Deidre, the eldest of my three kittehs, is considered a senior (she’s 13).  Though she still looks and acts young most of the time, a recent discussion with a Facebook friend about litter box issues had me remembering some of the modifications that have helped her, and before her, my cat Butterscotch, who passed over the Rainbow Bridge several years ago.

Seen here with his cousin Salem - Butter is on the left, Salem on the right

Seen here with his cousin Salem – Butter is on the left, Salem on the right

So I decided to do a post about simple little modifications that may make life easier for your senior kittehs.  ^_^


The Litterbox

Ah yes, it’s our old friend the litterbox again!  Sometimes seniors may have a hard time climbing into a high-walled litterbox.  When we discovered that Butterscotch was having this issue, we got a paint roller tray (you know – like what you would find at Home Depot or Lowe’s when you are painting walls with a roller instead of a brush.  The tray that you would pour the paint in to refill your roller).  Think about it: a plastic tray that is very shallow on one end for easy entry, and gets deeper toward the back to keep the litter in.  It worked like a charm.  We also changed up his litter type.  What you change it to may depend on your kitty’s needs, but for Butter, who was declawed in the front and arthritic, we were recommended (by the vet, as I recall) to try Yesterday’s News (the recycled newspaper kind).  It’s not clumping (or at least, at the time they didn’t have a clumping version), but it was much easier on his paws.  The texture was smooth little rolled up pellets – kinda like rabbit food pellets.  Nothing sharp or small enough to wedge into his paws.  There are other senior-friendly varieties of litter (as previously mentioned, I tried CatAttract senior, which Maggie did appreciate, but it got the human veto for the amount of dust it kicked up.  As I am once again experimenting with litter types for entirely different reasons, I may try other silicone-type litters and see if they aren’t quite so dusty – reviews to come) which you may want to try, dependent on your kitties’ needs.

There are now litterboxes that have ramps going up into them, which may also be worth a try if your kitteh is having difficulties getting into the box.  Even if it doesn’t seem like they are in pain, if they are going outside the box, there’s usually a reason.  Of course take them to the vet to make sure they aren’t sick, but it could just be that it hurts!

The Furniture

Access is very important to a senior kitteh who may have a more difficult time jumping as high as they used to, or climbing onto unstable or awkward things.  Deidre can jump, but not very high; since my bed is on its highest setting so I can store things beneath it, this means when she makes the jump, she *just* makes it onto the corner edge of the mattress, and scrambles the rest of the way up.  So, I got her a scratcher that has, essentially, stairs, and put it next to the bed (*side note: that is not currently where it is thanks to the latest furniture arrangement, but that is soon to change again, thanks to the territory shift the kitties have recently undergone.  Yes, I rearrange furniture based on the territory arrangement to try and make peace.  It helps!).  I thought, that was the perfect way for her to climb up without stressing herself.  Funnily enough, she climbs up the stairs to curl up in the cup at the top of the scratcher, but has never used it as a stairstep to my bed.  Silly human!

Still though, there are lots of stairstep options, and not just in cat tree form.  There are regular, pet-sized stairs made out of all sorts of materials (cloth-covered foam, carpet-covered wood, even some with storage for toys and whatnot within the stairs!), or, of course, you could make your own.  There are also ramps (though if the issue is an arthritic senior, I would only go the ramp route if you can keep the angle gentle enough that they don’t have to claw their way up it).  If your senior has a favorite spot that they no longer frequent, try giving them a hand getting to it and see if they don’t return to it.


Check with your vet first on this one, of course, but Butter was very much helped by a supplement for his joints as he got older (and I recently asked the vet about starting Deidre on it, so perhaps she’ll have an easier time making that crazy bed-jump if she still chooses to not use the stair steps when they go back next to the bed).  There are lots of options here, too – chewables, capsules that you can open up and mix in canned food (that’s how Butterscotch took them), etc.

The Weight Issue

Finally, and I know this is a tough one as two of my three are overweight as well, but there is the weight issue.  Just like in humans, a kitteh carrying around extra weight can sometimes have a harder time moving around because of it – both in the jumping/running/climbing sense, and also in the grooming themselves sense.  Ironically, Deidre is the only one who is not overweight.  Between Yuan the food bully and Maggie who is just now learning that toys are fun and not evil, they BOTH clock in at 17 pounds (Deidre is a svelte 12.8 pounds in comparison).  And yes, they have all been on a diet.  But now we have been making a point to get more playtime in – both to tire out Mr. Man so he doesn’t take out his exuberance on his sisters, and also to give them all fun and exercise – and hopefully, that will help the weight come off.  Find the right toys that your kittehs respond to (Da Bird is often an agreed upon favorite) and make play a part of your day.  And if they need a diet, put them on a diet.  You may even need to change their food type.  Also to consider: Butterscotch had food allergies that we never realized when he was younger (he didn’t exhibit any symptoms like itching or rashes), but once we found out and started getting him special allergy food from the vet (with certain proteins, such as duck and venison), the weight finally came off.  I know Yuan is overweight because he’s a food bully (we’re working on that), and Maggie came to me overweight and uninterested in play (we’re also working on that), so I don’t think it’s an allergy issue for them.  But if your cat is active and eating a normal amount and STILL won’t lose weight, check with the vet to see if it might be allergies.  We couldn’t believe the difference once we changed Butter’s diet!

So there are a few ideas to help your senior kittehs.  If you have any others, please leave them in the comments below!

Litter boxes.  They can make or break a multi-cat household.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’ve struggled with inappropriate elimination from the kitties, and have tried several stratagems to remedy the situation.  Learn from my experience!

Type of Litter

The type of litter can make the difference on if your kitty uses the box or not.  When it was just Deidre and I, I tried experimenting with this a bit.  Thankfully, Deidre has always been very patient with me on the litter box front, and endured this silly human trial without ever going outside the box.  I had decided to try the “natural” litters on the market, after reading about how clay was mined.  First, we tried Feline Pine Scoop.  I, the human, loved it.  It smelled good, it covered up the icky smells well, and it was super lightweight (since I don’t drive, not having to heft a 40-pound bag on the bus was a definite perk in my book).  Deidre, however, wasn’t having it.  The reason it was so lightweight was because it had the consistency of hamster shavings (it is my understanding that the non-scoop Feline Pine does not have this problem, but I wanted a scoopable litter).  Poor Deids would perch three out of four paws on the edge of the box, only having the fourth in due to the laws of physics, and wouldn’t cover her stuff up when she was done (she ALWAYS covers her stuff when she’s done, but more on that later), because she just didn’t want to touch it.  So, cat veto.

Then I tried Swheat Scoop, which is made out of, of course, wheat.  Deidre liked this one just fine; in fact, I think she preferred it.  But it got the human veto because it made my apartment smell like a zoo (you know when you walk by an animal enclosure in the zoo and it’s that mix of hay on the floor and poop?  That was what it smelled like to me).  Next up was World’s Best Cat Litter, which is made out of corn.  To be honest, I can’t even remember which one of us vetoed that one, but after that I gave up and went back to Tidy Cats, which was what we had been using before.

Then along came Maggie.  In the beginning, poor Maggie was so stressed out by her alpha-cat sister, she’d go outside the box as an anxiety response.  So eventually I heard about, and tried, Cat Attract, which has attractant in it to lure the kitties to do their deeds in the box.  Viola!  Maggie would go in the box (but not cover her stuff up).  Deidre was fine with Cat Attract as well, and dutifully covered her business as she always had with the Tidy Cats.  I did for a short time (a few months) get Miss Maggie the Senior version of Cat Attract, because I had read it was often preferred by both overweight and declawed cats, and she is both (no, I did not declaw her; she came to me that way).  She actually did prefer it, and would cover her stuff when she was done – the ONLY litter she has ever done that with.  So it must have felt better on her paws.  I tried to endure it for that reason, but eventually I couldn’t take it anymore.  That stuff kicked up more dust than you can shake a stick at.  Cleaning the box would leave the whole room overtaken by a dust cloud.  Even opening the window before I started to try and air it out, I’d have to walk out every couple of minutes to breathe.  Just sitting there, it was great; cleaning it was awful.  So reluctantly, I gave it the human veto, and we went back to regular Cat Attract.  I’d rather deal with occasionally having to go in with the scoop and cover a particularly stinky specimen after Maggie than choke to death on silicone dust (the Senior variety is the “crystal” kind of litter; regular Cat Attract is clay).  I imagine an automated box might solve the cleaning problem with the dusty litter, but that’s another story.

Type of Box

I learned really quickly that, either due to her suspected claustrophobia or her fear of being ambushed, that Maggie would not go in the box if it was not open for her to see all around her.  I did not have a lidded box to begin with, but I did have one of those “privacy” screens, cat sized, like humans use to divide rooms or provide a private dressing area.  If the screen was in the way of her seeing out, she avoided the box.  So, the screen went.

Deidre likes to bat litter out of the box onto the carpet and roll around in it like a chicken in dust.  So that means I got the kind of boxes with additional raised sides that snap on and off in an attempt to curb her litter-depositing habit – that, and a litter mat under each box.  I learned really quickly that the type of litter mat made a difference: the kind with lots of nooks and crannies for the litter to disappear in?  Fabulous.  The kind that is a smooth surface but ridged?  Maggie likes to poop on that better than in the box.  Don’t ask me why, but she made a habit of using the mat as her pooping place and the box as her peeing place when I had a smooth mat underneath.  I threw that one out before too long, and replaced it with another nooks-and-crannies one, and the problem stopped.  Perhaps it’s because Maggie is the only one of the three kitties who does what a friend of mine calls “scooties” – she drags her butt on the carpet after she poops like it’s her personal toilet paper.  Usually, nothing shows up on the carpet, but every once in a while… yeah.  So maybe she liked the mat like many humans like quilted toilet paper.

After Yuan had joined us, and I had thrown out both old boxes and bought new ones (he came to me with a giardia infection; it was a b**ch and a half to get rid of, and even though I had been disinfecting the boxes, I decided to not chance it after round three of antibiotics and just tossed the old boxes altogether).  As I was contemplating where I could put a third box in my little one bedroom apartment (really, you should have one box per cat plus an extra, but in such a small space, I figure they can deal with each having their own box without the spare), my aunt offered me her old automatic litter box.  She had had two cats; one of them passed away, and was the only one that had used the automated box – her surviving cat wouldn’t touch it.  Not having to scoop every day?  Score!  So I tried it.

If you have never witnessed an automated box, this was the kind that has a little rake attached to it, and after five minutes or so after your cat has left the box (there’s a motion sensor), it pulls the rake across and deposits the specimens in a disposable container.

It was noisy as hell.  Maggie went in it once when it was new, and she hadn’t seen the rake in action yet; after she witnessed it disposing of her business all by itself with a flourish, she wouldn’t go in it again.  Deidre never even made the attempt, and this is the girl who gamely dealt with the hamster shavings-esque litter.  Yuan however, was cool with it.  Okay, as long as one of them used it, I was happy.  So, I put it in Yuan Territory.

Problem: Yuan is fairly notorious for making a stink now and again that makes me want to pick up my guitar for a rousing rendition of “Smelly Cat” by Phoebe on Friends.  Five minutes is not adequate time for the litter to absorb what it needs to absorb to cover that odor, and raking it out from beneath the litter and into a little box, covered or not, made the situation such that I wanted to stick a hazardous waste decal on the wall above the box.  I tried lining the little box with litter, but that was still under the raked specimens, not on top, so it didn’t do much good.  Likewise baking soda.  Add to this the fact that you have to keep the litter really shallow in order to not stall the rake, and there just wasn’t much smell control at all.  After several months, I gave up on the auto-box and bought another high-sided box to match the girls’ boxes.

Number of Boxes

As I’ve already said, the “rule” is, one box per cat plus a spare.  In my small space, I went with one box per cat without a spare.  For a really long time, they each had their own box, nobody shared, and everyone was happy.  As is ever the case though, territories are shifting again and now they are sharing.  Well, Yuan is using every box in the house.  Deidre is using two, I think, and Maggie is using one (unless she’s using the one that used to be just Yuan’s in stealth mode and I just haven’t caught her yet, which may be the case as she is hanging out in that room a lot as of late).  I understand not wanting to have litter boxes everywhere, but which would you rather have: a litter box in your living room or pee on your carpet?

When Accidents Happen

At varying times, depending on the territory shift and how well they were getting along (two steps forward, one step back), there have been accidents to varying degrees.  It hasn’t been litter box aversion since I got the Cat Attract so much as it’s been aggressor-cat-was-in-between-them-and-the-litter-box, and whoever had the accident didn’t want to cross their path.  At first, Maggie was the one having accidents.  When Maggie goes someplace inappropriate, it’s usually in the open.  For instance, for a while there, she was going just inside my front door.  THAT was a great smell to greet you as soon as you walked in.  When Deidre does it, it’s hidden away in a corner, under some furniture… someplace you won’t find it until and unless the smell is really strong.  Which she does her best to mask by covering it up with whatever’s available.  You got that right: she’s so good about covering up her business, even if she’s not in a litter box, she’ll drag something over to cover it up when she’s done.  At one point, this was my not-worn-too-often shoes that I kept stashed under a chair (yes, I had to throw some out when I discovered it).  At another, it was magazines that were stacked nearby.  You get the idea.

I have used many cleaners trying to deal with these areas, and here’s what I found:

Enzyme-based cleaners, my favorite being Nature’s Miracle (there’s specifically a cat urine version) work the best to get the smell out and deter them from re-using the area.  When Maggie was going in front of the front door, I tried all sorts of cleaners and remedies, and she’d always go right back to the same spot until I got the enzyme cleaner.  It’s kind of expensive and you’ll use a lot of it per spot, but it’s totally worth it.

Baking soda covers the smell pretty well but somehow would attract Maggie to pee on top of it when I’d leave it down for a while to soak up smells so I could vacuum it later.  I’d go back with the vacuum only to find yellow, caked-on baking soda.  I don’t recommend this (unless it doesn’t attract your kitty the way it does Maggie).

Using a steam cleaner is wonderful, especially if you get a pet-specific cleaning solution in there.  Holy cow you do not want to know what that dirty water smells like after you’ve cleaned a particularly soiled spot, but it’s better that than in your carpet!

And finally, buy yourself a black light!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve smelled something but couldn’t find the source until I whipped out the black light and found the glowing spot.  If you have litter box issues, black lights are worth their weight in gold.

Until I had the Kitteh Territorial Disputes like I’ve had with these three, I never knew how easy I had it when it came to the litter box.  I had kitties that would use the box even when it was dirty; would tolerate me experimenting with different litter; would share a box with other cats; would use a box with a lid and even inside an under-sink cabinet at my parents’ house.  When you’re used to that kind of tolerance on the cats’ part, it’s easy to become frustrated when things start to go awry.  Litter box issues are one of the main things that lead to cats being left at shelters, from what I’ve read.  But all is not lost!  Try these tips, change things around, give cats vertical space if it’s a territory issue, and don’t give up hope.  Litter box problems can be solved.  It may take some time, but it can happen.  Experiment to find what works – and don’t be afraid to leave a litter box smack in the middle of your living room (seriously, I’ve done it more than once).  Once they are using it there, you can gradually move it to a less-exhibitionist area.  Good luck!