Litter Box Issues

Cat Middening

Chris H. has a problem between a pair of outdoor cats.  Chris writes:

We have had Clyde (age 3) for three years and got Miss Kitty (age 2) two months ago. Both are outside kitties and well taken care of. They both have houses inside a shed, different things to play with, the run of the place, different food bowls in their areas, and each have a litter pan to use in their areas away from each other. The problem is that Clyde has started to poop in Miss Kitty’s house. Both cats are fixed. Why is he doing this and what can we do to stop it? Thank you!

Chris, any time there is a change in litter box habits, there is a cause.  Something has changed in Clyde's world and has made him react this way.  Our first guess is that the big change was the addition of Miss Kitty to the family, but it could be other things as well.  Think long and hard about any changes that might have affected Clyde.  Has his litter been switched?  Is something new being stored in his shed?  Has the shed been rearranged?  Are new people coming into his territory?  Are neighbor cats spraying in the area?  Has his bedding been changed?  While you consider these things, it would be wise to take Clyde in to the veterinarian for a checkup just to make sure there are no medical reasons for his behavior.

Cats generally cover their poop so as not to alert both predators and prey to their presence.  However, some cats mark their territory with their feces; a process called middening.  If Clyde is leaving his poop uncovered out in the open, he's trying to make himself feel more secure in his territory.  If he also poops where Miss Kitty's scent is the strongest - her bed - he may be trying to make it clear to her that the shed is all his and he doesn't want to share it.

We would be remiss if we didn't mention the fact that outdoor cats encounter other animals who may be a threat to them on a regular basis.  Keeping the cats indoors would definitely insure longer, less stressful lives for them both if they would tolerate the transition.  That said, we do have some suggestions to help you ease Clyde and Miss Kitty past this crisis.

The first step should be to replace any bedding in Miss Kitty's house and clean it with a good enzymatic cleaner.  Normal household products will not work against cat urine and feces smells.  Once the house is clean and Miss Kitty's bedding has been laundered or replaced, you should relocate both cats' houses outside the shed.  The further apart they are, the better.  This will give each cat a chance to establish his or her own territory.  


It's likely that the shed has become the point of conflict between the two cats.  While it's easy to blame Clyde because you see the evidence of his handiwork, don't forget that Miss Kitty could be leaving scent marks on his things as well.  The key to helping them to get along is to make sure they each have equal and separate sets of resources.  At present, the shed itself is a valued territory that may have become a point of contention between your two feline friends.  Cats usually choose to avoid conflict, and Clyde may have been doing so since you introduced Miss Kitty, but at a certain point he's decided to make his true feelings crystal clear.

Make sure that there's nothing objectionable about the litter box that Clyde uses.  It should be in an area where Clyde won't feel trapped and it should not be covered.  You can see our litter box and litter recommendations here.

There are a couple of additional things you can do to help.  One is to spray Clyde's bedding and house with a synthetic feline hormone like Feliway.  Clyde would have to be very stressed out to act as he has, so this could help ease those feelings, albeit temporarily.  


The second thing would be to check the shed inside and out for other feline markings.  If Clyde's territory has been challenged by another cat outside the family, he might react this way to make himself feel better.   You can see markings with an inexpensive black light flashlight.  Cat spray and urine will glow in the blacklight.  If you find markings, clean them with the enzymatic cleaner and that should also help ease Clyde's bad feelings.


In the end, it will be up to you to make sure each cat feels loved separately.  We often imagine the addition of a new cat will make our present pet happier, but that's not always the case.  Sometimes the new cat's presence complicates a simple situation and creates new boundary issues.  In many cases, the addition of a third cat can actually solve the problem IF that cat's personality is well chosen.  See this post for more on the subject.

Chris, clearly you and your family care for both cats and want to help them thrive.  We think you just need to look at their world through their eyes and you'll soon be able to solve their problem.  We wish you all the best!

My Cat Pees Standing Up!

Joan O. has a tortie named Lexi who has a strange habit.  Joan writes:

We have adopted a rescue cat. We were told that she is approximately 1 1/2 yrs. old. She is a very sweet-natured Tortie and although we’ve only had her about 3 months, we love her. However there is one thing very odd about her. She is definitely female (she had been spayed just a few days before we adopted her), but when she uses the litter box she digs in the litter, squats down and as soon as she starts to urinate, she stands up straight. We have somewhat solved this problem by converting a tote into her litter box. We cut a hole in the side and put the cover on securely. Although this works OK I am curious as to why she does this. I have had 3 other females (and 7 males) over the years and have never seen this problem before. She is the only cat (or pet) in the house now. Is this common? Or is there some medical reason for her to do this?

Joan, this is a great question because every time it comes up, the person asking thinks that their cat is the only one with this issue.  Let us assure you that Lexi is not alone.  Many cats, both male and female, exhibit similar behaviors.  Getting to the bottom of "why?" is the difficult part.

There are two schools of thought on this matter.  The most prevalent is that the cat is just odd and it's nothing to worry about once you figure out how to keep the waste off your walls and floor.  While this may very well be the case for many cats, it's worth examining the second possibility: that there's a real-world reason for the behavior.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could just ask Lexi if anything was bothering her and have her answer?  Well, in a way, you can do so by observing her very carefully.  There are several possible causes for this sort of behavior beyond the shrugging shoulders approach.  They are joint pain, urinary tract pain, and territorial conflicts.

Since you say that Lexi squats and then stands, it's possible that she has some joint pain in her hind legs or haunches.  If you handle her there, does she react?  Most cats don't like having their hind quarter touched, but if she hisses at you when you hold her and manipulate her rear legs, she may have arthritis.  While this malady is mostly associated with older cats, there are varieties that are caused by viruses or bacterial infections.  If you suspect that this is the case, you should take Lexi to your veterinarian and express your concerns.

While you're at the vet, you could also have them run a urine test just to rule out a urinary tract issue.  This is especially important if f Lexi's elimination habits have recently changed to this new behavior.  Bladder stones or a lower urinary tract infection can be very painful and this standing behavior could be her reaction to the pain.  An increase in grooming time spent cleaning her lower belly or genitals can also indicate discomfort in this area.  If she isn't on an all-wet food diet, she could develop these problems later on, so now's the time to make sure she's eating nothing but wet food.

Last, but not least, Lexi could be marking her territory.  Even though she's been spayed, her instincts are still intact.  If another cat has been spraying outside your home, Lexi may react and try to establish her own territory in response.  If you think this is the case, see this post for tips on cleaning the interloper's spray.

Joan, please don't be alarmed by this list as it's just a list of possibilities.  It's really up to you to take a closer look at Lexi's behavior and see if there's any indication that points toward any of the above.  Your litter box solution is definitely a workable one, so don't feel like it's an emergency that has to be figured out overnight.


Soiling Outside the Litter Box

Shirley L. wrote in with a quick comment that many other cat caregivers have made over the years.  Shirley writes about her cat, Tinker:

She had her bowel movement outside of her litter box.

Shirley, we assume you're asking why this happened and what you can do to help prevent Tinker from soiling outside her litter box in the future.  In most cases, there isn't a simple answer.  There can actually be several causes that, when combined, make Tinker choose not to use the litter box.  Many times these causes are related to change.  Cats dislike change in general, but they really hate it when their eating, sleeping, or litter areas are disturbed in some way.

Have you recently changed anything about the litter or the box?  Switching litters, moving the location of the box, buying a new litter box, cleaning the litter box area with a smelly cleaning product, increasing activity around the litter box area; any of these things can contribute to a distaste for using the box.  Cats are much more sensitive to new sights, sounds, and smells than humans are.  Visit the litter box area and imagine what Tinker experiences.  You may learn quickly what's bothering her.

Are there enough litter boxes for your cats?  Is there competition for the boxes?  You should always have one more box than you have cats and the boxes should not be visible from one another.  Cats use a sort of timeshare method of getting along.  They like to avoid confrontation when they can.  You can help by making sure Tinker doesn't feel cornered when using her preferred box.

Which brings up types of litter boxes.  You'll want to choose one that's open and easy to get in and out of.  Covered boxes are no good.  See this post for more detailed info on choosing a box and litter.

You also need to make sure that Tinker's box is kept clean.  If you're using clumping litter, you can remove deposits twice a day and do a thorough cleaning once a week.  If Tinker thinks the litter is too soiled to use, she'll definitely find somewhere else to go.

There's also the possibility that Tinker feels threatened by other cats, either in the household or outside.  Interloper cats will often spray outside where Tinker will be able to smell it.  That smell will definitely make her feel that her territory is threatened.  As a response, she may choose to leave her stink bomb out in the open to mark her territory.  See this post for more on making Tinker feel secure.

Last but not least, we mustn't forget that Tinker may be ailing in some way.  If she's a senior kitty, she may have joint pain and find it difficult to get in and out of her litter box.  She could also have an ailment that makes her less able to control her bladder and bowel movements.  It would definitely be a good time to take Tinker to the vet for a checkup just to make sure there's nothing wrong.

It's an extremely complicated issue, Shirley, but it's one that can almost always be solved.  We know you must love Tinker very much, so don't give up on her.  We're sure you can sort it out.



The Link Between Improper Urination & Security

Kate R has a problem with her cat, Arbus, who had to face an intruder not once, but twice.  Kate writes:

Arbus was, as usual, sleeping on my bed. A strange cat found his way through our cat door and explored the house. When he found Arbus, he beat her up, then sprayed the house on his way out. This happened once more before I remedied the situation. Arbus was trained to bathroom outside... No litter box. Since this incident she pees in the house during the night and when I am away. The marauding cat is gone... No more threat. What to do?

Kate, the problem is that Arbus no longer feels secure in your home, so peeing in the house is most likely her attempt to feel better by spreading her own scent around.  The physical tormentor may be gone, but Arbus still feels threatened because she can still smell the spray from the intruder cat.  Cats have a much stronger sense of smell than us humans, and they make a lot of decisions based on the scents around them.

First, you'll need to determine whether or not Arbus has any health issues that are contributing to this behavior.  For example, if she has a urinary tract infection, it may become difficult for her to hold it in.  Your veterinarian will be the only one who can make this call.  Since Arbus was "beaten up", it's probably a good idea to take her in for a physical checkup anyway.

We definitely believe that most pet cats should be indoor-only cats.  If Arbus continues to be allowed outside, the chances are good that the intruder cat will assault her again and that fight could result in serious injury or death.  In addition, not having a litter box means that you don't know her elimination habits.  Stool and urination consistency are good indicators of health and they should be monitored.

Once you've eliminated illness as the cause, you can move on to other solutions.  Whether you continue to allow Arbus to go outside or not, we suggest that you get an indoor litter box so that Arbus can have her urine scent present without soiling anything else.  Arbus will benefit from it and she'll be more comfortable in her own home.  Be careful to purchase a plain, open litter box and put it in an area where Arbus won't feel cornered.  For more about litter and litter box choices, see this post.

Next, you'll need to make sure you clean every surface that was sprayed by the interloper.  You can't always see or even smell where that was so you'll need to obtain a small black light.  The ultraviolet (UV) light will clearly expose the areas that you need to clean.  And don't stop indoors.  Oftentimes other cats will mark exterior doors, walls, and even windows that they can jump up to, and Arbus will smell those markings.  


To get rid of the odor completely, you'll need to wash it down with water and then use an enzymatic cleaner.  Be sure to choose one that doesn't contain any extra ingredients that might harm Arbus.  There are several of these sorts of cleaners on the market and most pet stores stock at least one.  Do not use ammonia or vinegar as they will not effectively remove the odor and they could actually set them so that you'll never get them out completely.


The last step will be to help calm Arbus via scents you provide.  Cats develop a communal smell between family members.  That's why they rub up against you and lick their coats after you've petted them.  They're creating their family's tribal scent.  Try leaving an old pair of dirty sweatpants on the bed for Arbus to sleep on.  Your scent will help assure her.  

You can also try an artificial cat pheromone like Feliway to calm her.  You can purchase it as a spray or a diffuser (think Glade Plugins).  We prefer the spray because you can use it as needed and you can focus on the areas where Arbus spends most of her time.  You will also want to be sure to spray it near the areas where she was attacked and anywhere the intruder sprayed.  Be sure to follow the directions on the package.


One last thing.  Never, ever punish a cat for anything, but especially for elimination problems.  Punishment only convinces a cat that you are no longer to be trusted.  They do not see the causal link between their behavior and the punishment.

Kate, you clearly care for Arbus.  We applaud your efforts to try and resolve her little problem.  With a little luck and a lot of love, you should have Arbus back to her old, confident self in no time.