I Hate The Yellow River
November 29, 2007 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Inappropriate cat pee issue.

I've read through this and other inappropriate peeing threads. I'm at my wit's end.

My 16 year old female cat has been peeing where she shouldn't. When her litter boxes were in the basement, it was not so much of an issue other than clean-up. She has a great deal of difficulty accessing the litter box there, so we moved one upstairs in a place that is more accessible, but it is a three season porch and we're on the fourth season.

She uses it, but it also pees on clothing, carrying bags, shoes, near where coats are hung up, and in the bathtub. Most likely the cause is a combination of age and jealousy as we have a 4 year old special needs child who just learned to walk and a 9 month old who is getting close to crawling.

We're really worried about the health issues of our kids and with two full-time working parents, it's getting really hard to keep up with cleaning up after her and trying to figure out where she's peed this time. In addition, the semi-isolated litter box on the three season porch is going to very soon burn a lot of fuel if we keep it accessible to her.

We've tried Feliway - did nothing but burn a hole in my monthly budget. We tried lavishing more praise on her. Upping the toy count. Introducing her to catnip (she was a catnip-free cat at that point). Vet checkup revealed no issues. If there were a better place for the litter boxes, believe me, they'd be there. I've only caught her once or twice and negative reinforcement clearly didn't help.

I feel like I have to choose between my kids health and the cat at this point, and the cost of failed solutions is mounting.

The vet as a final suggestion offered a behavioral consultation with Tufts and offered nothing else.

What do I do? From the other thread I'll try L-lysine and will investigate kitty prozac, but besides that?
posted by plinth to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
can you put the litterbox in a kitchen or bathroom cabinet (maybe one of the ones under the sink?), and cut a cathole too small for your kids to get into? or put the litterbox in a cube-style box or cabinet, or some variation of a fake planter, with the opening turned into a corner and placed so close to the wall that the kids can't get to that side of it? you could weight the box so the kids can't move it. otherwise, i'm stumped- that's a tough problem. good luck!
posted by twistofrhyme at 8:55 AM on November 29, 2007

Consider changing her litter. What helped my stubborn cat, after many expensive solutions, was Dr. Elsey's litter. It's expensive for litter...but not as expensive as replacing things the cat messes on.

We use the "senior cat litter" and the "cat attract" litter in two litterboxes that don't have covers (the cats apparently hate them), along with the "herbs" that seem to encourage kitties to stick to the litterboxes.

The booklet that comes with the litter suggests confining the cat to a room with the litterbox till she/he "gets it." That's what I did. It worked, fwiw.
posted by answergrape at 9:12 AM on November 29, 2007

Best answer: She may be getting old and senile, like my cat, who is also 16. After losing numerous possessions and trying everything you've tried, I caged her. She has one of those multi-level cat cages with shelves for food and sleeping, and the litterbox at the bottom. Part of the spider plant hangs inside so she can chew on it. I felt terribly guilty about it, like I was putting her in jail, but it doesn't seem to bother her a bit -- she sleeps about 20 hours a day anyway, so the only time she wants out is when she sees me sitting at my computer desk. She's decided that's when she gets lap time, so she whines and I take her out and she snoozes on my lap for a while and then I put her back. The cage was expensive but worth it.
posted by JanetLand at 9:22 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Did you change her litter before the troubles started? That could definitely cause it - cats get very particular about their litter.

At that age, negative reinforcement isn't going to do much; she's old and set in her ways. At most, it'll only stress her out more in what's clearly a stressful situation for her, and only make things worse.

What worked for my aging cat was to simply confine her into a room with her litter box, food, water, and whatever makes her comfy (specific blankets, toys, etc she's used to.). After she's been incident free for a couple days, you can let her out while you're home, keeping the litter box in the room she was confined to. Bathrooms are great for this, even if it means you have to pee with the cat around. At least the problem is contained. If, after she's shown improvement, has been let out, and goes back to messing in the house, back to the bathroom she goes. She'll eventually get it. Either that, or discover she actually prefers the bathroom.
posted by cgg at 9:25 AM on November 29, 2007

I always come into these threads to recommend Valium, which was the only thing that worked for my cat. It's not the first line of defense, but if you've been to the vet and tried adding boxes, changing litter brands, Feliway, etc, drugs can really help when nothing else does. My cat got 1mg twice a day of name-brand Valium, the vet called the prescription in to a local people pharmacy. I think it cost about $40 for a one-month course. That's all it took, but the vet said we could do a second or third month if necessary.

Have you thoroughly cleaned the areas where she's gone outside her box? If not, go around your house with a black light to find the spots and clean with an enzyme cleaner.

I'm also seconding twistofrhyme - you've got to find an accessible place for a litter box if she has trouble getting to the basement. I know you said there's not a better place for a box, but you might need to make some sacrifice location-wise. Is there any way to install a kitty door into your three-season room so you can mostly leave the door shut and minimize heating costs?
posted by robinpME at 9:34 AM on November 29, 2007

plinth, I have nothing to offer but sympathy, and thanks for the question because I've mean meaning to ask metafilter the same thing. I have a cat the same age with the same problem. Have tried the enzymatic cleaners, spray deterrents, you name it. They don't work in my experience, and besides, the cat can just go find another illicit place to pee.

I imagine these cats need retraining of some kind, but I'm not sure at their age that that's even possible. Sigh. [However, I'm newly hopeful after reading the ideas above.]

As a piggyback/followup--robinpME, can you explain more about what valium does to change cat behavior?
posted by torticat at 9:46 AM on November 29, 2007

Have the vets ruled out renal failure and chronic UTIs?
posted by bolognius maximus at 9:47 AM on November 29, 2007

why are you concerned about your kids' health? are they playing in the pee? if so, you should tell them not to...

but seriously, your cat is a senior citizen. we all have some incontinence issues when we get up there in years. she may not be doing it "purposely" she's just old.

if your vet has ruled out any medical issues, i suggest confining her to one room for a time until she learns that's where her box is, as people up thread have suggested. but don't isolate her and ignore her. that's just not nice.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:58 AM on November 29, 2007

At 16, her lifespan is limited, so when you think about a place for another litterbox, it's not going to be permanent. Dyes and additives in food can be irritating to the bladder, so make sure her food is free of them.

She's old and may have some arthritis, and is low on energy, so taking a trip to the litterbox might be just too much some of the time. Try to think of her as needing Assisted Living, and set up her home accordingly. This will make more sense if you have parents who are old.
posted by theora55 at 10:24 AM on November 29, 2007

I feel like I have to choose between my kids health and the cat at this point, and the cost of failed solutions is mounting.

I think you've answered your own question. If you've tried everything you can and this is a health issue, it's better to give the cat up to a shelter or make sure it's spayed and turn it into an outdoor cat.
posted by chips ahoy at 10:25 AM on November 29, 2007

When my (now-deceased) cat went blind, keeping the litterbox behind a baby gate in the basement (to keep the dog from harvesting crunchy kitty treats), we had to move the box to a bathroom upstairs and hope for the best.

True, I once caught the dog attempting to gather "fresh from the source" when kitty was in his box (gross, I know), but perhaps putting the litterbox in a bathroom and cutting a cat-sized hole in a baby gate is a better solution for you? It should stop the kids from getting in but give kitty ready access. Good luck!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:31 AM on November 29, 2007

Oh yeah - i should have mentioned that you don't just lock her in the bathroom and forget about her... that would be cruel. Go in and visit, obviously! That's what the bathroom works, as well - she gets visitors, and it's easy to spend an extra few minutes petting the cat when you're already in the same room.
posted by cgg at 10:31 AM on November 29, 2007

"...or make sure it's spayed and turn it into an outdoor cat."

God no! You cannot just throw a 16 year old cat outside if she's been an inside cat! At least the shelter will keep her inside and warm, even if at 16 she's past the age of being easily adoptable.
posted by cgg at 10:33 AM on November 29, 2007

Response by poster: why are you concerned about your kids' health? are they playing in the pee? if so, you should tell them not to...
4 year old with developmental delays, and only recently learned how to walk (see original question): No and redirection is only partially effective. It might work in two years. She hears great, but listening is another issue (which you can expect to see in another AskMe question).
The 9 month old will be crawling soon. No will not work with him.

Am I worried about my kids playing in pee? Yeah, wouldn't you? The issue is if my kids find the pee spot first. Yes, urine is sterile when it exits a body, but that doesn't last long.

As to moving the litter box: there is no viable option. It was in the downstairs bathroom. She'd pee in the tub, pee on the rubber mat I put under the box, and STILL pee other places in the house. Where the litter box is, she is using it for pooping and some peeing but then still pees in the tub and on shoes and so on, but she's not missing the litter box like she was in the bathroom. It can't go in the upstairs bathroom. We don't have cabinets that it could go in. We don't have a spare room for it.

Install a kitty door to the porch? Possible, but it's a nearly two century old door (original to the house) with a custom frame to fit it (I built the frame), so I really, really, really do not want to cut a hole in the door and am pretty sure that the frame won't take a modern door (the hinges look like they're the product of early industrial revolution manufacturing and are non-standard) without building a replacement door, which I assure you I can if I had the time, which I don't or had a carpenter do the work if I had the money and I don't.

Enzyme cleaner? I buy it by the gallon with a motorized sprayer.

She's using the same litter she's used for 16 years.

Confining to one room? Can't unless it's the basement or the three season porch.

The vet didn't see medical issues.

I know it looks like I'm shooting down suggestion after suggestion, but truly and honestly I appreciate the help. If nothing else, it's validating what I've tried or considered trying.

From what I've read in this list: maybe medication to affect her mood. Maybe a cage.

Again, it's more complicated than her simply missing or not using the box. She uses the box AND she frequently pees elsewhere.
posted by plinth at 10:37 AM on November 29, 2007

Again, it's more complicated than her simply missing or not using the box. She uses the box AND she frequently pees elsewhere.

Yeah. That's exactly what my cat did (the one that's now caged). Even now, with the cage, she will pee both in the box and just outside of it, necessitating the use of puppy training pads on the floor of the cage to make cleanup easier.
posted by JanetLand at 10:54 AM on November 29, 2007

Hey Torticat,

I'm not sure what exactly the Valium does. If I recall correctly, the vet said it would even out the anxiety or negative emotions that were causing her to pee in inappropriate places. In my case it was probably my new boyfriend in her territory, but I bet the OP's children's increasing mobility could do it to his cat. All the peeing in shoes and on clothes makes me think she's having some territory issues.

My cat seemed a little (hilariously) drugged for that month, but it didn't seem to bother her, and she stopped the peeing in the first few days of treatment. I think by the end of the month she was out of the habit and never started again.
posted by robinpME at 10:55 AM on November 29, 2007

Don't bother doing any more negative reinforcement. It does nothing useful, and can backfire quite badly.

Does she have only the one box? As theora55 said, a cat this old needs her environment to adapt to her growing physical limitations. She needs a box in every room she visits, as close to her usual hangouts as possible.

But if you're confident that the vet's exam has thoroughly ruled out physical causes including the most obvious one of aging, then this IS a behavioral issue. Tufts is fantastic resource; take the referral and see what they can do to help.

Even though this is the same litter as always, she's not the same cat as she always was. Her needs may have changed. Perhaps the old stuff has become irritating to her tush, or chafes her paws, or her nose has become more sensitive to its odor. So it'd be worthwhile to put out several extra boxes with different litter samples (if necessary, confine her to a room for several days with her sampler set). She may surprise you. Since she's showing some preference for soft surfaces like clothes and bags, I'd start by trying some of the softer litter substrates like recycled newsprint, wheat granules (Swheat), and corn (Worlds Best). The clays, sands, and crystals are much harsher.

If you ultimately find that you can't keep her and can't find a loving replacement home for her, please talk to your vet about whether to euthanize. Shelters are stressful environments for even young healthy cats; I can't imagine it being a happy way to spend one's twilight years. Depending on how you and the vet feel about it, perhaps it'd be kinder to let her final moments be spent curled up in the arms of the people she loves.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:09 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

What are you feeding her?
posted by Stubby the Cat at 10:07 AM on December 7, 2007

Response by poster: She's in a cage most of the day, out at night. I made the cage habitable by putting a melamine floor in it and adding scrap fleece for bedding. She uses the box in there. In the evening, I let her out to explore and the kids are usually heading to bed by then. It took a few days for her to get used to the cage, but now she has no objections and actually prefers to eat in there. Since the cage started, we've found no peed on items are areas.
posted by plinth at 7:18 PM on March 7, 2008

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