my ongoing old cat litter box dilemma

gibby2015November 11, 2011

I've posted previously about my frail, chronically ill, 17 year old cat and his inability to make it to the downstairs litter box. So I've now had one upstairs for awhile. When a leak damaged my wood floors I moved it into my only bathroom since it has a tile floor. When I couldn't take it any more - cat litter on my feet and the difficulty of actually using the small bathroom with a litter box in the middle of it - I moved it to my kitchen. Completely gross in my opinion but I don't have any other options that don't run the risk of damaged floors.

I clean the box constantly whenever I'm home - every time someone goes in it. The old cat uses it but has also pooped on various rugs and peed into my floor heat ducts. Earlier this week I stepped in cat poop on a rug in the kitchen right as I was about to leave for work. Last night he walked right up to the perfectly clean litter box and started peeing into the heat duct. I've had him to the vet and he did have some kind of kidney infection but that was cleared up a while back with antibiotics and he's actually doing much better than he was - eating well again and gaining weight. I've soaked every known pee or poop spot with simple solution to the extent I can without damaging the floor.

I feel like I've reached the end of my rope - again. Is it possible that old cats get dementia and just don't know where to go any more? I now have him confined to my downstairs guest bathroom. I feel so bad for him because he's NEVER been confined like this. He's always had free run of the house. But I just can't go on like this - living in what feels like a giant litter box that I'm afraid will smell like one for the next 15-20 years that I live here.

This is my 4th cat to live to this age and I've never had a situation like this. I really don't know what to do any more - whatever seems realistic for me seems like a bad deal for him.

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It sounds to me like your elderly cat may have some arthritis in his spine that is causing him difficulty or discomfort when trying to step over the high sides of a litterbox. You might try switching to a low-sided baking pan, instead, though that will get pretty messy with litter being scratched and tracked out of the box. Another option might be laying down puppy training pads in the areas where he relieves himself. That's not an ideal solution, of course, but it would protect your floors, and it would eliminate litter from being spread around your floors. Puppy pads are also easy to toss out and replace when soiled.

Confining an old cat to a bathroom away from his family is an unbearable unkindness, in my opinion. Better to euthanize the poor old guy than have him spend the last part of his life in miserable isolation. Surely he's earned better treatment than that over the last 17 years.


    Bookmark   November 12, 2011 at 1:30AM
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I've had him to the vet and he did have some kind of kidney infection but that was cleared up a while back with antibiotics

How long ago? He may have it again. This is not uncommon in old cats who have had it before.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2011 at 8:11AM
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I feel for you. Went through years of a cat peeing on everything, her issues were emotional, she was on valium for several yrs. After maybe 6 yrs of it I just couldn't take it anymore and had to put her down.

You're in a tough spot, Gibby. Maybe another visit to the vet is in order before you make further plans, for his sake and your peace of mind. Good luck.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2011 at 10:03AM
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Laurie - you have said one of the things I keep asking myself. Does this get to the point where I have to euthanize him over it? I have a hard time with that idea but I do think it seems like torture to keep him isolated.

A low sided box wouldn't work because he (and the other cats) would go over the edge. That even happens with the box I'm using - hence the floor damage.

It hasn't been that long since he had the infection. Though I guess that could be a problem I don't think so because he's eating so well. Before he would barely eat. Either way though if he's going to have chronic infection that causes him to go outside the box I have a delimma.

He's out this morning - under supervision - sleeping on the kitchen floor by the heat (duct hat blows out under the cabinets - not one he pees into).


    Bookmark   November 12, 2011 at 10:23AM
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jomuir - thank you for your thoughts - didn't see your message when I posted earlier. How did you handle that for six years and how did you deal with the damage/odor? I think I'm maybe going on about six months of this.

Yes, I was thinking I will talk to the vet and see what he has to say before I make any decisions.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2011 at 11:18AM
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I am going through something similar at the moment with my 17 year old cat. She has lots of heath issues and over the past 6 months or so has developed a lot of hind end weakness which doesn't allow her to squat in the pan properly anymore. She misses the pan as much as she hits it these days.

The solution we have for the moment is to use a slightly shallower pan, and put it in the guest bathtub. We also have "stairs" for her made out of plastic shoe boxes filled with rocks to weight them down- one inside and one outside, although recently, we have only had to use the outside step.

Once or twice a day, I wash down the tub. I've gotten it to a method where I sweep up any loose, dry litter with a small whisk broom, then fill the tub a little ways with soapy water- leaving the box in there as it is water tight. After about 30 minutes, I drain the tub and use towels to wipe up and dry the tub out, as well as the bottom of the litter box. I do worry about the bit of clay litter that goes down the drain, but we will cross that road when and if we come to it...

This has worked well for us, I'm not sure what I would do otherwise. Her urine is so foul smelling nowadays that with just 2 cats there were times I felt like the house must smell like a hoarder's house. Very frustrating.

And I'm also pretty sure that my old girl has dementia. She is not her former self. On a few occasions, we have had urine on the outside of the tub, making me think that she just didn't realize which side of the tub she was on when she let go. Fortunately the floor in there is tile, so it is still easy to clean. For now she is making it into the bathroom reliably. I'm not sure what we will do when and if she loses track of where the litter box is.

I hope you find a solution that works for your cat. It's a tough spot to be.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2011 at 11:45AM
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I've been having the same problems, but my cat is only 12. She has arthritis and can't squat, so she hangs outside the box sometimes. We started giving her a painkiller (tramadol), and that has helped a lot with her pain, so we could buy a high sided litter box. But she still can't properly clean herself. I clean her up every day with baby wipes, but I guess she decided I wasn't quick enough, so she found a way to do it herself. She drags herself across the carpet like a dog! Every morning we get up and find skid marks on the carpet. So far, she's been only doing it in one room, thankfully. My only option is to restrict her to the mud room at night, but she will howl and cry relentlessly if we do that. I don't have any answers for you, but just wanted to let you know that I feel your pain.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2011 at 9:37PM
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Well, thank you all for your thoughts. I'm glad to know I'm not alone with this kind of thing.

After 24 hours of having a feline long term care facility set up in my lower level bathroom I'm thinking maybe this could work for awhile. I had him in there last night but I let him out all day today and just took him down to the litter box regularly. He even got to go out in the screen porch today which he loves. That is kind of a bonus in Minnesota in November!!

When I took him down to the litter box he ended up going into his room to drink some water and then waited by his dish for food. I brought him upstairs to eat though as long as he didn't need to be confined.

I put him back in there tonight when I had to go out to the store. When I came back he was sleeping on the blanket that I put right next to the heat duct. He mostly sleeps by the heat so maybe he will come to think this is what he always does.

One day at a time I guess.....

    Bookmark   November 12, 2011 at 11:36PM
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We seem to be doing okay with this confinement arrangement. He is out of there most of the time on weekends as long as I'm home. He's out for a few hours most weekdays. He seems to be getting used to his little home in there. I'm so relieved not to have a litter box in my kitchen any more and not to have cat litter all over the house.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2011 at 7:32PM
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I'm glad to hear your old guy is adjusting. I'm still dealing with skid marks... Thinking of buying stock in carpet cleaner! She already ruined the carpet in here with several UTI's, so we will be replacing it. I wish she would willingly stay in the mud room.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2011 at 8:44PM
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Congratulations and thanks for trying things and working it out. I have a 20 yr old and besides loss of vision, she's lost hearing and may have some dementia as well. Sometimes just stares off into space and does a lot of yowling - not sure what that's about. If any of those things are happening with your old guy that could explain the litter box problems (Is his pupils widely dilated - my vet saw that and said well, yeah,she's pretty much blind.

In my case I get to step into piles of puke and the occasional pee puddle. Nice way to start the day!!!

If I get angry I quickly remind myself that she wont be here forever. She still sits next to my head purring all night as she's done the last 20 yrs.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2011 at 10:04PM
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Thanks for your support. He actually made his way down to the litter box twice on his own over the past two days. But I also saw him heading toward one of the places he has pee'd upstairs. When I picked him up to carry him down to the box he pee'd on me and on the carpet on the stairs - about the only place I have carpet. Second time that's happened. I think he gets so comfy sleeping on the bed that he gets up too late to get to the box in time. Poor guy. I'm off work for a week so he's getting a lot of quality time outside his room. Sometimes though he goes into his room on his own and sleeps in there. I have a nice basket and blanket by the heat duct.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2011 at 11:39PM
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He's continuing to do better. I don't keep him confined at night any more. I leave the door open to his room but he goes in and sleeps in his basket. He comes upstairs in the morning for breakfast. Today he's been out all day and. I don't think he's had any accidents. I did bring him downstairs a couple times but he's definitely also going down on his own.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2011 at 9:05PM
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This week he's completely out and about though at night he still goes into the bathroom and sleeps in the basket by the heat. He's upstairs in the morning though. One night the sweet little thing came and got up on the bed at 1am. So far I don't see (or smell) any evidence of not using the litter box. I've kept a couple doors closed to some rooms so I can more easily tell where he might have gone. I'm hopeful that he has recovered from this whole ordeal. I'm so happy he isn't confined any more - it made me sad.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2011 at 6:05PM
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I don't think any of you will see this, but bless you for having this post available in a google search!!It's july 2012 and my darling pfeffa is going to be 21 in Sept. This peeing out of the box had my dh and I so upset...and all of your 'reasons' and logic have made me feel so much better. We've been using pads outside of the litter box, now I have to find the most absorbant ones!! She is arthritic, partially deaf and blind...skinny..but she still gets on the bed (with our many props) and sleeps next to me. I think she has just developed a'cough' which they say might be trachea issue..but not as bad as it sounds. thank you for loving your cats so much to write here...

    Bookmark   July 28, 2012 at 2:17PM
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Do yourself a favor... buy the Breathe Free litter pads. They are awesome. Cats like them because it feels like sand - which they are naturally attracted to - and the eliminate litter box odor for up to a month!

Here is a link that might be useful: Breathe Free Litter Pad

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 1:45PM
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Wow - I was surprised to see this old post rise up to the top. As long as it's here I'll share an update. This old cat is still hanging in there but I think he is nearing his final days. He is getting more frail and eating less. He has some anemia and deteriorating kidneys but we have decided not to put him through more vet visits when he seems to be comfortable, peaceful and enjoying the heat registers and his basket by the heat duct.

I have only seen evidence of peeing outside the box a couple times since I last posted but I do keep him in the bathroom at night now. It got to the point where he would just go in there himself and curl up in his basket so I decided he kind of liked it. Also, this gives him a chance to have a bowl of food to himself all night. He eats just a little at a time so the other cats would always get his food if they weren't kept away from it.

This poor old guy has had a lot of health problems over the years and several times I didn't think he was going to make it. I think he truly is winding down now but it still warms my heart to see him curled up in his basket or on the heat registers or next to us on the sofa or next to the other cats on the bed. I would really like him to go peacefully on his own, at home, if possible if he isn't suffering.

Here's a recent picture of him enjoying one of his heat ducts.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 10:39PM
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murraysmom Zone 6 OH

Gibby, I love your boy!! And he must be at least 18 now.

I had an orange tabby named Rico and he made it to 19. I love those orange boys. They seem to be so sweet. I wish your boy a peaceful passing.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 9:35AM
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He is a handsome boy - my old girl is going on 22 and Ive had the same thoughts and considerations. I rigged up a platform over the tub of one of the bathrooms and put in some cushy bedding for her there plus a nice pet bed heating pad. I was just getting so... I hate to admit it but I angry at her half the time about the constant kitty litter she was tracking into my bed and even bits of poop and stuff. I felt guilty for only about two minutes because actually the room she's in now gets sun most of the day and its pleasant enough where I sit and read there sometimes. She's happy in there, comes out for a walk periodically but mostly sits in her bed in the sun like a granny in a rocking chair.
Even with the door open about 3/4 of the time she stays mostly in bed. I think Gib they just like having a place where they are warm and secure and they know its theirs. Looks to me like your taking good care of your old guy - all the best to you and him.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 11:55AM
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Murraysmom - he is indeed very sweet!!

    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 11:16PM
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Awww, that is so sweet! I think there is something special about a cat (or any pet) that lives that long. You've been together for so long....I'm glad that things are somehow working out, and hope that his last days are warm and pleasant!

    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 11:48PM
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I feel for you. Went through years of a cat peeing on everything, her issues were emotional, she was on valium for several yrs. After maybe 6 yrs of it I just couldn't take it anymore and had to put her down.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 9:52PM
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