Retreat, Regroup, and Go On: My Ongoing Battle to Eliminate Feline Inappropriate Elimination

What happens when there are setbacks as you try to deal with feline inappropriate elimination? How long will it take to get my cat to quit peeing out of the box? In this blog I talk about my ongoing war to deal with the issue and dealing with my first setback.

If we were in family therapy, Butterfly would be our identified patient who is exhibiting the symptoms of dysfunctional relationships through feline inappropriate elimination. I’ve had my first major retreat in the Me vs Cat Pee battle. And yes, it was me retreating. Last time I reported from the battle front, I was able to note steady, if modest success. The area most vulnerable near the shoe cubby had been scrubbed and treated, test boxes of litter set out for kitty choices, initial information about preferences noted, and a gradual movement of the boxes toward a destination out of traffic.  

My research has told me that cat boxes need to be located so there are at least two, preferably three escape routes. That way, if Butterfly is ambushed during an awkward moment by a non-identified family member (translation: Alistair or Luna), she has more than one way to run. Unfortunately, she is sometimes ambushed during an awkward moment.  

From Butterfly’s point of view this has to be not only grossly unfair–after all, we should all have our privacy respected–but she was here first. Here she is as the adorable little bit of gray fluff all huddled up next to a toy in her own warm bed. She was right at the center of attention where every cat belongs, right?

Now to the first retreat. I have just settled myself in my wingback chair for a quiet moment and cup of tea when I notice a spill on the edge of the carpet. Have I spilled my tea? Dang! It isn’t tea. I get the corner of the carpet blotted and sprayed with a deodorizing enzyme spray (the one that says “money back if”), reminding myself that most wars have some unsuccessful skirmishes. I’ve been lucky so far. Can’t expect luck to hold forever.

 In thinking back thorough where I’ve been, I realize that I have moved the litter boxes too quickly in hopes of having a new location established before leaving for a few days away. The goal is to have one box with preferred litter on each floor.  At the moment I have five boxes with that many combinations of litter. Lots of choice. My house isn’t that big. It feels like I’m stepping over a litter box at every turn. But it’s going to be worth it, it’s going to be worth it.  I tell myself, remembering that if you hear something often enough, you’re likely to think it’s true.

SO, retreat and regroup. One box goes back in traffic where it was. The other stays in the new location. I have to keep the cats calm (yeah, right, I’m telling myself, keep me calm, more like it). In three days, I’m going away for a long weekend, my first post-Covid vaccination visit with family. I don’t want to come back to wet carpets and a yellow swimming pool near the shoe cubby. 

Once the carpet spot is dry, I place a nice little lavender bouquet over the target spot. I figure it can sit there while I am away. But I want to introduce it before I leave so my three mischiefs are used to it. I also spray the floor by the shoe cubby with a mixture of rosemary and lavender and refresh the rosemary bouquets that were sitting there.  Now I’m stepping around cat boxes and rosemary and lavender bouquets.  But it’s going to be worth it. It’s going to be worth it.

All is quiet in the days leading up to my departure—a euphemism, of course, with three cats who don’t really like each other.  I step around the cat box in my path from the front door to the kitchen and the bouquets consoling myself with the thought that there is one good thing to being unable to have people over due to Covid restrictions.  

Meanwhile, I added a couple of new toys to keep everybody entertained while I’m away. One has an arial mouse that whirls around if its batted and holes where one can stick a paw (if one has paws) and bat at plastic balls. It looks like a sure winner.  

Butterfly takes a look and goes to her tissue box with the puff ball, plastic ball, yarn, sock, and ball with a bell inside, happily fishing them out. Kind of like kids choosing a wastebasket and hanger after you’ve just bought them a climbing toy.  Alistair gives the flying mouse a whack when he goes past.

Do I make the visit to family? You bet. It is wonderful to be able to hug my niece and nephew-in-law. I spend five days and return to discover there are no new targets. YAY! Maybe that enzyme “money back if it doesn’t work” spray really works.

But that hasn’t ended the war. More about that in another blog.

Is your cat in the top 4%?

Why do people abandon their cat? If your cat, like mine, has problems with Feline Inappropriate Elimination, your cat is part of the 4% with this problem. It’s the number one reason people abandon their cat. In this third in a series of blogs where I declare war on my cat’s FIE, I talk about cat litter boxes and litter. It’s tongue in cheek, but I’m serious about solving this problem.

This is Butterfly. We share a problem. My cat pees outside the box. I have to deal with it. Feline Inappropriate Elimination (FIE) is the number one reason cat owners abandon, relinquish, or euthanize their pet. If you share the problem, check with your veterinarian to be sure there isn’t an underlying medical issue. Our first problem with Butterfly was related to a bladder infection. Once treated, she returned to using the litter box. But given the all-clear from the vet last week, we’re pretty sure this round of FIE is a cat with anxiety issues.

One writer’s war on FIE goes on. Who knew this was part of a writer’s life? Concurrently with scrubbing the floor, using an enzyme destroyer, and getting some plants cats don’t like, I do a litter preference test. What kind of litter is best for cats? We’ve been using cat litter made from recycle newspaper since Butterfly was a kitten. I love it because it doesn’t leave a cloud of dust. And yes, there are pellets that sometimes get tracked out of the box, but I prefer sweeping those up to the choking clouds of dust raised by clay litters and those 99% dust free litters. Amazing how much dust 1% turns out to be.

Phase II of My War on FIE: From the Trenches “Are you keeping the litter box clean?” It’s one of the first questions asked when you address the problem of FIE–right after the, “Is there a medical problem.” Seems like one of those, “Well, duh!” questions. Apparently it isn’t. To kitty a box that isn’t routinely scooped is probably akin to a toilet that hasn’t been flushed. Just saying. 

So it’s time to do a cat litter preference test. Most sources I’ve consulted support a sandy material that may appeal to something deep and primal, since cats evolved from the African wild cat. It doesn’t appeal to me because of my deep and primal need to walk on sand at the beach, not in the house. But, given the limited choice between finding pools on the floor and sandy tracks, it’s a no brainer.

Another thing, harsh smells may drive a cat away. (Okay, they drive me away, too, especially the smell of cat urine on my carpets.) So how to clean the box? A weekly hot water and detergent scrub is sufficient for cleaning the litter box. Don’t use bleach. And, even though I think the boxes are clean, over time, plastic collects odors that I can’t smell.

New boxes, new litter trial. I’m on it. At the pet store, I pick up four new litter boxes. I study the litter options, finding a sandy litter that says, “no tracking, no clouding” on the packaging. Looks like it might fill the bill for cats and me. Have I found the best cat litter?

At check out, I wait behind a woman who is whining because there aren’t any birthday cakes left in the pet birthday section and it is her dog’s birthday. She’s going to have to face him with shallow explanations as to why he doesn’t have a cake. She thinks they ought to stock a better supply of party hats and streamers, too.  

Once I’m home, it’s time to set up the test. I figure it is like the old blind test of Pepsi vs Coke, except Butterfly isn’t going to consent to wearing a blindfold. In tray number 1: pee-pee pad, tray number 2:  the familiar recycled newspaper cat litter, and next in line, tray number 3: no tracking, clumping cat litter. The tension mounts. Which litter does my cat prefer?

The moment of truth. Butterfly sniffes all three boxes, climbs in to check the newspaper litter, uses it. Yay! Maybe it does matter that it’s in a new box. One victory doesn’t win the war, though. 

Getting your cat’s litter right is an important part of getting rid of cat pee outside the box–I keep reminding myself.

Butterfly may be the target cat, but the other two figure they are part of the experiment. Luna doesn’t seem to be all that particular and leaves a spot in all three—who knew she was that interested in equity? Alistair thinks anything as important as rating the litter box should belong to the Lion King. He gives five stars to the sand. I don’t actually see him in his personal moment, but I know it’s him because I follow the tracks he left. So much for trackless litter. He returns to the sand litter box both upstairs and downstairs, leaving tracks in both places. 

After a few days of making note, it comes down to keeping the familiar litter and disappointing Alistair, who really does love the sandy clumping litter. I hope he doesn’t express his disappointment by Feline Inappropriate Elimination!  

****** Important disclaimers. I’m muddling through this, hoping to solve the problem of cat pee outside the litter box without having to take Butterfly for cat behavioral therapy. I’ve been gratified to find some very helpful online resources. Check out these if you need more than tongue in cheek musings.