How do I stop my cat from pooping in the bathtub?!
February 12, 2014 12:55 PM   Subscribe

My 17-year old orange longhair has become quite outside-the-box in his pooping habits. Every change we make in an attempt to corral the problem results in it getting worse. I'm at my wits' end. More details inside.

I love this cat with all my heart and soul but I am losing my mind. Thor has always been a problem urinator, but it's only in about the past four months that he's started pooping all over the place. A vet check says there's nothing wrong with him except an advanced case of old; he is skinny, possibly hyperthyroid, and arthritic, but he has no kidney disease or other acute conditions. On the vet's advice, we're not pursuing the hyperthyroid thing because of his age and the stress that can come with treatment.

There are three specific places he poops: in the bathtub, under the piano, and in my 3 year old son's closet. Every time he poops, we clean it up as soon as we find it with enzymatic cleaner; fortunately, we have hardwood floors. Over the past four months, this has gone from being an every-other-week thing to nearly daily. Every change in frequency has been accompanied by an attempt to fix the problem, including:

* Being super-good about cleaning the litter box every day
* Cleaning the litter box twice a day
* Switching to unscented cat litter
* Adding Cat Attract to the litter
* Putting up Feliway diffusers
* Treating him aggressively for fleas

Again, not only has none of these things helped, they've each made the problem substantially worse. We keep interior doors closed a lot of the time, but my 3 year old is potty training and keeping the bathroom door closed is a pretty big hardship, as is keeping him locked out of his room all the time. He does use the litterbox sometimes, so I don't think it's straight aversion; regardless, I'm reluctant to take a shotgun attempt because everything we've tried so far makes it worse, including reverting previous changes. He already eats pretty high quality food (Wellness grain-free) and in fact won't eat anything else. Our vet doesn't have a lot of answers for us either. So as a Hail Mary, I turn to AskMe for help because I am sick of cleaning up cat poop. Anyone have any ideas?
posted by KathrynT to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
put another litterbox in the bathtub, yet another litterbox under the piano, and keep your son's closet door closed.
posted by bruce at 12:59 PM on February 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm noticing that the three places he prefers to poop are places that are really out of the way/hidden. Is it possible that as he gets older, he may be also getting more nervous about being exposed? We once had a similar problem with young cats that equated to them not liking the litter box near foot traffic.

Good luck, this sounds super stressful!
posted by corb at 12:59 PM on February 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

How many litterboxes do you have? When my older cat suddenly decided to pee on things that weren't cat litter, the only solution ultimately was getting her another box and putting it in a different room than the first one, bringing us to cats + 1 rather than just 1 box per cat.

You also might try to make one of them covered and one uncovered, so your boy has both options. My youngest poops in the covered box and pees in the uncovered. Not sure why, but hey, at least they're both litterboxes.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:01 PM on February 12, 2014

Forgot to add this to the question: extra litterboxes are not an option, as my son likes to play with the litter; there are sensory issues in play that make this harder to discourage than it would otherwise be. We've got him out of the main litterbox but I can't put more in places where he wanders around. His closet doesn't have a door.
posted by KathrynT at 1:01 PM on February 12, 2014

Ah, that's a bummer. Well, try switching to a covered box (or vice versa) just to see if it helps.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:04 PM on February 12, 2014

We had the same problem with one of our cats and consulted with an animal behavioralist. She told us to restrict our cat to a tiny space in which he really had no choice but to use the litter box. We had him in a small bathroom, but you could even use a large dog crate if you could borrow one. The cat would get used to using the litter box again since it was right there. When we let him out after his exile he would continue to use it for a while. Eventually he'd revert back to his floor-pooping ways and we'd have to start the process again.

He was confined to the room for a couple of weeks each time, with daily closely-supervised playtime in the rest of the house. The key is that we really had to watch him when he was out. If we couldn't watch him, he needed to be in the bathroom, right next to the litterbox. We also have him a choice of Feline Pine litter, clumping litter, and regular litter. He liked Feline Pine so we went back to one litterbox and stuck with that.

Good luck. I know it's aggravating, especially when you're trying to provide a clean environment for a little one.
posted by Ostara at 1:11 PM on February 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

When our kitty poops in the tub/sink/whatevs, it's because his litter box has become either, 1. Offensive to him in some way, or, 2. Hard to access for him. If I were you, I'd maybe try a brand-new litterbox from the store, with crystal litter (it's the most odorless there is), on an easily-accessible "ramp" for kitty (so it's the easiest-possible place in which to poop), with a little bit of seclusion if possible (maybe in an infrequently-used corner?).
posted by julthumbscrew at 1:14 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

My wonderful friend ms. kitten is 7, and has had a thing for the bath tub since we first moved into a place that had one when she was ~1. She mostly just poops in there, though she has peed before.

In my research to try to fix this, I found out that cats pooping in bath tubs is kind of a THING. And just like your kitty, there's no rhyme or reason to it--we use cat attract, we have multiple litterboxes of different sizes/configurations, we clean them constantly. None of this had any effect. We even put a litterbox IN the tub, but she would just poop next to it. She will still randomly poop in the tub every now and then.

What actually worked was leaving the tub filled with an inch of water every time we leave the house. So we did that every time she started up again with her tub pooping, and deprived of her fave spot she used her litterbox.

Now you obviously can't fill your closet or piano with water, but for the tub, that's an easy idea.

For under the piano and the closet you may want to try laying aluminum foil on the floor. Cats apparently don't like the feel of it, and when ms. kitten decided her mission in life was to pee all over a brand new chair earlier this year (i swear she's a good cat), putting foil on the seat when we were headed out totally worked.

tl;dr: cats are evil sometimes, and as you've ruled out health issues, physically making it impossible for them to continue their evil behavior may work.
posted by syrenka at 1:15 PM on February 12, 2014

I was going to suggest cutting up the litter box to make it more accessible, but if he can hop up into the bathtub, he can't be that arthritic.

Buy a new box. Clean often. When you clean it, remove ALL the litter and start fresh (don't just scoop). He may be getting to be a dainty snowflake in his old age.

Reward with treats for litter box use. (He may be associating pain with litter box.) Cats have a short digestive time so they usually poop shortly after eating.

Any other cats/pets in the neighborhood?

Play with him if you aren't already. 5-10 minutes a day does wonders.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:16 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

We also have an elderly bathtub-pooping cat (he actually prefers just outside the tub if there's a bath mat--so tidy! Ugh). In our case though he seems to have been sending a message about the box. He's arthritic and the box is already downstairs in the basement, which makes it a chore for him. We switched to a wide uncovered box with low sides, so it was easy for him to get in and out. We also have to clean it more often, which sounds like isn't an issue for you. We only have the one box and, like you, don't have the option to put it elsewhere or add another one.

Putting him on a joint supplement improved his mobility but the pooping thing is basically a non-issue with the new box, as long as it's cleaned regularly.
posted by percolatrix at 1:17 PM on February 12, 2014

we're not pursuing the hyperthyroid thing because of his age and the stress that can come with treatment

In my experience with an elderly cat living in my house, you can treat the hyperthyroid thing very easily and fairly cheaply with an ointment that gets rubbed briefly on the inside of the cat's ear once or twice a day with a simple applicator. You turn it a certain number of clicks, depending on dosage, and stroke the inside of the tip of the ear. It was never very stressful for my room mate or for her cat (or for me when I had to do it, even though her cat sort of despised me). Did your vet talk to you about that option? The radioactive iodine treatment is great for younger cats, but that doesn't mean older cats can't be treated at all.

Also, the advice about a ramp to the kitty litter box, or a very low-lipped litter box, is spot on. Older, arthritic cats need all the help they can get just getting inside. And like arthritic people, sometimes pain is worse, and sometimes it's better. When it's bad, he may just say to himself the cat equivalent of, "Sorry, not enough spoons for that today!"
posted by kythuen at 1:42 PM on February 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

but if he can hop up into the bathtub, he can't be that arthritic.

He might be having difficult hunching/bending his spine, which is why he often prefers locations where he can stretch out. This wouldn't really affect his short distance jumping but definitely make it uncomfortable for him to use a standard length litter box, especially if he's a big framed cat. A longer box might work. I'm a big fan of using big storage tubs for litter boxes. For a cat that age, cut a hole in the side for easy access and leave the lid on for privacy. When my son could not be talked out of playing with the indoor sand box in his younger days, turning the opening so it faced a wall made it less of an issue (I totally understand where you are coming from with the SI). Just remember to give the cat a foot of clearance between the wall and the box opening so he doesn't have to bend sideways to get in.
posted by jamaro at 1:47 PM on February 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

Seconding Ostara's suggestion. We have a very old kitty with some severe health problems, and it is pretty painful for her to use her litter box. Plus, she wobbles when she stands, so she prefers to poop on the floor or on the carpet, rather than in the litter box (which is naturally going to be sandy and a little bit of a bumpy surface).

When upset or having a tough time, she also seeks out closets or hidden spaces to poop. Not workable.

So about 2-3 years ago, we started to keep her penned up in part of a spare room during the day. Every evening she gets to come out for 4-5 hours and she is allowed to hang out with us in our living room and family room under supervision. Then at night when it's time for bed, she goes back in her area.

The older she gets, the more she likes the arrangement. We set up a fairly large space for her where she gets sun in the mornings, and she gets some nice blankets and comfortable beds all to herself so she can sleep all day. She doesn't have to be bothered by our younger, more rambunctious cats. She gets very large litter boxes with very low walls, and nobody else messes with them and digs them up. She also enjoys the routine of knowing when it's time to come out and lay on the couch and get attention every evening.

Maybe you could try the same arrangement. The older they get, the more incontinence and arthritis can be a problem, and it's not something that generally improves over time.
posted by Old Man McKay at 2:27 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to suggest that if you decide to try a covered litter box, I went with an enormous storage container that I found at IKEA. it was relatively cheap and it was bigger than anything else I found.

And while it is possible to cut a doorway using a box cutter, it's difficult. You might try using a cutting blade on a Dremel tool if you have one, or an electric knife.

Also, in lieu of or in addition to enzyme cleaners, try Simple Green. In my experience taking care of rescue cats, it's the only thing that gets rid of the smell to the point that even the cat can't smell it anymore. Enzyme cleaners have never gotten rid of it to that point, in my experience. You can usually find it in hardware stores or as a last resort, Walmart (in the auto section.)
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:55 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try making some kind of shallow, wide steps leading to the litter box; make sure they're heavy and very stable and the cat won't slip. Make sure the litter level is high enough that your dude doesn't have to step down very far on the inside. It sounds like he's old enough that his joints might be bothering him.

Luxating patella, for example, affects a lot more cats than many people realize (this isn't necessarily age-related, but could be undiagnosed from way back). Even if he doesn't have a "condition", a little stiffness isn't improbable.

Also - This is unrelated to the litter box issue, but with an older cat like that, the floors might be a little slippery for him, especially if he jumps up and down onto things like a sofa. Hhe might feel a bit more secure just walking around if there were rubber-backed carpet runners on some of the places he frequents (you'll be happier if you find ones that can be machine-washed).
posted by amtho at 3:43 PM on February 12, 2014

Oh - also - make sure the litter box is _big enough_ that he can easily turn around. I think that most litter boxes sold in stores are really too small, and it's probably even more cramped feeling for when the cat is pooping than for peeing.
posted by amtho at 3:45 PM on February 12, 2014

Wow, you guys, thanks! The idea of a wider / bigger / shallower / uncovered box hadn't occurred to me, for some reason, and I did NOT know that pooping in bathtubs was a thing. Of all the places he poops, the bathtub is the least awful after the litterbox, so here is my new plan:

1. Wide, shallow, big, uncovered litterbox.
2. Leave the door to the bathroom open all the time, in the hopes that his inappropriate pooping will be confined there.
3. Hit the poop spots with Simple Green.

I'll report back once we can implement this plan; in the meantime, please keep suggestions coming!
posted by KathrynT at 4:18 PM on February 12, 2014

IMO most containers marketed as litter boxes are too small to be comfortable for cats. You can try a big Rubbermaid container instead, with an entrance cut in the side for him to easily get in and out without jumping. This is what I have for my cat and he's very happy with it.

Here is a really good page to read about litter box issues:
posted by Jacqueline at 5:05 PM on February 12, 2014

Leave the original box in place for a while, so he won't have a huge sudden change. He'll probably prefer the new box, but, you know, it's nice to have the option when things are unfamiliar.
posted by amtho at 5:55 PM on February 12, 2014

My cat is 19 and was behaving erratically till I got her onto the Hills y/d low-iodine food. Like kythuen, I don't think you should buy your vet's unwillingness to treat the thyroid thing, because it's a condition that affects every aspect of the cat's physical and mental health, and for which there are several possible low-impact treatments.

Maybe consult another vet. My cat's behavioural weirdness cleared up after I got her onto the food and she was like a younger and happier cat within a couple of weeks.
posted by zadcat at 7:34 PM on February 12, 2014

Oh, poor old loyal Thor.

By "under the piano" do you mean, like, *under* the piano or just under the overhang where the keyboard is? If it's actually under the piano, can you cut up some cardboard and take some masking tape and just block that area off? If it includes other parts of the piano area, would it help your sanity (if not Thor's behavior) to put newspapers or puppy pads there so at least the cleanup is that much simpler? That might also work for the kid's closet, too, depending on where in the closet he poops.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:34 AM on February 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hyperthyroidism makes cats anxious, high heart rate, thirsty, high respiration, and eventually leads to heart, kidney problems and pancreatitis.

This is pretty much a cut and paste from my last response - We treat our cat with a Methimazole gel which is gently rubbed on the inside of her ear once a day and she's doing well on that dose. Much calmer.

I would test for hyperthyroidism and perhaps a second opinion from another vet.
posted by lucien at 9:37 AM on February 13, 2014

Have you thought about trying to train Thor to use the human toilet?! There are some hilarious vids on youtube and he's hanging out there anyway...
posted by tanktop at 11:44 AM on February 13, 2014

tanktop: I know Thor. Thor is a mostly sweet kitty, but Thor once got lost in an open-ended box. You know how there are some kitties who you just know are secretly geniuses plotting world domination? Thor is "Pinky" to their "Brain". I haven't seen Thor in several years, but I assume he has not become *smarter* as he slides from middle age into his serene dotage.

Toilet training may be overly ambitious in this circumstance.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:48 PM on February 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm training a cat to use the toilet right now. I would probably not try it with an older, arthritic cat, at least not without some kind of adaptation to make it easier for the cat to balance.
posted by amtho at 5:28 PM on February 15, 2014

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