cats rejecting the litterbox
September 9, 2019 3:36 PM   Subscribe

We have two cats. For the past few months, one or both (we think both) of them have have been peeing and pooping outside of the litterbox and we’re slowly going insane. Help!

First, we took the cats to the vet about a month after this started, and the vet gave them both a clean bill of health. There is no reason to think this is a health issue, and every reason to think is a behavior issue though I have zero idea what the problem is.

Before this all started, we had two top-entry litterboxes; the cats used both litterboxes and very very rarely peed or pooped outside them. Out of nowhere, as far as we can tell, one of both of them started regularly both peeing and pooping outside the litterbox. At first it was usually in the middle of a bed, so we started shutting the bedroom doors. Now that they don’t have access to the beds, they will go on carpet or on any fabric (such as a blanket, shirt, bathmat, rug, etc) that’s been left on a hard floor. If there isn’t any fabric on the floor, they’ll just go right on the floor. The quantity of accidents make us suspect that it’s both cats, though we haven’t caught them in the act so can’t be 100% sure.

Steps we have taken:
- Added a third litterbox, right next to one of the areas where they like to poop. They frequently poop on the floor anyway, even if the litterbox is 100% clean.
- Made sure the litterboxes are always very clean, scooping multiple times a day if needed.
- Feliway diffusers on every floor of our house; at first it seemed like maybe this was helping, but now it definitely isn’t.
- Litterbox cat attractant in the litterboxes (again initially seemed to help, but now isn’t).
- We always clean with enzyme cleaners to make sure there isn’t a lingering pee/poop smell.

We have not changed brands of litter or cat food for a couple years, way way before this started. We have been living in the same house since way before this started. Cats are about seven years old - one boy, one girl, both spayed/neutered as young kittens.

Possibly related -
- This started around when we tried to potty train our kid, which led to some accidents. No idea if the cats smelled human pee and decided it was a free for all. Accidents are now very unusual.
- I am currently eight months pregnant, I hear some cats can sense this? We did not have this problem when I was pregnant with our first kid though.

Please help. We are desperate to get this to stop. I am all out of ideas.
posted by insectosaurus to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Our cat started peeing outside the litter box more often (also on fabric items left on the floor, in cardboard boxes, or on the litter mat that the litter box was ontop of) during two periods. Both of ours happened as a result of gradual changes we introduced, but I'll share just in case.

For the first, we had transitioned her to a top-entry litter box, which was she using successfully for several months. However, after a while, she started peeing outside the litter box more and more often. Once we gave her back her old style of litter box (just your standard one), she stopped peeing outside the box.

For the second, she had used pine litter for years. We switched to World's Best and a couple of other similar varieties for a couple of months, which was fine, but then we switched back to pine. After we switched back to pine, she had many incidents over the course of a couple months where she was peeing on the litter mat and other things on the ground.

I've heard that cats don't like covered litterboxes, so perhaps try switching up the style of litterbox (and perhaps make it bigger) as well as the style of litter? Maybe they've just gotten tired of it and no longer like it?
posted by emsuro at 4:27 PM on September 9, 2019

Another thought, make sure that you clean the areas where they have had incidents really well with enzyme cleaner, so they aren't attracted to keep going back there?
posted by emsuro at 4:32 PM on September 9, 2019

Adding to Emsuro,
you can buy small "blacklight" flashlights, kitty pee glows under black light. Then there are enzyme cleaners that destroy the last of it after you have cleaned, so no odor to come back to.
posted by rudd135 at 4:42 PM on September 9, 2019

Are they male or female? Male's can do marking behaviors, if stressed.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:33 PM on September 9, 2019

Dr. Elseys's cat attract litter works for me. I had two rescue cats and ended up with several boxes, and they used them. You know the rule to have one more box than you have cats, so maybe try four. Most pet stores have the little black lights to use to find pet that you can't see, and clean it up.
posted by chocolatetiara at 5:53 PM on September 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Have you watched the Jackson Galaxy tv show My Cat from Hell? Some of the framing is kind of "boogeda-boogeda will he be able to save the day" reality-tv-ish, but his info is pretty good. There are a bunch of clips on youtube showing him working with cats that have started peeing/pooping in the wrong places.

Offhand some things that can be issues, just based on the kind of things they have on the show:

- Litter texture on their feet -
Maybe they've somehow built an association with the current litter style and badness, so they'll do anything to avoid that texture on their feet. Solution: try other styles, if you're using clay try those pine pellets or another type. In extreme cases, can try using puppy pee-pads instead of litter for a while. I have a friend who's used one of those large rubber doormats that have a lip to contain water - it's gross that pee/poo is just kinda out there, but at least they're not wrecking the floor while they troubleshoot.

- Stepping into the litter box -
If they have to step over the edge of the box to get in, for a cat who has eg arthritis or similar, it can be painful and they'll avoid it. Solution: try a box with one cutout edge, or just cut a big entryway in the side of a regular box.

- Box location -
Maybe something about the litter box location either is actually bad -- eg, it makes them feel too exposed, or conversely feel too trapped, or it's in a space they don't like -- or they've developed a bad association with it for whatever reason. Solution: do some detective work to see if the current location has an obvious fixable issue, or try other locations. If they always want to go in a particular spot, put a box or pee pads there, even if it's the middle of the hallway. Then once you get them going in that box/on the pad, you'd very very gradually move it to a more workable spot. Also it's good to have two locations, so it's harder for one cat to prevent the other using a box.

- Territorial anxiety -
In this case, it's not about the box. Some weird thing has happened that's made them feel anxious and as if they don't "own" the space of your home in general. This could be a change in the household, like a favored space disappearing - eg if you're moving things around preparing for new baby, or toddler getting their own bed? - or a change of routine. If kiddo is starting to be more mobile, are the cats getting chased etc? Might think about whether they have good high-up escape routes, good spaces where they won't be hassled.
It could also be an external thing. Prime candidate: outdoor cats are coming around into the yard, near windows or where your cats can see them. Other possibilities, weird shadows, new cars or kids or dogs in the neighborhood, etc. Two main approaches here: [a] make it harder for the cat to encounter the scary thing, eg by putting up window blockers - even just cardboard or paper along the bottom edge of ground floor windows so it's harder for cat to look out. Or by repelling outside cats from the yard eg with a sprinkler. [b] For all of this, on the tv show he emphasizes helping the cat to rebuild confidence that they do own the territory -- getting the cat to play out in the open spaces, like the middle of the living room, apparently is big for this; giving them good places to leave their scent like scratching posts/pads; being sure they have a real share of your attention, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:51 PM on September 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh boy, this is basically my life. My cat has major anxiety about changes, and litterbox problems have arisen from any/all of the following:
-I went through a period of traveling frequently (environmental change/stress)
-The other cat became more food aggressive towards her when I tried to put them on a vet-recommended diet (stress)
-A feral cat started hanging around the outside of the house (stress)
-I moved furniture around (environmental change/stress)
-I used a rather strongly scented Glade plug-in (scent-related)
-added a rubber litter mat next to the box (the mat smelled like rubber and I suspect she also didn't like the texture)
-I started dating someone new (environmental change/stress)

First I took her to the vet to rule out any physical issues. Vet said many urinary tract issues can be caused by and/or exaccerbated via stress. Tried kitty Paxil for a while, but it made her really loopy and gave her terrible constipation. I didn't want to swap one issue for another.

I made some progress when I started to address sources of environmental change/stress & scents:
-removed access to all locations that I absolutely did not want cat pee on (in this case, closets, bedrooms, A/C ducts)
-purchased enzymatic cleaners and thoroughly cleaned all pee locations; added charcoal bags on top of locations that were particularly doused with urine
-bought a number of new, open-top litterboxes and placed them right next to or on top of inappropriate pee locations
-bought Dr. Elsey's cat attract litter -- this was a major success
-I also experimented with cat litter by adding different types of litter to different boxes and logging which boxes she tended to use. It turned out she preferred clay and crystal unscented litters the most. Probably due to texture and scent.
-scooped a million times a day, especially if cat #2 went (she sometimes would refuse to use a box if he went first; he wasn't great at covering his poo)
-I started traveling less
-Completely stopped buying scented candles/plug-ins and minimized use of scented cleaners
-Minimized changes in the home like rearranging furniture
-Attempted to reduce her interactions with the outdoor cat with curtains and no more feeding the strays
-she eventually got used to the boyfriend

She occasionally still has an accident, but usually that is because something in the environment changed, or because she perceives her box to be dirty. The only solution has been constant vigilence on keeping the boxes clean, and experimentation to figure out what bothers her and what doesn't. The best thing I can advise is be patient, forgiving, and treat it like an experiment -- log what is happening and hypothesize on why, and make minor adjustments until you come up with a solution that works. You'll find something eventually!
posted by tealcoffeecup at 8:20 PM on September 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

I also wonder if the cat/s are peeing/pooping on fabrics because those are softer than the litter they are using. For softer litters, I've had good luck with Arm and Hammer.
posted by tealcoffeecup at 8:23 PM on September 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Veterinarian Lisa Pierson - who runs the site CatInfo - has a page about litter box problems and 'inappropriate elimination'. She makes many of the points mentioned above - but also some others that could be worth looking at.
posted by rongorongo at 10:35 PM on September 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Are your cats declawed? That would change the situation.
posted by swerve at 5:41 PM on September 10, 2019

Response by poster: The cats have their claws - boy cat even has some extra ones! (He’s polydactyl.)

I appreciate all of the suggestions thus far, there are definitely some things we hadn’t thought of and will try. And of course I’m still reading and open to all ideas!
posted by insectosaurus at 6:01 PM on September 10, 2019

Response by poster: Update: We took the top off of one of the covered litter boxes, replaced one with a giant uncovered box, and added two more big-ish uncovered boxes, and (knock on wood) haven't had any issues for a while. I think that one of the cats was objecting to the covered boxes (the other still uses our remaining covered one) and one or both of the cats prefers a totally clean litter box every time they use it.

So now we have five litter boxes for two cats - it seems kind of excessive, but it's a million times better than the constant pee and poop!
posted by insectosaurus at 3:02 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

« Older Is a capstone project course similar to a...   |   A Physics Problem About Cooling Iced Tea Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.