The Stinky Cat: Cats and Their Love/Hate Relationship With Their Litterboxes


Kim has become known as the "Tidy Cat Whisperer" for her unique gift of being able to help pet parents solve litterbox issues!

By Kim Butler

I know I really have no life now when I have decided to devote precious spare time to writing about litterboxes—or, rather, cats and their use and non-use of them.

The Tidy Cat Whisperer
Both in my little world of animal rescue and among friends, somehow I have acquired the not so glamorous reputation as the one who can solve litterbox issues. Call me the “Tidy Cat Whisperer.” It stems from having had several foster cats who arrived on my doorstep with some stinky baggage, specifically non-use of their bidets, and somehow I was able to get them “back in the box” and on their merry way. (Of course I had a few of my own cats who had the same issue, but why would I bother solving their problems when they have so graciously accommodated me and my own pile of crap, none of which I have bothered to fix?)

Anyway, back to the issue at hand. I get tons of e-mails about this very issue—from the general public, past adopters, friends—even the mailman. Just the other day, I was dismayed to learn that I would be needing a new heater. Quite a pricey expense. Needless to say, there will be NO Fancy Feast in this house for quite some time. So the heater guy and I get into a cat discussion, turns out his wife does TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release), and then he starts telling me about one of his cats who is a pee-er…and naturally I gave him some advice. (Hmmm, maybe I’ll get a discount on the heater?)

I am no expert by any means, and I always will refer people to specific products or professionals who may be better able to meet their needs if I think it’s warranted. I merely make suggestions that many times the average cat owner just may not have thought of themselves. By “average cat owner,” I am referring to a person who may have no more than four-five cats.  When you’re the Tidy Cat Whisperer like me, having 15-20 is a walk in the park….

Get Your Cat Examined
The first thing I always recommend is an exam by a licensed veterinarian to rule out any medical issues. In some cases the cat can have a serious medical problem which, once treated, will result in a happy, healthy cat who is back to using their box without further incident. A bladder infection, urinary tract infection or a kidney issue all are prime suspects and reasons why a cat might not be using the litterbox.

Barring a health problem, in most cases a cat does not use the litterbox for behavioral reasons, which is exactly the point where I find many pet parents—not veterinarians—to be the experts. The one “solution” that veterinarians often seem to prescribe is medication, specifically anti-depressants or behavioral modification drugs like Valium, Xanax and the like. Now there is a good and a bad side to this. The good side is that when I’ve had a bad day, I can simply pop one of Fluffy’s Xanax in my mouth and instantly go on a pleasant mind trip. The bad side? Fluffy turns into a zombie, who will be too spaced out to climb into your lap for those wonderful moments of interaction you love so much—and who may still continue not to use the litterbox. Drugs will do nothing to solve the problem (do I sound like Nancy Reagan here?). We need to dig deeper to get to the root of the problem. This is where the Tidy Cat Whisperer comes in…

The Problem With Change
Nothing rocks a cat’s world like change. Most people, even though we hate change, grudgingly come to accept it and we just move on. I was fascinated by cell phones, or “mobile phones” as they were known in the day when they first came out. They were HUGE—and they were only installed in your car, with an antenna as big as the NBC transmission tower. And then, just when I managed to scrape the $1,000 together to get one of those monstrosities, the cellular industry started making portable ones that you could carry with you…in a bag the size of your suitcase. Gradually they got smaller—oh wow this one will fit in my pocketbook!…and smaller-now I can wear it on my belt!…and now they are so miniscule they had to do away with the keypad because the little gnomes who make them couldn’t make them that small. So now they’re all touch screen….which is a change I hate because I can’t get any of the numbers right. When I want to order pizza, I am constantly dialing China. I am now on a first name basis with the main operator at the Peking Ballet. Forget text messaging, I have created my own language which would throw the Linguistics Department at NYU for a loop. But eventually I will get used to it, and move on.

Cats, however, just DESPISE change in their worlds. A change as simple as moving the furniture around can throw a cat into a panic. (“What? The sofa is now by the WINDOW? Oh my god how will I survive this? Where’s the Xanax?”) In most cases, moving the furniture is not enough to distract a cat away from its litterbox routine. There are some changes which can get a cat totally unglued—and many people have no idea they’re creating a feline meltdown by:

  • Doing renovations to their house—without consulting the cat
  • Having a baby (without first consulting the cat, of course)
  • Deciding their cat needed a playmate and thus bringing home a kitten (again, without consulting the cat or without making proper introductions)
  • Deciding that a dog would be a great addition—especially one that likes to chase the cat…

 There are more items which a cat can have major objections to, but these are the most common ones I hear about. Once I mention some of these, nine times out of ten the response I get will be “Oh, you know, Fluffy started her litterbox thing not long after we ripped out the kitchen and remodeled”…and then I know what’s upset her.

The next blog post will be how we get Fluffy back to using the litterbox—and some ways to make sure that Fluffy continues to have a happy relationship with her litterbox forever and ever.

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Filed under Pet Tips, Pet Tips - Cats

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