Sh1tty Kitties
February 9, 2007 7:38 AM   Subscribe

Please help our kitties learn to use the litter box again.

We have an 8-year-old dog and a 7-year-old cat. In November we got a 3-month-old kitten. The introduction into the house went pretty smoothly. The cats play fight a bit, but generally tolerate each other (share food bowls and toys.) The older cat has been a bit withdrawn but has been given lots of extra cuddles and treats. We also moved them to one litter box (getting rid of the tiny kitten one.) Kitten sort of annoying the older cat, but no one really dominates.

THEN: a month ago we had an ant outbreak. This caused us to change the cats' feeding schedule. We used to leave out 2 bowls of dry food all day long and give the kitten 1/2 a can of wet food in the AM and PM. Now we give them a can of wet food to share in the AM and PM with a bit of dry food. The cats share one plate pretty well.

Ever since though, the kitten has been pooping on the floor about 5 feet from the litter box on the carpeted landing of the steps. This happens almost every day. The older cat has chosen the same spot to pee every few days (used to be on top of a cat toy there that has now been removed.)

We went back to 2 litter boxes and now are up to 3 (all next to each other). No change! HELP! My guess is that the older cat is somehow "dominating" the litter and kitten thinks she's not allowed to use the box. Maybe??
posted by k8t to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
And just for fun...

hanging out on the chair

posted by k8t at 7:51 AM on February 9, 2007

Eager to see answers, as this is happening to me too, but with just one cat. Originally I thought he was having trouble getting into and out of the steep litterbox (which had been fine for 1.5 years), but replacing it with one with lower sides doesn't seem to lure him back. Pees three feet away.

k8t, one thing that is making my life better in the meantime is outfitting the environs nearby the box with newpaper on top of plastic painter's drop-cloth.
posted by ontic at 8:02 AM on February 9, 2007

Not an answer I'm afraid but...

we have a very old cat (she is almost 23 years old and has lived in three countries) and now, more often than not, she misses the box... completely. We use Puppy Pee Pads around and under the box as alternative targets as they absorb the liquid like diapers and are easier to clean up.

The only other time we had a similar problem was after an encounter with feline urinary tract infection which (according to the vet) made peeing painful. She associated where the box was with the pain, so we had to move it to a new location and let her gradually get used to using it there. Hopefully this is not the situation you are in.
posted by 543DoublePlay at 8:22 AM on February 9, 2007

My parents once had a similar problem with their cats, who decided that a certain spot in the basement (in separate room from their litter boxes) was a good place to relieve themselves. They took the following steps:
  1. Shut the cats off from the spot in question. This may or may not be feasible for you, but putting a drop cloth or newspaper over the spot might help.
  2. Deodorize the crap out of it. (Literally.) My parents were told that odor cues are what's telling the cats it's "OK" to go to the bathroom there, and you need to eliminate them so that the cats can't smell them any more. This involved many, many applications of those deodorizing compounds you can get in pet stores. You might consider having those carpets professionally cleaned, or renting a carpet shampooer or some such.
  3. When you think that you've got things deodorized enough, let the cats back at the spot under strict supervision. If they seem to be about to piss or crap again, then repeat steps 1 and 2.
Good luck.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:23 AM on February 9, 2007

Upon posting: crap, I forgot about the possibility of UTIs, which can also cause behavioural changes of the type you mentioned. Make sure the kitties both have a clean bill of health before you go to the trouble of following my original advice.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:25 AM on February 9, 2007

Splendid cats you have there k8t!

Inappropriate defecation is usually a sign of an insecurity the animal has within its environment. With cats, it's not just a way of scent marking 'owned' space, it can be a successful shot at getting your attention/assistance in sorting out micro territorial disputes.

The feeding time change might have unsettled the daily cat routine enough to have caused this. Sometimes cats just enjoy trickle/interval feeding as much for activity as for hunger. Loss of the daytime dry food might have frustrated your older cat into lashing out at junior. A few cat toys around the place can help keep the youngster occupied if older puss is feeling a bit put upon.

It takes a while for the heirarchy to settle after a newcomer is introduced. Your new kitten is now 6 months old and in effect a rowdy, older teen. A new adult flexing adult muscles, consequently junior might be getting a few boundary lessons from your older cat and/or dog. How is the dog behaving during all of this? Is there any chance that the kitten is being hassled by the dog whilst using the litter box?

Try rigging up a few Feliway diffusers around your home too. One near the pooped on area would be a good idea.

Could you could place one litter tray in another secluded area to ensure there's always a 'private' place for one of the cats to use?

Try providing separate feeding bowls for both cats and ensure that they have space and quiet to eat.

You will need to thoroughly clean the carpet to get rid of association and odours. There'll be ones that the kitten can smell, even if you can't, if the spot has been used for a while. There are odour eliminators on the market, but I've found the most effective method is to make a strong solution of biological laundry powder, soak the area, keep it soaked for about 3 days, then give it a few cycles of a wet and dry machine. Whilst it dries, cover it with polythene.

As infuriating as it is, try and keep quiet and relaxed when you discover another pile of stink. Cats pick up very easily on our exclamations and actions when we are annoyed. This in turn can keep that kitty anxious enough to keep on dumping.

Good luck!
posted by Arqa at 8:47 AM on February 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Our cat has issues using her box, and unfortunately we haven't been able to correct it, so I always read these questions looking for new ideas. One thing I've heard suggested was putting alluminum foil in the trouble areas because the cat doesn't like walking on it.

Our cat (who is far from an ordinary cat) loved walking on the foil. The plus side, however, was we'd always know when she was there because we'd hear the foil. So while it didn't succeed at keeping her out of the area completely, it did prevent many peeings because we'd catch her in time to put her in her box.
posted by chndrcks at 8:59 AM on February 9, 2007

We went back to 2 litter boxes and now are up to 3 (all next to each other). No change!

I'd try putting one of those litter boxes in another room well away from the first box. I had a similar problem, the younger cat harassed the older cat at the box which lead to accidents because the older cat wanted some privacy while doing her thing. Adding a second box in another part of the house fixed the problem.

Plus, if you haven't done so already, soak the spots with enzymes to kill the smell cues the kitties are picking up on that say, "it's ok to pee here!"
posted by squeak at 9:30 AM on February 9, 2007

i'll third the idea of a possible UTI. we've had problems with our big male (but neutered) cat going out of the box sporadically, & each time it's turned that he's had a raging bladder infection that makes it painful for him, & he associates the litterbox with the pain, etc.

he will also poop outside of the box when someone hasn't fed him right at 450pm on the dot, b/c he's just kind of a jerk like that. it's a good thing he's so cute.
posted by oh really at 9:47 AM on February 9, 2007

Great ideas everyone! I'm putting the second box upstairs right now and cleaning the heck out of the area that they like to use! Keep 'em coming!
posted by k8t at 10:27 AM on February 9, 2007

1) Go to the vet. Now.

2) Separate the litter boxes. Having 3 next to each other is not any more pleasing to your cats than 1 box.

3) See if there's a litter that may be more comfortable/attractive to the kitties. Maybe have 2 with 1 kind of litter, and 1 with another, and see what is favored.

4) "Cleaning the heck out of" the area means nothing if you're not using the right tools. You need Nature's Miracle, which is expensive, and you need to use it liberally. You then need to evaluate if even that was able to do the trick. If there is any smell whatsoever left, your kitty will notice. You may need to lift up or even remove the carpeting and/or carpet padding to fix this problem - sorry for the bad news, but believe me - it's true.

5) Seriously - GO TO THE VET. Cats' natural instinct is to pee somewhere that it can be buried and hidden from potential predators. If they're not doing this, it means something's wrong.

6) If all else fails, you might also try Feliway, which is a cat pheremone spray that supposedly soothes them a bit and makes them more comfortable if stressed. If your problem is kitty-stress related, this could help.

Best of luck. Hope both kitties are healthy.
posted by twiggy at 11:16 AM on February 9, 2007

Just as you're putting more boxes down to show your cat(s) where to go, they're going somewhere else to show you they're purposely avoiding them. You can put as many boxes down as you wish, and they will find a way around them. They know where to go. One, or both, are upset and and/or sick and this is their way of letting you know. It may be that they don't like sharing or smelling each other's business—which is tough to correct because one has to assert dominance over one box, while the other has to figure out that the remaining box is theirs to use. Or they could be upset about something else—territorial stuff, attention, food routine change, ants, etc. But the bottom line is, this has nothing to do with their knowledge of how/where to go to the bathroom! They know what they're doing, they're trying to tell you something the only way they know how. Don't punish them, they will sense your displeasure anyway. Everybody's suggestions above sound great.

My cat started doing the same thing, when I caught her scratching the floor I unhappily walked up to her, she stared at me, meowed and looked at the box. Once I cleaned it out (and the floor) she went to use it. If you catch them while they're unhappy, they may find a way to show you what's wrong (ex., walking over to the food dish)
posted by iamkimiam at 11:32 AM on February 9, 2007

I have used the advice on Celia Haddon's site (found through her column in the Telegraph) with some success in a similar situation - though I think this is a difficult issue to sort in the long-term. Constant vigilance needed, and any new stress for the cat seems to re-start the problem.
posted by paduasoy at 12:30 PM on February 9, 2007

i have no insight about the pooping- i thank god my boy likes his litter- but i do have a hella ant problem in my house, so i'm an expert on that.

to keep the ants out of the cats' bowls, place the bowls on small plates of water. the ants can't cross the moat, and this means you can leave the food out all day.
posted by twistofrhyme at 5:07 PM on February 9, 2007

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