... thank you for all of your advice, and for talking an anxious new owned-by-cat out of the tree. Reading all the AskMefi threads tagged with "cat" have also been helpful. Y'all are a smart bunch.
posted by none of these will bring disaster at 8:02 AM on June 7, 2013

Just a word of encouragement - it can and will get better! I've fostered several feral babies, and over the years I've learned that with cats it's all about routine. Your adorable baby is still adapting to her new home, and getting used to being without her littermates. If a second kitten/playmate isn't an option, then I suggest lots of toys - not necessarily store-bought cat toys, but things like paper grocery bags (left open on their side, kittens love to go in and out of them and eventually climb on top, despite the collapse and crumple), small cardboard boxes, and balled-up tube socks. Having music or NPR playing in the background is an excellent idea.

Don't feel too guilty about being away from home during your work one who worked from home while fostering kittens, I can tell you that they do, in fact, spend a large portion of the day sleeping. They have short bursts of energy where they'll play very aggressively with something and then, just like that, they'll poop out and curl up for an extended nap.

Please don't give up on this adorable little one, and kudos to you for rescuing her!
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:51 AM on June 8, 2013

I have an indoor cat and she is low maintenance. She can entertain herself, as with any cat you need to train her to not do things like chew through wiring or something, but lots of that happens as a kitten and they will grow out of it.

I think the big key is it not let the meowing get to you. They will take time to adjust to anything. My cat used to meow so loud when we left the house and meow as we got home and her voice sounded hoarse as if she had meowed for hours when she missed us. She doesn't do that any more and hardly greets us at the door as she is now 2 years old.

So your cute kitten with your love and care should mature into a fine young cat!
posted by Jaelma24 at 12:15 PM on June 8, 2013

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