Feline Care Issues
Cats are wonderful. Although there are times when I wish I didn't have four of them, I couldn't look at any one of my four cats and select one that I wish I didn't have. They're family, and while there may be times when you wish you didn't have so many kids around, it doesn't necessarily follow that you'd want to be rid of any of your children.
Cats are easier to live with than dogs, in my opinion, but they can, at times, be problematic. Some of them go way out of their way in order to be problematic.
I don't claim to be an expert in any of this stuff, but maybe I can help you with some of it.
Litter box issues
By way of disclosure, I should admit that I have a cat that craps in our bathtub sometimes, a problem that we're working harder at solving than Lydia is.
Often, these are problems that can be solved, however. Most cats prefer eliminating on a loose, grainy surface; and will immediately take to a litter box.
One of our cats, who we took in as a stray, entered a house for the first time as an adult; yet Bird needed only to be shown where the litter box was.
Lydia's twin sister, Cutie, will come in from outdoors, on a nice day, in order to use the litter box.
Training a cat to use a litter box is seldom a difficult issue. Buy a box, put it on the floor, fill it with cat litter; and, because cats prefer it, they'll use it. Usually it's just that easy. The problems that we run into usually come from a cat, like Lydia, who knows how to use a litter box, but chooses not to.
When your cat begins to prefer the carpet, laundry basket, or tub, your cat may not think that it's a problem, but you do; and if you're married, you likely have a couple of problems.
By taking a close look at your cat's environment, you might be able to identify factors that may have contributed to the problem. If you can do that, you can make changes to encourage your cat to once again use the litter box.
The box or the litter
The most common reasons for a cat to reject the use of a litter box are an aversion to the box, or its location.
Have you made any changes in the litter box itself? There are a lot choices available to us now, from standard boxes in various shapes and sizes, to ones that automatically rake the clumped litter into a container that can be discarded later, even to ones that flush, and clean themselves automatically. However pleased we might be with the new box, and the conveniences it offers us, your cat might have a problem with it. Most cats will make the transition from one litter box to another without difficulty, but some are not so forgiving.
Having watched them rake, or flush, automatically, your cat might reasonably be afraid of it, fearing that it might go into motion while she is in the box.
Some cats are disgusted with covered litter boxes, and may refuse to use them. Think of it; you prefer a covered box because it traps the odors inside, resulting in a better environment for you, while concentrating the odors inside the closed box that you expect your cat to voluntarily walk into. I'm not a fan of covered boxes, and couldn't respect any cat who'd use one.
Because cats are meticulously clean, and have a highly developed sense of smell, she may have a strong aversion to the smell or feel of a dirty litter box, and may seek a more pleasant place to eliminate her waste; which, of course, makes that place very unpleasant for everyone else.
Here's a tough one, particularly if you're living in a trailer with four cats, as we are right now. As they grow older, some cats will demand their own litter box. That's Lydia's problem, I'm sure. I have a large cage in my office that we had intended to use as a "time out" place, at a time when we were thinking that she was simply being hateful. What we found was that she would sometimes ask to go in there in order to use the litter box that no one but her had ever used; and when she was allowed to do that, I wouldn't have to take the scrubbing bubbles to the tub.
The experts will suggest at least one litter box for every cat in your household, but I'd like to see them try that one while living in a trailer with four cats. That might be difficult even in a normal sized house.
We have two bathrooms. The larger one is for us, while the smaller one, at the other end of the house, is for the cats, the door propped open just enough so that the cats can get in and out, while yet affording them some privacy. At this time, their bathroom is equipped with only one large litter box, which is emptied and changed regularly, but I might try a second one.
Other possible problems might be that your cat was startled while on the toilet, by a loud noise, another cat, or perhaps someone who didn't realize that the cat's toilet was occupied at the time.
Not unlike people, cats don't want to be bothered while they're using the litter box. This is an important ritual to them; the scratching, burying, sniffing, and turning around a hundred times before finally depositing their waste in just the right way. If, in the middle of all this, the dryer suddenly goes on, or someone, particularly someone they don't know, walks into the room, a dog, or a bunch of kids go running through, your cat might decide that she needs a new place for that sort of thing. If she doesn't feel safe in her litter box, she won't use it. It might help to screen in the location of the litter box, affording them some privacy.
A mistake that I made with Lydia, when she began to use the carpet as a litter box, before finally settling on the tub, was to view it as a behavior problem that could be fixed with punishment. Oh, I didn't beat her or anything like that; but I reverted to litter box training techniques that were appropriate for a small kitten who had never used a box before, but not for an adult cat who knew darned well how to use a litter box.
Rather than giving in, she became angry with me; and perhaps a little afraid of me, as well. She would hiss when I came into the room, and cringe when I picked her up, but she still refused to use the litter box. Without meaning to, I may have associated the litter box with punishment in her mind, so I'm okay with our recent truce, confident that we'll find a solution to this problem once we're able to move into a larger home once again.
Another mistake I made years ago, when Baby Girl was a young adult, came about when I decided to try plastic litter box liners. It seemed like a good idea, potentially, in that I could simply tie both ends of the plastic liner together and dispose of it all at one time. In practice, Baby Girl would poke holes in the the liner with her claws while going through her digging routine, rending the plastic liners all but useless.
Possibly a side effect, in her old age, Baby Girl would sometimes urinate on anything plastic that might by lying around, including glossy magazine covers, probably relating them to the platic pan liners that she had used in her youth.
Has anything else changed, such as the type of litter you're using? That new cat litter that you bought might truly live up to its promise of being odor free if your cat refuses to use it. You might try mixing it with the litter that she has grown accustomed to, increasing the proportions, until she has accepted the new litter.
Older cats might simply have developed problems getting into our out of the box; or climbing the stairs, if the cat boxes are all on the same level. With multiple cats of any age, it's a good idea to have litter boxes in more than one location, if your house is large enough to accommodate it.
A physical ailment might cause pain while your cat is eliminating waste; and, being a cat rather than a medical professional, she could associate that discomfort with the litter box and choose another place.
Possible problems include urinary tract infection, kidney failure, diabetes, and constipation. Particularly if your cat is an older one, or if she hasn't been to the veterinarian recently, this might be a good time for that.
Cats are smart, but they don't always see the big picture. If your cat has recently been declawed (which is cruel and unnecessary), she may associate her sore feet and bandages with the litter box, and refuse to use it. Shredded newspaper might be a good alternative to sand or clay, so that pieces of the litter won't get into the incisions. Or you can avoid the problem altogether by not declawing your cat.
Spayed or neutered
I'm not a fanatic over the concept of spaying and neutering your cat. If you can find, or provide, good homes for an occasional litter of kittens, you shouldn't feel pressured into having your cat altered.
Often, it is the right thing to do, however. As it relates to the litter box, a female cat in season, or a sexually frustrated male, may refuse to use the litter box, or even start spraying urine around the house.
Additionally, if prowling cats are outdoors, your indoor kitty may be aware of them and react to the stress by urinating in inappropriate places; or your indoor male might feel the need to mark his territory.
We've discussed changes in the litter box, its location, or even the litter itself; but a refusal to use the litter box may result from any changes around the house. However, insignificant it may seem to you, from your cat's perspective, changes can be stressful.
The lives of cats are easily disrupted, so consider carefully whether anything has changed around the house. A new cat, or a new dog, in the household are not at all minor considerations in your cat's world. There are ways to smooth the situation over, but we'll discuss those on another page.
Are there new people in the house? Have you had company, or are you expecting company? Cats notice the flurry of activity before someone comes to visit, and may not be at all used to children, new voices, or simply the extra activity around the house. If at all possible, try to arrange so that your cat has a private resting spot where she is not apt to be bothered.
Many years ago, as a nineteen year-old trying to make his way in Southern California, I was living with one cat in a very small garage that had been converted into a one-room apartment. Kitty sought desperately for a place where he could be alone. Finding none, I made a rule, one that I related to any guests who might visit me at home. The rule was that, when the cat was underneath the bookcase, he was invisible, and no one should bother, or even acknowledge him. That was his safe zone, and he used it often - for privacy, or to escape from the threat of punishment. If he were to knock a lamp over, he'd run to the bookcase and hide, right out in the open; and I would search, but be unable to find him there.
If a new arrival in your household has resulted in something that belongs to your cat being moved, such as her litter box, food, or sleeping area, she has a great deal to be upset about. Cats will generally adjust to changes, but only if they are made gradually; and try not to move everything at once.
Many cats are perfectly okay with having their routines broken, however.
When your cat has used something other than her litter box, treat the spots where she has messed with an enzyme odor remover. After cleaning, cover the spot with foil or waxed paper, as these are surfaces that cats aren't particularly fond of.
You might also try putting a food dish, or even an extra litter box, in that spot, if that's convenient, gradually moving the box or food back to its original place, moving it a foot or so each day. If you have multiple cats, it's best not to confuse the others because one of them has done wrong.
Other ideas that are suggested by some include the use of ultrasonic devices that emit an annoying noise that only cats can hear whenever your cat approaches the area, a scat-mat that gives the cat a jolt when she walks on it, or using mothballs to discourage her from going near the area. I don't know how safe these ideas are, though; especially the latter; since mothballs are associated with health risks in people, it's probably reasonable to assume that they may be unsafe for your cat.
Spray-on repellants are available, as a way of discouraging cats from certain areas, such as furniture or parts of the house that you'd rather they not go back to. I've had no success with the use of these products, and am not convinced that they pose no health risk to your cats.
Over-the-counter anti-anxiety medications are available, and are often recommended for these purposes, but I don't suggest them. Please consult a veterinarian before resorting to the use of medications with your cat, since her system is too delicate to tolerate many types of drugs.
Cat spraying is generally associated with the male of the species, but it can be a problem with female cats as well. A cat sprays by backing up to an object with his tail lifted vertically, spraying a fine mist of urine from beneath his tail.
Spraying is not a litter box problem, but an important form of non-verbal communication among cats, intended to establish and define boundaries. Generally, cats will spray as a way of marking their territory, warning others off.
Both males and females spray, although the males are the more likely offenders. Females are more likely to do this when there are no males living in the household, and when they have reason to feel threatened, or to believe that their territory is in danger. She may do this if she sees a strange cat outside; or, as has happened to us, a stray cat actually comes in the cat door, threatening the hierarchy that our own cats have established.
This can be a difficult problem to solve, yet one that you will be highly motivated to find a solution for. If your cat begins marking areas of the house, you may need to do some detective work.
If your cats are not spayed or neutered, that's the most common source of the problem, as sexual excitement often triggers this behavior. Sometimes, the sight of a passing cat of the opposite sex might be all that it takes to start this behavior. An unaltered cat in heat can be especially obnoxious, howling, trying to escape the house, and spraying the door in frustration.
Cats that are altered by six months of age will generally never develop this habit, while those who are spayed or neutered later in life may still spray, but typically do not.
As gross and disgusting as this will be, don't punish your cat. The cat is already stressed, so punishment will only exacerbate the problem. Rather, you should try to get to the root of the problem and correct it.
Something in your cat's environment has changed, and it is worrying your cat, so you should determine what it is. The problem might seem minor or inconsequential to you, but it's a major concern to your cat.
Changes of any kind to your cat's environment may trigger spraying, as your cat's way of expressing frustration, confusion, and stress. Some possibilities include:
- moving to a new home
- getting a new cat or dog
- getting a new human, such as a new baby or family member
- new furniture, or rearranging the furniture
- moving the litter box
- a dirty litter box
- changing litter brands
Where they spray
Typical areas that your cat might spray include the corners of vertical objects, such as a chair or table leg, the edge of a door, and just about anything that he or she can back up to and get a good aim.
Punishment will only add to the cat's stress, worsening the problem, so there's nothing you can do unless you catch him in the act. When you see your cat lining up to spray, a squirt of water from a water gun will interrupt him. If you don't say anything, he probably won't even connect the water with you, which will take it out of the realm of a punishment and serve as an aversion technique. Afterwards, you can distract him with some attention, or a playtime.
What to do
Clean the sprayed areas, and treat them with an odor remover. Don't use ammonia or bleach, as the odor of these products is similar to urine, which may simply encourage your cat to spray the same spot again.
Carpet shampoo has its greatest effect when the stain is fresh. Dry powders have an absorbent effect that can aid in removing stains and odors from upholstery, wood, linoleum, and concrete; but it's not very effective on carpets.
Mineral rock products can be used to absorb stain and odor molecules by exchanging electrically charged particles on any smooth surface, but is not as effective with carpets.
Enzyme products can be used to break down odor-causing compounds on carpets, concrete, wood, linoleum, or upholstery; while enzyme/bacteria kits are available to use enzymes to break down the odor-causing compounds, and then bacteria to eat them. This is effective on carpets, upholstery, concrete, wood, and linoleum.
After cleaning the spot, cover it with aluminum foil, since cats don't like the sound of urine hitting foil, and will usually leave that spot alone.
A cat which has developed a pronounced habit for spraying may need professional attention, however. Your veterinarian might prescribe hormones, or a mild tranquilizer to reduce stress. There are products available over-the-counter that are supposed to relieve stress and help solve the problem of furniture scratching as well. Spray the spot, not the cat.
Feline behavior specialists might be consulted to help with persistent problems. An expert can review the problems, and perhaps suggest some practical solutions that we haven't thought of. Your veterinarian might be able to give a referral.
Site of elimination
Elimination in various sites other than the litter box
Elimination near, but not in, the litter box; or perches on edge of litter box
Elimination always on the same materials
Elimination usually in one spot
Elimination usually on vertical surfaces, but occasionally on horizontal ones.
Relations between cats in the same house, or cats outside
Possible social conflicts between cats, leading to negative association, or inability to access litter box location
Unlikely to be related to social problems within the house
Unlikely to be related to social problems within the house
Cat restricted to one area due to social conflicts with other cats may lead to location preference
Often related to social conflicts within the house, or may also be related to cats outdoors
Use of the litter box
Cat never seen using the litter box
May use litter box for one type of elimination and not the other
May use litter box for one type of elimination and not the other
May use litter box some of the time
Usually continues to use the litter box
As they have aged, my cats are not scratching the furniture as much as they used to. As a bachelor, I never made much of an effort to prevent my cats from scratching my furniture, allowing them to grow into adults who had every reason to believe that this behavior was perfectly okay. When I married in 2OOO, it soon became clear that, while she was very tolerant of it, this behavior was not okay with my wife.
How do I communicate this change in the rules to my cats? Not very well, I'm afraid.
I have one piece of furniture, that I've had since I was in my early twenties, which generations of cats have had permission to gouge, and the face of it is clawed most of the way through.
Scratching is instinctive behavior for a cat. In fact, scratching is necessary for the good health of your cat, as it meets her psychological and physical needs like nothing else can. Even when there are no other cats in the house, your cat will stake out her territory.
Cats have scent glands in their feet, and they deposit this scent through scratching. Don't worry, it's far less obnoxious than spraying; you probably won't even be able to smell it, but other cats can. Very often, your cat will select your favorite chair, since it has your scent on it as well, marking your territory as hers. The visual evidence of the scratching also alerts other cats that this territory has been claimed.
Scratching also helps to remove old claw husks, and helps to exercise your cat's leg muscles, which might be of particular importance for indoor cats.
Cats aren't as easy to train as dogs, but it can be done, at least to some extent. Provide scratching posts, or other furniture that they are permitted to scratch, and then teach them to use them.
Outdoors, cats will rip and tear at coarse tree bark, fallen logs, and other rough surfaces; so your cat might view carpet or upholstery as an attractive alternative.
While living in Southern California, where I couldn't permit my cat to go outdoors, I provided him with a four-foot section of a log that I had picked up somewhere, and I used that for more than twenty years, moving it outdoors when we moved to Millinocket, where I could allow my cats to go outdoors sometimes.
If you don't want a log in your house, try some other things. Every cat is an individual, so some surfaces will appeal to one cat, but not another. Try a variety of cat furniture, including, but not necessarily limited to, sisal rope, corrugated cardboard, braided cloth, cotton rope, and strong carpet.
If you choose carpet, consider that the back of the carpet might work better than the front, and avoid berber or deep-looped styles, because your cat's claws can get caught, injuring her as she tries to free herself, often in panic. Also, it's best to use something that is substantially different than the carpet you have on your floors, to aid your cat in trying to figure out which carpet is okay and which is off-limits to scratching.
You can make, or buy, scratching posts in a variety of configurations. The post should be set solidly on a heavy base, so that it doesn't fall over as your cat scratches, jumps, or climbs on it. Locate the scratching post near couches, stairs, drapes, or other attractive scratching places, so that your cat can see that as an acceptable alternative.
Place one in any room that your cat is apt to spent a lot of time, and block her access to other rooms while you're training her to use the scratching posts, unless you're available to supervise her while she's in these rooms.
Consider enticing her to use the posts by luring her in with a chase toy, or rubbing the post with catnip, and by praising her when she scratches the post. It's also helpful to pet or play with her near the posts, since your cat is paarticularly likely to feel the need to scratch when she is feeling happy and content. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, your cat might also feel the need to scratch when she is nervous or stressed.
Scratching posts are tried and true; through the years, I have had many cats who have clearly loved them. However, I can't say the same for the four cats that I have now. My wife, in particular, is frustrated over this right now. She came home from Petco last week with a special treat for our cats: a carpet-covered scratching post with three ledges that the cats could lie on, hoping to entice them to use this rather than the ottoman that nearly always has a cat on it, if not another fighting for possession of it.
We placed in the window, assuming, wrongly it seems, that they would enjoy relaxing on one of the upper platforms while sunning themselves in the window.
It's been a week now, and I've seldom seen a cat go near it voluntarily, and then only after I had saturated it with catnip, or catnip spray; the objective being to get as much of the catnip scent on their fur as they can in as short a time as possible, so that they can get out of there before something terrible happens to them.
Cutie is absolutely afraid of it. When I set her on one of the platforms, she acts as if her feet are being burned by the carpet; but then, Cutie is afraid of catnip. Lydia stayed up there for perhaps a half an hour once after I had soaked it with catnip spray, and jumped onto the top ledge on her own once, staying for only a few moments.
Bird and Obadiah don't seem to be in the least interested in it as cat furniture, but will indulge in whatever catnip I might apply to it.
I'd bring the log back in, but they've been pretty much leaving the furniture alone for the past few years. We've had a few issues with the carpeting here, but only because that is new to them, as we didn't have carpeting in our Millinocket house.
If your cat has established favorite scratching locations, put a new post nearby, and try to distract her from the old spots with toys and treats.
There are a combination of things that you can do to make the old places less appealing. Try removing scent marks, and any visible scratches. There are products available that can help to remove odors from furniture and carpet. Cover any scratched areas that you can't repair with fabric to hide the damage, then spray the fabric with a pet repellent. Gouges in wood can be made invisible to your cat by using a matching stain.
You might also consider double-faced tape, available for this purpose, at most pet stores, applying it to the corners of the couch, which will make scratching these areas unpleasant for your cat.
Pay special attention to these areas in an effort to discourage your cat from returning to the same places, to refresh the visual evidence of scratching. As soon as you see your cat begin scratching a forbidden area, yell loudly to make her quit; or if you have it handy, a squirt of water from a water gun will be effective.
Once she is prevented from scratching the old place, then distract her and take her to the scratching post, speaking pleasantly to her. Don't bother trying to make him scratch the post, since any cat owner knows that a cat has no inborn desire to please or obey; you need to make her think it was her idea.
It has been said that the only way that you can teach a cat to perform a trick is if it's her idea, and that's pretty much true; but you can guide her toward making the right choices, using a happy tone of voice, and ensuring that only good things happen while she's at the approved scratching place.
When you can deter your cat from doing the wrong thing without her realizing that you are the source of her discomfort, your efforts will be more effective. Otherwise, she might get the idea that it's only wrong to scratch the furniture when you're watching, or that you're yelling at her only because you hate her. That's the tightrope that I walk all the time with Lydia.
There are techniques that you can use that will correct her without your shouldering all the blame. A small can with some pennies inside of it can be propped up on the arm of the chair, so that it is likely to fall when your cat scratches it, startling her, even if you're not even in the room. Others include the use of sticky tape and aluminum foil. Repellents are available for this purpose, but I've had more success with citrus, such as grapefruit or orange rinds, which my cats are afraid of.
You might consider clipping your cat's nails to remove the hook at the end, which might serve to make scratching less destructive, and therefore less rewarding to your cat. Your veterinarian or groomer can show you how to do this safely. Always use sharp clippers, made for that purpose, and clip the ends carefully. Be careful not to cut back so far as to cut the quick, since this will harm your cat.
If you've never before clipped your cat's nails, go slow, perhaps clipping only one nail a night, or alternating clipping with lots of rewards and affection. Lightly squeeze the toe to extend the nail before clipping.
I don't clip my cats, because we've come a long way toward solving this problem without doing so.
Plastic nail caps are available for indoor cats. I have never used these products, but they are said to last for six to eight weeks, and can be found in a variety of fun colors. The caps are dull at the end, so that scratching doesn't accomplish much.
Some people have resorted to declawing their cats, which is a surgical procedure requiring anesthesia and careful follow-up on your part. In this procedure, the ends of each toe, including the nail, is amputated. The cat's feet are then bandaged, and she does feel pain. A cat that has declawed must never go outdoors again, as they will be unable to defend themselves, or even to escape up a tree. This is a radical procedure, and one that should not be necessary.