Instinct doesn't appear to be working in this case
December 3, 2013 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Please help us get an adorable seven week old (possibly developmentally delayed?) kitten litter trained so that he can go to his new home.

Several weeks ago, we rescued a pair of abandoned kittens. (A local semi-homeless man we know had kind of bonded with the mother cat--who had obviously been abandoned herself--and been keeping tabs on the kittens, and when she stopped taking care of them he brought them to us for bottle-feeding and nurturing.) The female kitten, though smaller, has always been more advanced developmentally than the male kitten and has mostly gotten this; the big fluffy one is still lagging behind on litter training. We found homes for the mother cat--who is being spayed as I write this--and the female kitten, and one for the male kitten as well, but he's got to learn to use the litterbox before he can move on.

To forestall some questions, litter boxes both regular size and scaled-down have been made available to both kittens. They're being fostered in a multi-cat household, so they're not without role models. The other cats are mostly friendly and have not been observed guarding the litter boxes. Their main caregiver has fostered many kittens before and never had trouble getting any of them going in the right place. When the kittens are observed starting to pee and poop elsewhere, they've been carried to the nearest litterbox. When unobserved, their waste has been collected and put in the litter boxes. We've already tried Dr. Elsey's litter with the cat attractant, but that didn't work. (And no, we didn't rip a semi-homeless man's only friend away from him, he asked us to help get them off the streets since he couldn't take care of them himself.)

Ideas welcome.

(I know photographs of said kitties are required. Pictures will be forthcoming as soon as they arrive in my email inbox, I promise!)
posted by Soliloquy to Pets & Animals (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Guarding can be subtle enough to be invisible to humans.

How much of the house does he have the run of? How many litter boxes are there and how are they distributed in the space? How often are they cleaned? When was the last time you replaced the boxes themselves? How many other cats are there? Is there always one nearby and are there enough that other cats couldn't possibly guard all the routes? Are the boxes covered and/or in corners, or is there space around them such that a cat can feel secure about being able to see everything?
posted by Zed at 3:02 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

What Zed said and asked. Guarding is very subtle, and the factors can be complicated. Gender can play a role, although at 8 weeks, this little boy kitten should "read" as male yet. I know it's tough when they are this young and OH MY GOD ADORABLE, but you may have to put little boy kitten in a bathroom or separate room by himself, with a litter box and see what happens. I recommend getting a brand new, never been used by anybody, box - the disposal ones made from recycled material are good for this - and filling it with a super soft substrate. If he still doesn't use the litterbox, then it's likely you really do have a litterbox training issue, and he may just be slow on the uptake. The only fix for this is persistence, and unfortunately, continued confinement until he gets it. If he uses the brand new box when there's no way any other cat could see, watch, hover, or be anywhere in the vicinity, and most importantly, that no other cat has or could use that box, then you've just got a behavioral issue, and he'll likely be fine if he's going to a one cat home.

You mentioned he's a long-hair. Sometimes longhairs don't like the substrate if their poo gets tangled and mushed up with the litter in their butt hair. So much easier to scoot and clean on the carpet (is how their tiny little brains think).
posted by ereshkigal45 at 3:35 PM on December 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

(Also: YAY for rescuing the kittens and getting Mom spayed!)
posted by ereshkigal45 at 3:37 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Guarding/territory issues can be different for male and female cats; it perfectly possible for the existing cat(s) to be guarding the litter trays against a new male interloper but not a female one.

Maybe get some Feliway (scentless to humans) and/or give him his own room and own litterbox for a day and see what he does.

If one of your cats has told that kitten that going in "his" litter boxes is not allowed, then that's going to trump pretty much anything else, and easily could have been a one-time message that you didn't notice. Cat hierarchies are a complicated and subtle thing. "I like you and you can use my litterbox" and "I will vaguely tolerate you and you can't use any of the litter boxes they are all mine and this house is mine and the food is mine" are two wildly different things that look pretty similar to humans.

Pooping is scent marking and a territorial thing, such that both my cats bolt/run out of their box when they've done a #2 (in case "anyone" *eyeroll* decides to challenge their ownership - they're lovers, not fighters, okay?).

He is probably fine. Good luck! (Yay, kittens!)
posted by jrobin276 at 3:38 PM on December 3, 2013

Yay kittens!

He should be confined to a small area, 10 square feet max: a bathroom or at the very most a bedroom subdivided with a baby fence and be the only cat in there. Put down a white* bath towel in a corner furthest from his food/water and note if he's peeing on it. You may have to move the towel to the corner he chooses. Remove solid wastes. Once he starts consistently using that corner, place a shallow litter pan (a cookie sheet is great for this or one of those very shallow cardboard boxes one gets with a case of canned goods) with a small amount of non-clumping clay litter on top of the soiled towel. If you've got one of his turds handy, bury it in there too. Remove the soiled towel when he's consistently using the box (usually a few days). Over the course of the next two weeks increase the litter depth, swapping in a deeper box when he's able to easily get over the edge.

*To make it easy to spot the signs of urine as well as easier to bleach clean later.
posted by jamaro at 4:15 PM on December 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

General rule for every multi-cat houshold: have as many litter boxes as cats + 1. Do you?
I agree with the advice to isolate him for now and to offer him a brand-new-super-easy-to-get-into-very-small-litter-especially-inviting-box. And then observe what he does. If this issue is related to territorial/hierarchical aspects, those will be removed once he is in his own space.

How is his behavior otherwise? Does he recognize the need to use the box? Or does it seem random? Is he the last one in the pecking order?

posted by travelwithcats at 5:05 PM on December 3, 2013

You might also want to try different brands and types of litter if giving him a private room is insufficient.
posted by jeather at 5:10 PM on December 3, 2013

Response by poster: OP delivers! Here's the female Magellan and the male GusGus.
posted by Soliloquy at 8:20 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I am pleased to report that GusGus has gone on to his new home and is using the big boy potty like a champ. It seems the other cats were throwing him off his game. And he seems to have caught up developmentally in all other ways as well!
posted by Soliloquy at 11:41 PM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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