Ethel’s litter box issues

I see a lot of litter box set ups, and have scooped my fair share of litters. Sometimes I find cats I watch are not great a using the litter box. I offer suggestions I hope will be helpful, but I’m not an animal behaviourist. Generally, ideas I’ve suggested include switching to a low-sided litter box, so an elderly cat can more easily get in and out of the box. Take off the litter box cover. Or if there are two litter boxes next to each other, separating them, as those two side-by-side litter boxes are considered one litter box to the cats, and it is recommended to have one litter box per cat plus one (so, for two cats, that would mean 3 litter boxes). Or talking about trying a different litter, as there is a wide variety to choose from.

I’m facing my own litter box issues, as one of my cats is approaching 19. She was my  first cat, and I picked her up from an animal shelter as a mature, dignified little lady of 5-years, fourteen years ago. Ethel was originally with her litter mate, Lucy (that’s right – they were Lucy and Ethel). When I went to look at cats, the volunteer tried to get me to consider both cats, but I was living in a small studio apartment right out of college that officially did not allow pets. I was working four different jobs and didn’t think I could manage financially supporting two cats, or that I had enough space for one cat, let alone two. The pair had been at the shelter for about five months already, and they wanted to adopt them out together. Ethel was very calm when I visited with her, but I had no cat experience at all at that point. I didn’t know what I was looking for, and it wasn’t urgent to me to get a cat. So I left. A little while later, I got a call. Lucy had been adopted by herself, and quiet little Ethel was still at the shelter, crying for her. So I drove to the shelter and brought Ethel home.

Ethel has since slowed down considerably. She used to like sleeping on the bed with me (and thus waking me up in the morning), but doesn’t anymore due to arthritis. I hoped she could use the tall wooden Ikea step stool that I had gotten for our toddler, but she doesn’t like it. She spends about 23.5 hours per day curled up on her heated pet pillow, under my daughter’s chalkboard. She used to lie pressed against the baseboard heater, but then one day I noticed a burn on her side, and her fur still has yet to grow back there. Fortunately, she prefers the heated pillow.


Olaf is modeling the new litter box tray

A month or two ago, Ethel started to go right over the side of the litter box. So I got a new litter box that was a little bigger and had lower sides so she could get in an out more easily. I put a spare small mattress protector underneath it, and an old towel, both of which seemed to be constantly in the wash. I was trying to avoid using puppy training pads to line the floor, for environmental and financial reasons. But I don’t think the mattress protector and towel are a good option anymore, as cat urine can be difficult to remove from cloth, despite rinsing in vinegar to neutralize odour, and it’s happening too frequently to keep up. As a mom and a professional pet sitter, I already do quite a lot of laundry already.

She still continued to go over the litter box sides about 25% of the time. I tried something I read about regarding litter boxes for elderly cats, and got her a large plastic restaurant-style serving tray. You can’t get much lower-sided than that for a litter box. And it’s quite large, to give her room to turn around. I smoothed out a layer of litter, and observed.

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The restaurant-style tray. Floor underneath lined with puppy training pads.

Sadly, it’s not working. She’s still going right at the edges, or just over. And the litter isn’t absorbing the odour as well, since it’s a shallower layer. And I’m starting to use the puppy training pads to line the area to protect the hardwood floor.

I need to look at other options. The clumping wood shaving litter I use, Feline Fresh, is already one of the softest litters on the market. I might try getting a large plastic tote bin and cutting out an entrance on one side. So it’s low-sided entrance, but the litter will all be contained and the high sides might discourage going outside of the box. I haven’t caught her using the litter box as she’s using it in a while; it’s been suggested that I set up a motion-activated camera to observe how she’s using the litter box.

Suggestions would be appreciated! I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. She’s always been very good at using the litter box, and it seems to be a physical issue that’s causing her to go just outside.