Feline flush: Litter Box 101
One of the most common problems you encounter as a vet nurse is that of the cat doing his business outside of the litter box. You would almost think the kitties are peeing and pooping in your handbag/bed/children’s play area just to piss ús off (pun intended). And sometimes by the time the cat’s owners confess these little accidents to the vet or behaviour specialist, they are already thinking about getting rid of the furry family member, because they feel the cat is either psychotic or just tries to get payback for an event that happened two years ago (read: a loooong time before the last time the cat had a meal, thus forgotten).
Or worse, the cat comes in with a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) so bad, he can either not pee at all or pees urine the colour of raspberries. Almost every time I can solve the big mystery by asking a few simple questions and giving a few recommendations, and all is well again in kitty litter box land (that is, when the cat is still relatively healthy and doesn’t need any medical attention for a UTI).
If I don’t already know the client and patient, the first question is, ‘how many cats there are in the household?’ If there are multiple felines in the house, I will ask how many litter boxes there are and how often they are getting scooped and cleaned entirely.
Horrifyingly, you often hear that litter boxes are emptied entirely once a week. No scooping in between and sometimes the same litter box is used by another cat. I am always in shock when I hear that and my standard reply to people who answer me this is: Okay, so how often do you flush your toilet then? Also only on Sunday? Whenever that lightbulb starts shining brightly, I know I’ve made an impression and I can go on with Litter Box 101.
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Cat Math: Number of cats +1
So, here’s the general rule of thumb of anything you have in your household for the service of your cat(s). Litter boxes, water dishes, scratching posts, playing boxes, etc., all have to be present in an amount of “number of cats + 1”.
Because cats áre jerks, they sometimes invoke a cold war by occupying a litter tray or water dish so the other just has to hold it in or die from thirst. This is why you need multiple of these things when you have multiple cats. Okay, but why the +1 for a single cat you ask? Well… If you are a person who owns (or is being owned by) a feline, you also know they are particularly picky. You buy them an expensive toy; they play with your head phones. You get her that bedazzled water dish; she drinks from the toilet bowl, preferably whilst flushing.
With litter trays, they like to poo on one and pee on the other. They also don’t like to pee on top of their own pee because that would just be gross. So if you are not at home 24/7 to scoop the lumps out of the box because you are, let’s say working your but off to pay for that bedazzled water dish your cat is never going to use, it’s safer to just have an extra litter box, than to come home and find your expensive Marc by Marc Jacobs handbag dripping from the warm liquid gold (and I’m not talking coffee here people) Prince Purr-a-Lot has left there for you.
Unboxing the box
And how to attire the royal throne? Well, normally you can buy these massive closed off boxes with a nice handy cat flap. Nowadays they even sell whole furniture pieces that can go over the box, “for the cat’s privacy”. Right. More like, for your privacy! A cat is happier with an open box, without a hood or a nasty flap. Just try to get your cat in a box of horror again after being pounced on by his brother after a nice long sit, because he A. didn’t know there was somebody waiting for him and B. there was no other way out if he would have known. I would just recommend to buy normal litter boxes, chuck out the hoods and put them in various rooms so all cats (or just your one cat) can mark its own territory and the boundaries are clearly defined. Don’t put the boxes in cupboards or behind the washing machine where nobody, even the cat, will find them.
I once had a cat who loved to use his open litter tray situated behind the dining room table. He had a bladder the size of a Danish Dog, I always thought it was funny to hear him pee with such resignation while I was eating my potatoes. I realise not everybody has such a strong stomach as I do, and I will not force you to put a box in the dining area, but it only shows how much cats value privacy (sarcasm) ...
The Nitty Gritty stuff
Furthermore, the litter itself is just a matter of trial and error. Some cats don’t mind big stones, but if you can imagine that felines are very sensitive on the soles of their feet (try it, tickle the hairs under the soles of their feet; It’s a good laugh!), you can also imagine that sharp stones or pressed pulp pebbles the size of a finger nail are not that comfortable to them. In general, cats love litter which is fine, unscented and comes in a huge layer so they can dig in it as much as they like.
After Kitty has amply covered up his trails and has made sure nobody will ever – EVER – find his treasure, you have to scoop out the wet spots and solids on a daily basis, preferably twice a day. Just think of it as manually flushing the cat’s toilet.
Speaking of unscented; Cats just hate strong smells. They might enjoy lying on your recently washed linen, or making a hammock of your boxers when you’re sitting on the toilet yourself, but they just absolutely hate perfumes! That’s why, whenever a cat is marking its territory on your sofa and you clean it with a flowery soap or cleaner, he is more likely to mark it again, as that smell is just disgusting – to him. Don’t even get me started about air fresheners around the litter boxes. Just make sure the box is clean all the time! So, whenever you clean the litter tray completely, it is recommended to use hot water and a perfume free detergent, as strong smelling detergents (especially citrusy ones) will only repel the cat.
What about cats who don’t use a litter box and go outside? I would still recommend having a back-up plan for them, i.e. having at least one litter tray in the house. Sometimes, the environment changes outside. There’s a new cat in the area who likes to pounce on your pooping purrrminator or your cat has another reason why peeing outside is just not as comfortable as it used to be (Read: Winter in the Netherlands or UK). How would you feel if your only option is to go to the outhouse, knowing you either be bit in the butt or freeze it off? Yes, you too would stay inside and find a nice soft handbag made of the finest Italian calf leather to do your business upon.
I once had a patient who was being accused of peeing in the house to make a statement, when it turned out it was the next-door neighbour’s cat who as making the statement, both inside and outside the house. The poor patient didn’t dare to go outside anymore so had to – after holding it up for a really long time- go on the door mat. Next to that SHE was also being accused of the puddles of pee being left on the wall on heights which clearly indicated that an uncastrated-male-cat had been keeping house. The poor thing (ánd her sister) finally found relief (literally) when this mystery was solved, the neighbour’s cat couldn’t come inside anymore and she got herself not one, but multiple litter boxes.
I could go on and on and on about this subject. For instance, what to do with an older cat who unintentionally makes mistakes, even when you strictly follow the guidelines. Or what to do after your cats has suffered from a UTI and refuses to use his litter tray, even if it is super clean? As long as I encounter cats with toiletry problems due to their owners’ –Loving I might add- ignorance, I will continue to preach the gospel of the gravel. The last word about pooper scoopers has not been spoken. Until then, here’s the most important stuff summed up.
If you have any questions related to this issue, just send me an email or leave a message on the Facebook page and I will answer them.
I like to add that the advice given above is in no way a safeguard to skip the visit to the vet. Always make sure that medical issues, which might be the reason for unwanted behaviour, such as peeing outside the litter box, are ruled out by a veterinary practitioner. Having said that, use above-mentioned advice as a general guideline to keep your kitty contented, as a preventive measure.