Two newly adopted cats won't use their litter box

by Fred
(Baltimore, MD)

Hi! I adopted two 9 month old male kittens (brothers) just over 24 hours ago. I thought everything was going fine, but I'd never seen either one of them use the litter boxes, and never saw any evidence in the litter boxes as well.


I hadn't found any evidence of urination or defecation in the apartment until this evening when I came home after being out for about an hour to find my bedsheets SOAKED with urine! I've had cats numerous times in the past, and have never, ever had any problems with them not using their litter boxes.

Since this is a first for me, I am REALLY confused. I'm not angry with the poor little fellows, of course, just really frustrated because I have no idea what to do next or how to prevent this from happening again. PLEASE HELP!!!!!










My Thoughts:

First off, Fred, thank you for adopting these cats! Second, I'm sorry to hear about your experience. That sounds quite nasty!

I'm assuming that you adopted these kitties from a shelter or rescue, and that at nine months old, they've already been neutered, and that they checked out medically 100 percent at the veterinarian.

Sometimes we assume that cats that come from shelters are fully healthy, and that's not always the case, even if they've just been checked by the vet.

They're also very stressed. Younger cats deal with it better than adults, usually, but by the time a nine month old kitten comes home with you, they've usually been through a lot in their little lives.

Remember... cats hate change! Unless, of course, they choose to make the change. So, I should say that cats hate forced change. They need time to acclimate to their new environment, and time to decompress.

I'm further assuming that you have no other pets in the house, so this is not a reaction to that.

The first thing I do when I bring cats home is confine them to a small-ish space with a litter box on one end and food and water bowls on the other. They get lots of visits and attention, play time with toys, and I make sure they're eating, drinking, and using the litter box, which I keep squeaky clean.

Once they're used to that space and their litter box habits are in place (no "accidents"), then I let them out into a bigger space and let them explore. I observe them and give them attention and reassurrance as they learn about their new environment.

I keep the original litter box in place (they're used to it now so you don't want to disturb things) and possibly add a second one in the bigger space.

If litter box problems develop at this point, we go back to the smaller space and try again. If all is well, the cats get access to more and more of the house.

I keep old litter boxes in place temporarily, and as I set up the "permanent" ones I make sure they're fully aware of them by placing them in each box after setting them up. With two cats, I'd ultimately have three boxes, possibly more on a multi-level or large home.

This process can take several days or more than a week, depending upon circumstances. If there are other pets in the house this process gets complicated a bit as we need a quarantine period as well as slow introductions. Sometimes keeping your existing pets out of the room is the hardest part.

Is this approach overly cautious? Yes, but it ensures a low stress transition for the cats and proper box training.

Do some people bring a new cat home, give them the run of the place and have no problems? Sure, but you never know how a cat, or any animal, will behave. The way you introduce your cat to your home or to other pets can set the tone for the remainder of their lives.

The good news is, cats often imitate their siblings or house mates, so if one of the cats starts using the box regularly, the other may quickly follow. Yes, they truly are copy cats.

Does that help?

-Kurt

If anyone else has any ideas or has a better approach, let's hear it!

Comments for Two newly adopted cats won't use their litter box

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Apr 21, 2011
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Whatever Works!
by: Kurt (Admin)

I think at this point, Fred, whatever works is the best solution. Get things stabilized, and then you can decide later what to feed long term, make a slow transition, etc.

Assumption/maybe warning ahead...

Assuming it's only Tiger who has been throwing up, we're still not sure why. Is he allergic to something in the Blue Buffalo but not the Science Diet?

Are the Blue Buffalo pieces larger than the Science Diet? Cats don't really chew their food, they just chomp on it and down it goes. Maybe his little stomach can't handle it well.

Did he stop throwing up for 2 days and then start again for some other reason?

The answer to all of the above is I don't know and that's a lot of assumptions and maybes from where I sit. I think if you scale back to what you were doing for the 2 to 3 days that were "all clear" that's a good idea. If you want to go with 100 percent Science Diet I don't really see anything wrong with that since they're eating largely Science Diet already.

Apr 21, 2011
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Plan C
by: Fred

On second thought, why not just go back to a 100% dry Science Diet regimen? I bought the Blue Buffalo for two reasons: 1) Their commercials and their website comparing their brand to others; and 2) The good friend who accompanied me to the animal shelter also went pet supply shopping with me afterwards, and convinced me that Blue Buffalo was the only way to go! Decisions, decisions.

Apr 21, 2011
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Aaaaargh!!
by: Fred

So I cut the wet food in half, and added more of the Science Diet into the dry mixture, and it's been 2, maybe 3 days since either of them has thrown up. Then, this morning, minutes after putting out more dry food (measured, as opposed to topping off the bowl) I hear "Ack, ack." It was Tiger, the smaller of the two kittens, throwing up. This time, there was clearly a lot of undigested and half-digested pellets of dry food in the vomit. Just when I thought I/they were making progress! Guess I'll add more Science Diet back into the mix and see what happens....

Apr 19, 2011
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Sounds like a plan
by: Kurt (Admin)

You're welcome. Sounds like a plan, Fred. I think I would consider pulling back on the wet food and give them just a little and wean them off of it rather than go cold turkey.

Other than actual illness, one of them may be allergic to something in the food as well. Food allergies in cats are a topic of big discussion and some debate, but I think it's possible. Another possible is that one of them has a mighty hairball issue and just can't get it to come up.

Please let us know how it goes and I hope they (or he, if it's just one of them) gets fixed up quickly!

Apr 19, 2011
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Plan B
by: Fred

Hi Kurt,

Thanks for the Blue Buffalo link; that was very helpful. Woke up to another small pile of vomit this morning. Thinking about their eating habits, I'd say they graze the dry food, but gobble down the moist food together 'til they finish it off. So I'm gonna pull the bowl of dry food this morning and mix more of their original dry food in, and I'm thinking about stopping the moist food for now. I've been feeding them the moist food after I get home from work ever since I brought them home (a little over two weeks) so hopefully they haven't gotten TOO used to it by now! Regardless, I'm sure whichever one is throwing up ain't exactly having fun, so if either (or both) of these measures does the trick, I'll be happy and hopefully they'll be happy too!

Thanks again for your feedback. I'll keep you posted!

Fred

Apr 19, 2011
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Guidelines
by: Kurt (Admin)

Hi Fred,

It could very well be a binge thing, or just too quick a transition. I normally think of food transitions as a gradual process, similar to the way you'd change cat litter types so as not to upset the apple cart. Start out with 20 percent new and 80 percent of the old type, and then gradually change from there.

This page at Blue Buffalo's website has both feeding and transition guidelines where they recommend 25 percent new food as a starting point, and 1/4 - 1/2 cup of food per cat per day for cats under 10 pounds. Higher quality food should, in theory, be more dense nutrition-wise as well, as is kitten food compared to adult food.

If you're feeding other food or treats too, you have to also factor that in as well, based on those guidelines (which should be on the pouch or the can or check the website).

The general rule is that every cat is different, though, so these guidelines are just that... a guide. You should check your cats regularly for healthy weight. If they're getting fat, cut back on quantity, and if they're losing weight and becoming too thin, give them more.

I think it would be hard for active kittens, especially two of them keeping each other occupied to become fat. They usually go through periods where they eat like pigs and sleep a lot (more) and then get visibly bigger in a short time. It's quite amazing how fast they can grow.

BTW, it's typically good to expose young cats to a lot different types of food (using gradual changes of course) so that if a diet change becomes necessary later in life, you've increased the chances that they'll more easily accept the change.

Some cats get stuck on a brand or type of food, and then either due to illness or economics, that food isn't available anymore. It may be really hard to get them to switch at that point. I believe it's also good to switch off for nutritional variety as well.

One thing at a time, though, and let's see if the stomach upset goes away before getting fancy.

Apr 18, 2011
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Okay, making some changes
by: Anonymous

Thanks (again) for your advice. I'm making the following change immediately: instead of topping off their bowl with the 50/50 mixture whenever it's only half empty, I'm going to fill it with one cup of the already combined 50/50 mixture, along with a 1/4 cup of of the Science Diet they had been eating. I'm not quite sure what the correct amount of dry food is for two 9 month old kittens is, but that's what my starting point is. That, at least, is a start. As for their water consumption, they seem to drink a lot of water. Then, again, I'm only comparing that to my previous five year old cat, who didn't seem to drink hardly any water.

I'm not a huge fan of Science Diet as the kitten food's first ingredient is chicken by-product meal (whatever the heck that is), but if it wasn't making them sick, then maybe I should stick with it? On the other hand, maybe it IS a case of binging; and since I kept filling up the bowl, how could I have kept track of how much they were eating (or over-eating)?

Oh well, I'm keeping my fingers crossed and will keep you posted! Thanks, again, for your kind advice.

Apr 18, 2011
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Possibly Diet
by: Kurt (Admin)

Hi Fred,

First off, no problem about the delayed reply. I'm glad you got your litter box problem sorted out! Precious Cat doesn't always work, but when it does, good things happen!

Now for the vomiting. I'm not a vet, so when I notice excessive vomiting, I head for the vet myself. I certainly hope they're not sick.

Assuming they're 100 percent healthy... for as wild as they can seem, cats can often have sensitive stomachs, and any change in diet can cause vomiting. So, I think any of the recent changes could be contributing.

Perhaps a 50/50 mix was too much Blue Buffalo too quickly? Perhaps the cat grass is also involved but not the whole story?

Another thing is that generally, cats aren't gluttons like dogs tend to be, but some can be. Shelter cats that may not have eaten well until recently can be real piglers, especially growing kittens.

It's not uncommon for a cat who overeats to throw up a short time later. I'm not sure that giving free choice dry food all day is the best set up (the whole dry vs. canned argument aside). I would suggest designated morning and evening feeding times, at least for now.

I would also suggest that slower changes are probably a good idea for the future. I try to go out of my way not to shock the system. :)

Another point would be to watch and encourage their water consumption (in addition to observing them for signs of illness and abnormal behavior). Excessive or prolonged vomiting can lead to dehydration which can become life threatening. Little bodies don't have much water in them to begin with!

Also, kittens are obviously curious and some are chewers. Make sure they're not getting into anything they shouldn't (not easy I know), and make sure any potentially poisonous substances (or even irritants like non-poisonous plants) are not accessible.

Apr 18, 2011
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Thanks for your reply!
by: Fred

Dear Kurt,

Thank you kindly for your reply. I am so sorry that after such a thoughtful and lengthy reply it has taken me so long to reply back. Yes, I adopted the brothers from the local animal shelter; they've been neutered, have been examined by a vet, and have all their shots. There are no other pets and no children in the home; it's just me and the boys!

While I believe you gave some great advice for bringing a new cat home, unfortunately it was too late for me to take advantage of; hopefully someone else who is thinking about adopting a cat or cats will read your post and benefit from it. I do have some good news to report though: in desperation I went to my local PetSmart and asked for any advice they had. The person I spoke to recommended that I try Dr. Elsey's Precious Cat Ultra Litter Attractant. So I added some to the disposable litter box I had bought (at that point I was waiting for a litter box I had ordered online to arrive). It seemed to have worked like a charm! Only had that one 'accident!!' I'm now using it in the new litter box with clumping litter and it seems to be working (keeping fingers crossed!).

Now on to my new problem: for about the past week I've been finding vomit about every other day. Sometimes it's on the kitchen floor, sometimes it's on the bedroom carpet and, unfortunately, once it was on the bed. It's always the same color and consistency: think grainy yellow mustard, usually about the size of a silver dollar to double that. I've never been home, or awake, to see which one of my cats is getting sick. Unfortunately, there isn't one single recent dietary change that I could give as a possible cause. It's more like three: 1) I grew some 'cat grass' and clipped off a good handful and put it in a bowl about a week ago; 2) I went from feeding them 100% Hill's Science Diet dry kitten food (I got two bags free from the shelter) to a 50/50 mixture of that and Blue Buffalo dry kitten food; 3) Went from one can a day of Blue Buffalo moist food to one pouch a day of Whiskas moist cat food. I'm assuming (or maybe hoping?) that it's one or more of these recent dietary changes that are upsetting one or both of my kitty's stomachs. Oh, and they do NOT get table scraps!

I yanked the bowl of cat grass off the floor a few days ago, so that's out of their diet completely, but I came home to find more vomit this evening. Oh I do hope and pray they're not sick. I leave the dry food out all day, so in my estimation that would be the biggest dietary change they've experienced, volume wise. They seem normal in every other respect: spending normal amount of time sleeping, chasing each other around the apartment, cuddling with each other or with me, so I'm hoping it's not some illness.

Again, your feedback and advice is most sincerely appreciated. I promise not to take so long to write back this time! :-)

Thanks,
Fred

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