Choose Your Own Adventure – Litterbox Edition

On to our adventure…

Page 1: Your cat has gone outside of the litterbox!  Though it seems intentional, you understand that this is a straightforward conditioned response.  Your cat is either responding to an environmental stimulus or exhibiting a medical symptom.  (Reread the beginning of our adventure until you truly believe it – No malice is involved in pet behavior issues.  Ever.)

As you examine the first two clues more closely, the pee that is where it should not be, and your beloved cat, you notice…The pee is yellow and of a normal amount. Your cat is seemingly well and comfortable.

(Go to page 2.)

The pee is dilute/concentrated/bloody/a huge amount/a small dribble and/or your cat is lethargic/depressed/not eating well lately/drinking too much/not drinking enough.

(Go to page 9.)

Page 2: Next you examine the next clue – the litterbox.  It is right there!  How could…then you remember the beginning of our adventure…this is a straightforward conditioned response.  Your cat is either responding to an environmental stimulus or exhibiting a medical symptom.  No malice is involved in pet behavior issues.  Ever.

You clean the area and check the litterbox.

Go to page 3.

Page 3: The smell of cat pee is SO GROSS that it is tempting to use the strongest cleaner possible.  Be VERY careful if you use bleach to clean. The ammonia in urine (which is what gives it its smell) reacts with the chlorine in bleach to create chlorine gas, which is a very dangerous respiratory irritant that can even be fatal.  If you use bleach, FIRST make sure you have cleaned the area well enough that there is no smell, and then dilute the bleach 1:10 or more with water.  Rinse just as well after cleaning.  You do not want your cat’s first trip to the box to cause a reaction with any residual bleach.  The safest course is to avoid bleach all together, and use an enzyme based pet odor remover for extreme cleaning needs.

If the litterbox could use some attention, go to page 4.

If the litterbox is squeaky clean and has no waste in it, go to page 5.

Page 4: You notice that the box could use some attention.  With all that is going on lately, it has been almost impossible to scoop daily and change the litter completely weekly.  *sigh*  No time like the present!  And what a way to be reminded!  You remove all of the litter.  You rinse the box thoroughly and clean it with water and dish soap or dog/cat shampoo until no odor is present and fill the clean box with new litter.  If the odor persists, it may be time for a new litter box.

If the problem persists, go to page 5.

If your cat just needed a clean restroom, and now is back to his or her perfect self, go to page 10.

Page 5:  Make sure you have a litterbox on every level of the house and at least one more than the number of cats in the house.  Check that there is at least one covered box and at least one uncovered box.  Spy on your pets to check if another pet is bullying the offending cat out of using the box.    Though you are already using a scent-free, low dust litter, for the short term at least, switch the litter to Cat Attract.

Close rooms that have doors.  Clean areas that have been soiled with an enzyme-based pet odor remover.

Go to page 6.

Page 6:  After the area is dry, cover it with aluminum foil to discourage your cat from walking there.  Where possible, close off rooms in which your cat is urinating.

Bringing your house up to “Cat Code” and getting your cat to respond could take a good week or two.  During this time, make sure your cat IS urinating (ESPECIALLY if he is a male – a cat who cannot urinate is a medical emergency – go to page 9 – or better yet, stop reading, call your veterinary team and tell them you are on the way to the hospital!)

Assuming your cat is urinating, just not in the right place yet, watch for signs of discomfort, abnormal urine and excess drinking.  If you notice any of these, go to page 9.

If all of these litterbox changes have not resolved the issue, go to page 7.

If all of these litterbox changes have resolved the issue, have, go to page 10.

Page 7:  You have taken every reasonable step to make your house cat-bathroom accessible.

If you notice any abnormalities in your cat or his or her pee, go to page 9.

If your cat is still urinating normally and acting well, time to pull out all the stops and get kind of crazy.  Remember that this is short-term, and remember that it is worth it to get to the end of our adventure!  Place a shallow litter box filled with Cat Attract litter EVERYWHERE your cat is urinating-on the bed!  On the couch!  On the pile of laundry!  Place litterboxes around those boxes AND around the ones you want your cat to use!  Sometimes it takes up to a dozen litterboxes to pull off this stunt.

After a few days, remove any litterboxes your cat is not using.  Place them in any areas that you may have missed in the first round of “You’re going to use our house as a giant litterbox?  Well, I will make it one!”

We are trying to make using a box so much easier than not, that your cat starts using the box every time again.  Every few days, remove the boxes that have not been used, and place new boxes where your cat prefers to go.

After one or two weeks, you should be able to reduce the number of litterboxes back to a sane amount, and have your cat using the litter appropriately again.  Take note of the type of box your cat seems to prefer (covered or uncovered, deep or shallow) and use that kind of box.  Also note where your cat prefers to go, and have a litterbox as close to that area as possible.

If all is now well, go to page 10.

If accidents are still occurring, go to page 8.

Page 8: You have done everything possible to address your cat’s behavior.  Either your cat is dealing with an underlying medical issue, or this is a more serious behavior issue than it first appeared!  Go to page 9.

Page 9: Make an appointment to have your cat seen by your veterinary team as soon as possible.  Your veterinarian will most likely want to start with a complete history and physical exam.  The price of the exam can be obtained by phone when making the appointment, if that takes any of the scariness out of the picture.

Of course, what is done from there may vary*, but once your cat has been examined, the veterinary team will be able to present you with a treatment plan (including prices) which I think makes a big scary unknown problem at least manageable.  The next step may include bloodwork, urine tests, radiographs (x-rays) and sometimes ultrasound.  You now have a list of differentials (possible things that could be wrong) and the price to find out what is going on.

Remember-finding all normal results on physical exam and laboratory work is a GOOD outcome!  If you know that a problem is strictly behavioral, it can be safely treated as such without the fear that something more serious is going on.

If the problem is medical, make sure you understand all instructions completely.  Give any medication for the full course for which it is prescribed.  (“Of course!” you say.  “Does not always happen!” I say.)  Follow all dietary recommendations and follow up with all recheck exams and lab tests that are recommended.  Go to page 10!

*Yet another “Disclaimer or Warning or Whatever” Not every veterinary team will approach every problem identically.   Even the same team will treat different cats with different histories and issues as individuals!  As long as you know your team is trustworthy, do not worry if they approach your pet’s case in a different manner than what is presented here!

Page 10:  Everyone lived happily ever after.

~The End~

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2 Responses to “Choose Your Own Adventure – Litterbox Edition”

  1. CathyB says:

    Hmmm…and what about the cat that uses the litterbox every time, yet has terrible aim? Anything else besides buying a 3 ft. piece of rubber tool box liner to protect the floor with a residual pile on litter around the perimeter of the box?

  2. admin says:

    um, yeah, then you just have to contain as best you can! Extra catnip for trying? :)

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