Today, poor Apollo is getting a dental cleaning and his full yearly workup. It was due anyway, and it will make me feel better to know he is still doing well at 12 years old. (12? Wow, how time flies.) And while he is a little overglazed on meds, I’ll be setting the stage for his triumphant recovery from his marking behavior.
At the Western lecture, Dr. Yin referenced a study from Dr. Patricia Pryor that I remember them undertaking while I was in school. The study followed marking cats, both male and female over a period of several weeks. The owners were instructed to follow the same advice that one would if you were dealing with a litterbox aversion: namely, making the litterbox a pristine wonderland. That one change was enough to improve the marking behavior in a statistically significant number of cats- 76% of the females and 40% of the males. From the study:
Results suggest that male cats and cats from multicat households are more likely to exhibit urine marking behavior than females and cats from single-cat households. Results also suggest that attention to environmental and litter box hygiene can reduce marking frequency in cats, regardless of sex or household status of the cats, and may come close to resolving the marking problem in some cats.
So here’s the take home: before stuffing your cat full of antidepressants or dumping him at the shelter, try just cleaning the dang box. Even if the behavior is marking as opposed to inappropriate elimination.
Step One: Find the Pee.
This is my front entryway, otherwise known as the Crime Scene.
The table is usually up against that wall on the left. Apollo has a bad habit of marking on the portion of wall behind the table, as well as the front door.
The use of a blacklight can help tremendously in locating those areas of urine. It is horrifying, usually, to come upon the true extent of the fouling.
ALL ALONG THE DANG WALL.
Pooled on the baseboards.
If you find a suspicious mark on the furniture- could be pee, could be suntan lotion- shine a light on it.
OH, the humanity!! (Though truth be told, as you can tell Brody already ruined the table. This just added insult to injury.)
I will spare you the imagery of the front door. It was bad. And this is after cleaning multiple times.
Step 2: Clean the Pee.
How to do this is a point of much contention out in the pet care community. Some people swear by enzymatic cleaners, other insist you must steam clean. If you have urine on the carpet, you have the additional challenge of trying to get the urine out of not only the carpet but the carpet pad beneath. Good luck. That urine is sticky and pernicious.
There is one thing everyone agrees on: Do not under any circumstances use ammonia based cleaners. Do not clean pee with something that smells like pee.
This might seem obvious, but trust me, a lot of people forget, myself included. While I was careful to clean up the marked spots with various pet cleaners, when it came time for the regular mopping of the floor, I was obliviously pouring Mr. Clean in the bucket without a second thought.
I’ve since switched to old school vinegar and water in the rooms Apollo has marked. I normally follow up with an enzymatic cleaner:
Anti Icky-Poo is the one I usually recommend, this based on the recommendation of the behaviorists I worked with at Davis.
At Western, lecturer Gary Norsworthy wholeheartedly recommended the Zero Odor line, which works a little differently than the enzymatic cleaner. It has two selling points I am interesting in trying out:
- It dries quickly
- It doesn’t have an odor itself. (Some of those enzymatic cleaners smell almost as bad as what I’m trying to get rid of.)
I followed the vinegar-Zero Odor protocol immediately upon returning from the conference, and so far, so good.
Step 3: Creating the Potty Palace
Encouraging the cat to use the litterbox at all times consists of this key element: Make the potty area nicer than all the alternatives.
The concept of the ‘Litter Box Buffet’ and how to choose the best litter is a topic worthy of its own post, so I’ll save that whole rigmarole for another day. Since Apollo still uses the litter box just fine, I wasn’t overly concerned with trying out multiple litter versions, but I did go back to the basic litterbox rules:
- Number of litterboxes in the house should be N + 1 where N= number of cats. So for me, that means 2 litterboxes.
- Cleanliness: I dumped out all the litter and cleaned the box with dish soap before replacing with new litter. In addition to daily scooping, this step should take place once a month for clumping litters, and weekly for non-clumping types.
Just for the heck of it, I put Cat Attract litter in the second box. I’ll let you know if he had a major preference one way or the other.
So why the tinfoil? Am I doing another cooking segment? No, my friends, I think I traumatized you all enough with that. The tinfoil is part of the deterrent technique for the areas Apollo is marking. While he is recovering, and while my husband is still at work since I know he is going to HATE this, I am going to plaster the entryway with tinfoil. It will be annoying to Apollo, and to all of us too. Hopefully it will be so very annoying that he decides to retreat to his sanctuary, the delightful rest area of litter box amazingness I will have provided for him, and he will never, ever want to leave its soothing clutches.
The good news is, I will hopefully only need to do that tinfoil routine for a couple of weeks, during which I can pretend the front door is broken when the neighbor comes over and steer her off to the side door. I don’t need her telling the other neighbors I plastered the front hall with tinfoil like some delusional conspiracy theorist. She already thinks I’m a weirdo.
(hushed whisper) First, her house smelt like old cat pee.
Then, she lost her marbles over the cat eating a fish stick.
THEN, she wallpapered the foyer with Reynold’s wrap!
I really think someone should – oh wait here she comes- HELLO DARLING! Fancy a spot of tea? Oh please, at my house. I insist.
Deb Mendez says
Looks like a great plan. Paws crossed for Apollo!
Rwan Hardesty says
For cleaning all the yuck stuff that comes from dogs, cats, and baby, we’ve found Eco-88 works the best. No odor, dries quickly, cleans everything better than anything we’ve tried before. We buy it in large quantities now.
Teri and the cats of Curlz and Swirlz says
Informative post and I look forward to reading the next installment. I have ‘rehabbed’ a number of cats with good results, too. I get asked so often how I do it, that I have made a handout for where I work…a cat hospital 🙂 and I’d be more than happy to email it to you.
I have a question for you or anyone else using World’s Best Cat litter. Do you find it tracks more than clay clumping litters? I switched to this and love it because I don’t feel so bad about my cat ingesting it when she constantly grooms. But it seems like she tracks it ALL OVER the house, much worse than the litter we used before. And she always comes out of the box with the “dust” from it covering her legs. I’m sticking with World’s Best because of the way it’s made, but any suggestions on controling the mess are welcomed!
We purchased anti-icky poo to clean our basement carpets (i will agree- blacklight = useful but also HORRIFYING!).
While it seemed to do an ok job on the odor, i couldn’t really tell because it was slightly scented.
Also, after treatment the spots still fluoresced, so i’m not 100% convinced of it’s success. Maybe it works better on hard surfaces
So what do you do if you live in too small of a place to do N+1 litterboxes?! We honestly only have a good spot for one, so our three boys have to share. My husband is super-great about cleaning it daily, and at this point anyway *knock wood*, everyone uses the box as they should!
I have 3 cats and only space for 2 boxes. (Apartment dweller here!)
I clean the boxes twice a day (morning before I go to work, evening after dinner) and it seems to keep them happy.
Not There Yet says
Any advice for a 11 year old dog that decides to mark up the house? He has full access to the lovely backyard, but still likes to spray on my walls and couch…
Shelley @ Green Eggs and Hamlet says
This probably sounds weird, but I find this quite interesting, never having had my own cat (just dogs for me).