One of our foster kittens doesn't use the litterbox. What to do?

We’re fostering a mama cat and her three kittens. Pictures! They’re about five and a half weeks old, now, and generally healthy, well-socialized, and happy. But there are accidents outside the litterbox. We’ve fostered a ton of kittens over the years, and never had litter box problems. I’m not sure if it’s just one kitten not using the box, or more than one. The poops and pees are usually in one spot (near the box, but if I move the box to the preferred spot, the “accidents” change position. The mama cat is good with the box, and the kittens have no trouble getting in and out of it. I’ve put newspaper down where the droppings appear, so that at least protects the floor a bit, but obviously this is not ideal.

I know the typical way to re-train a cat to the box is to put it in a large dog cage with just enough room for a litter box and a bed (and food/water) until they start using it again. But I don’t really want to do that with all four of them. I’d also really like to solve this problem before we adopt them out. Any ideas?

You may need a second box with that many. Some cats are fussier about how clean the box is.

They’re precious and a beautiful mama.

Maybe try the Cat Attract litter? At that age it may be that the kitten(s) don’t like the type of litter you’re using. Or maybe that is a problem that will correct itself over time.

Oh yeah, squee! Very cute kittens! Especially Fatness (is that really her name?).

  1. Could be a medical problem. Have you talked to the vet? Might be worth doing U/A’s on all of them, or else systematically confining or moving them until you figure out who the poopetrator is.
  2. There are a number of reasons why kitty might not use a litter box - I’m not saying these do/do not apply in your case:
  • low man on the totem pole and it’s “someone else’s” box
  • someone else is blocking/bullying when kitty tries to use the litter box
  • kitty doesn’t like the smell or texture of the litter
  • box is dirty when kitty wants to use it
  • box is smelly (either a covered box which retains smells, or a box that needs to be cleaned, or a box that smells of cleaning chemicals)
  • area is too busy
  • area is too out of the way/inconvenient (neither of these sounds likely given that they are going right next to the box in its current location)
  • there is something in the way (e.g., prickly mat) that kitty doesn’t want to walk across
  • it’s hard to get in (wee kitteh, or some sort of weakness/medical problem)
  • kitty associates the box with pain/badness (UTI, getting ambushed by another kitten, etc.)

And that doesn’t include marking behavior as opposed to just toileting in the wrong spot. IANAVet/Behaviorist, just throwing out some ideas.

Have you tried getting another litter box or two? If you have more than one, are they right next to each other? If so, move one of them to a different spot. Keep them especially scrupulously scooped until this is sorted out.

If it’s a covered litter box, try taking the cover off. If it’s an automatic scooper, try ye olde plastic tub.

If you are not using a fine-grained, clumping, non-scented, clay litter, try one in the new box (I wouldn’t completely replace the old stuff suddenly, as that might put the rest of the family off their good habits).

Is there a mat in front of the litter box to try to contain the spread of litter? Some cats dislike the feel of those, so an old piece of carpet or nothing at all might be better.

When is the last time you completely dumped the litter and washed the box with soap and water, rinsing thoroughly and putting in completely new litter?

If none of these work and the poopetrator is using the newspaper consistently, you could try retraining using just newspaper in a very shallow plastic pan and gradually introducing higher sides and regular kitty litter.

If the cats are fed separately from each other, I’ve heard that you can add some crayon shavings (Crayolas are non-toxic) to the food - a different color for each cat. Voila! Color-coded accident reports. Never tried it myself, but if you do, report back with results!

I like that you named one “Fatness”.

All my suggestions have already been mentioned, but I have just one thing to add…

I wan’ a kitten!! (Want, alas, not need. Nine is probably enough for now, sigh.)

Thanks for all the suggestions, guys. Last night we put a low cardboard box filled with shredded paper where the stray turds were being deposited. I’m not terribly surprised to report that this has become a great source of amusement for the babes. It does not appear to be soiled, so that’s good. However, I haven’t found any out of place deposits, today, either, so maybe the perpetrator simply saw the error of his or her ways. I also picked up some natural corn-husk like litter at the store today, so if we have future problems I’m going to try that next.
Also, fatness really is her name. Presumably her future new family will re-christen her. Now that they’re a bit older, the sizes are evening out a bit, but when they were about three weeks old she was just SO MUCH FATTER than the other two. She still has quite the belly, but she no longer looks so disproportionate.

So, any New England dopers want a kitten for Christmas?