Need remediation (phys & mental) for a severely pet-stained room
May 13, 2022 10:34 AM   Subscribe

I own two littermate cats. They are great, but they have completely destroyed the room in my house where their litterboxes are. I'm trying to figure out 1) what sort of flooring I should have installed, 2) how to find a contractor who won't shame me for the horribleness of the situation, and 3) advice for how to avoid the mess in the future. More inside.

I have two cats. They are littermates, and get along really well. They are wonderful, except when it comes to litterboxes. One will use it just fine; the other, to my knowledge, has never bothered. I've eliminated (lol) physical issues that might cause this. I haven't explored any emotional issues the cat might have, but he is very high strung and skittish, in spite of being raise from kittenhood in a quiet and loving environment. I haven't yelled at him ever, and respect his boundaries with regards to affection. I don't know if cat anti-anxiety meds are actually a thing, and if they can help with improper elimination issues.

In spite of rigorously keeping the litterboxes (three in this one room) clean, the skittish cat still pees and poops on the floor whenever he has to go. I've tried everything: puppy pads, litter that's supposed to attract cats, etc. The boxes are in a quiet part of the house that is almost never used. The room, however, is carpeted, and it's gotten so bad that the carpet is permanently discolored, and even the baseboards will have to be replaced, as the ammonia has warped the paint on them. Non-carpeted floors are definitely in the future. FWIW, in spite of this toxic scene, I do not otherwise live in squalor, and am a pretty tidy individual, which is great except it's made this situation even harder to deal with on an emotional level. Lots of guilt and shame. And because of that, I'm mortified at the thought of hiring a contractor to do the necessary work. I shouldn't care what a professional flooring person thinks about me or this mess, but I do, and I feel a ton of additional anxiety about subjecting them to the superfund site in my home.

So with that in mind:

1. Are there any strategies I haven't tried yet that can help a cat learn how to properly use the litterbox and not the floors? Are anti-anxiety meds for cats effective when it comes to litterbox behavior?

2. In terms of replacing the carpet with a non-absorbent material, do you have any recommendations that you'd swear by? Definitely must be waterproof, and while I intend on staying in this house for the foreseeable future, I would like it to look nice and add value to the home, so preferably not cheap-looking laminate or vinyl. At some point I hope to be able to allow guests into this room, as it's definitely part of the social area (not a laundry room or bathroom, for example).

3. How do I find a contractor who is willing to deal with this? It's definitely going to be carpet removal, probably replacing the subflooring, and replacing all the baseboards. I do not have the skills to do this myself, I don't personally know anyone who does, and even if I did, It would be too embarrassing for me to subject a friend to this work.

3a. How do I go through the extremely necessary process of getting the flooring replaced without feeling a ton of shame and embarrassment? I know I'm not the one peeing on the floors, of course, but it still feel like a huge failure as a cat parent. I am in therapy, and this is something I can work on there, but in terms of the other stuff I'm working on, it feels both too gross and less important than my bigger traumas.
posted by schrodinger's cod to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Watching intently because my two cats are the same. I’ve had as many as three CLEAN BOXES and only one of my two cats DEIGNS to use a box at all. I’ve turned to rubber mats covered overtop with 2 layers of puppy pads. Somehow, some ungodly way, Louise can still sometimes pee and it gets under a rug or mat and I have to pull whatever layers up to use Nature’S Miracle, followed by Lysol wet wipes.
Poops are less bad because although they FEEL spiteful, lol, they’re at least not as smelly or bad to clean. Cat pee is just the absolute most vile.

I hope we get more ideas.

I’ve also tried that cat attract stuff - did not work.
Oh and I’ve tried dust free, scent free, extra scented, normal scented, lightweight, normal weight… every type of litter. I’ve tried open boxes and closed boxes. It’s just … I have no more ideas
posted by Dressed to Kill at 10:43 AM on May 13

Here are some white lies to save some face with whoever you hire (who won’t care, but I get it: You don’t need the judgement, or the stress of anticipating judgement):

You have been caring for a sick cat (almost true: kitty is sick—sick of peeing in a box I guess)

The previous owners/tenants kept cats and you just discovered this issue
posted by kapers at 10:51 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]

As far as the self-judgement, keep reminding yourself that no one in history has forced a cat to do anything. Many owners would have abandoned such a cat but you continued to care for the cat and provide it a good home.
posted by kapers at 10:53 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]

As far as the flooring goes, Ceramic and porcelain tiles (well sealed obviously) are the closest you're going to get to water-proof.

Good luck, and you're a good person.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:10 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]

I would put down (well sealed) tile. And have you tried feliway?
posted by oceano at 11:11 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]

You could rip out and dispose of the existing carpet just to get the worst of it out of the way. It's really low skill, pretty much just pry up a corner with a (prybar, spoon, etc) then peel the carpet and pad up, you can cut it into narrower strips with a knife to make it more manageable to remove and roll them up. You could even tackle the embarrassment angle head on "yeah, one of my cats is incontinent, I didn't feel like I could ask you to deal with the carpet, so I took it out myself." Thus demonstrating that you aren't "too good" to deal with the mess, therefore the contractor shouldn't consider it beneath themselves either. (Contractors sometimes have to rehab places where bodies have decomposed, so anything you might present to them is going to be small change in comparison.)
A polished, poured concrete floor could be nice... it sounds industrial, but can be very stylish. It's a continuous surface that's sealed and polished, so I imagine it would be fairly good to clean up. Maybe some Mefites who have experience with pets + this type of flooring can chime in. Worst case, you'd have to have it resurfaced eventually.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 11:12 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]

It may look too much like vinyl but you could use a floor epoxy over a hard surface like plywood. Common in commercial kitchens and garages. It can be used to create patterns like black and white tiles or even faux marble.

Or hardwood topped with 3oz fibreglass and a clear epoxy. Then a poly top coat.
posted by Mitheral at 11:29 AM on May 13

I can’t help with questions one and two, but as for the future: is your cat only treating this one room as a litter box, or is this a problem in the whole house? I ask because if it is confined to this space, I wonder if the persistence of odor/pheromones in the carpet or wood might be reinforcing to the cat that the floor in this room is the correct spot to use, or if there is something else specific about the carpeting that makes it smell or feel like a good spot. (This was a problem I had with my cat who has chronic urinary tract irritation—it was a bad feedback loop, until we cleaned the spot extremely thoroughly and kept her isolated from it for awhile.) It is possible that replacing the carpet with a non-odor absorbing surface might help redirect your cat to the box all on its own.

Since you have eliminated physiological causes, I do think anti-anxiety medicine is a good avenue to pursue. My cat’s issues are physical, but we also give her a small sedative during flares because her distress definitely aggravates the problem.

Also, I think others’ suggestions for white lies are great if you need them, but also this kind of damage is a very common problem both for pet owners and for the professionals you will hire. You are not a failure as a person or as a cat owner, I promise.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 11:52 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]

The house I live in has roll lino floors in the kitchen and bathrooms, and it looks nice enough, but more importantly in this situation, I can clean it when my cat misses SO EASILY to like brand new, and I can use whatever strong cleaner I want to on it. I never have to scrub cat pee out of grout or worry about it leaking through, it's just contained and easy.

My advice would be, this is absolutely nice enough for company to see, but it's also cheap enough to rip out and replace with whatever you really want in the room once your cat is no longer causing issues in the space.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 12:16 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]

I'll let other people speak to flooring, but I will say I had a terrible couple of YEARS where my cats were improperly eliminating. They would use the boxes but also...use the couch. The bed. Once, I caught my girl cat just randomly PEEING ON A WALL. I ended up replacing multiple pieces of furniture and covering my couches with waterproof patio furniture covers all the time. It was hell. That said, now, my cats are (knock on wood) no longer eliminating in the wrong places except for the occasional miss, so there is hope. I also did put one of the cats on prozac for a bit which helped.

In my case, a major influencing factors (besides lingering scents/pheromones post marking that repeated the cycle) were:

1. Feral cats that were roaming outside of my apartment and triggering territorial behavior. I was in a first floor apartment at the time it started, and neighborhood cats would come onto my patio, which then sparked fights through the sliding glass door. Once I moved, there was an immediate improvement, though not 100% fix.
2. Attention. I am now in my 3rd housing situation after that first floor apartment that started this problem. I left there in 2016. The next two apartments both had some marking issues, though significantly less. When they occurred they were usually because I had been gone for a weekend or out too much every weeknight for a long stretch. Now in the 3rd space, me and my partner are home a ton thanks to remote work, and they have - knock on wood again - never eliminated in the wrong place except for an occasional accidental pee miss by the boxes. Literally not once. Even crazier, they now live with DOGS, which I was worried would trigger territorial marking. Nope. They like the company, even if they keep a distance.

Poke around for what your environmental triggers may be. I too tried all the litters and boxes. It wasn't the problem.
posted by amycup at 12:44 PM on May 13

I'd also suggest that the cat has learned to associate the litterbox with something bad in its past life, maybe pain from UTIs or crystals in its urine, or bad experiences (like, is the other cat territorial about the boxes?). Or there's something about the room it hates. Our older cat is (a) scared of the dark and (b) requires two exits from the litterbox room, and if the room is too dark, or there is only one exit, will instead pee on the floor of our master bathroom. He also has butt-rise syndrome, as our vet calls it, and tends to pee standing up, so it goes over the edge of the box (and will. not. use. enclosed or high-wall boxes).

So the litterbox now takes up an unreasonable amount of the floor of the spare bathroom, which has two doors, we have it set on a large rubber mat we can take outside and hose off, we tape puppy pads to the wall next to it, and there are tension rods with curtains at both doors to block the smell of the puppy pads right after he gets them, because it takes them a few minutes to fully absorb.

In the past, for a former elderly cat who liked to hang her butt over the edge of the box, we've put down a plastic washing machine tray, which is about 36" x 36", and lined it with puppy pads and placed the litterbox squarely in the middle. I suggest that if your cat will go on puppy pads, that might be a solution for him. Puppy pads are easily replaced.
posted by telophase at 12:49 PM on May 13

I'm a big fan of outdoor enclosed litterboxes. Basically, build or buy some sort of small shed or large dog house, put the litter box(es) inside. The kind where the lid hinges up are best for easy scooping. Connect the dog house to your house with a carpeted tunnel via a through-the-wall or sliding door extension cat door. The benefits are immense: zero smell in the house, almost zero tracked litter, etc.

Also, I think the cats may associate "outside" with "bathroom" which may help with behavioral issues?

Neighbor cats may fuss with it, so this works best if it's not on the ground floor or the outside area is fenced.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 1:02 PM on May 13

2. Most handypersons won't bat an eye, at worst they'll probably just charge more if they're not excited about taking the job, so get a few quotes. Get referrals from your realtor, neighbors, coworkers - you just have to say you're replacing flooring, not why. PVC baseboards exist and might be a good choice. I also like the idea of getting something inexpensive and okay - there is waterproof click-lock flooring that starts ~$2 sqft. I have a version that looks like tile in my bathrooms, and they do seem to be waterproof and clean up well - you can also get a few extras to replace any especially horrible areas later.
posted by momus_window at 2:15 PM on May 13

Install sheet vinyl floors. The cleanup is easier than tile, and as Sweetchrysanthemum said, it's affordable enough to replace when you no longer need a surface that's as easy to clean.
posted by metasarah at 4:51 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to flooring choices, but deeply sympathize and hope the following helps:

1. Re: shame, I gave contractors a 'I just moved here, gosh what a mess' line for quite some time after I moved to a place that had issues requiring contractor assistance. Well after I had fully moved in. Lie away, the prior owners neither know nor care.

2. I have helped to divest a house of multiple-decades-old carpet with a couple years' worth of cat pee, and...honestly, it is not that awful? It is not great! But I would do it again for good beer and pizza.

3. I also paid to have my own floors replaced in the wake of my incontinent cat. If the contractors had opinions, they did not share them. I had them take up the carpet and then give me a couple days to coat the plywood subfloor with Kilz before installing new floors. (I was optimistic: not carpet but also not totally waterproof.)

4. There is life after cat-pee carpet! The homes in #2 and #3 both had subsequent resident cats who did not pee outside litterboxes, and neither were permanenty smelly.
posted by mersen at 8:37 PM on May 13

I have porcelain tile floors and they made cleaning up after the foster mom and puppies I had for a while a breeze, and the mama had lots of potty issues. She even peed, I found out later, multiple times at the edge of the back door waterhog mat, which then ran underneath it and I could never get the stench out after it baked in, so had to throw the mat out—but cleaning the tile was easy peasy.

I also wondered—are the litter boxes next to each other? Apparently cats see boxes that are side by side as one big box and I wonder if he might be just not understanding that he can go in a separate box.

I think a contractor or handy person has probably seen some issues. Don’t be ashamed—it’s one of the hardest things about having pets. I’m sorry you’re dealing with it, though.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 1:28 AM on May 14

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