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Teaching "old" cat new tricks

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 
Well, not really old but feral and this wonderful, funny black cat who's about 2 years old has adopted me. He just appeared about 4 months ago. I've taken him to the vet for his check-up and shots and now he's coming and staying inside the house more and more.

The problem is that he has never used a litter box and I'm trying to teach him--- not by example, but by putting him in and scratching the litter. Seems the only desire he has for using the box is for sleeping on top of the litter. This means I have to constantly be aware when he goes to the door and once there waiting until he decides what he wants to do. Sometimes he just stands there and switches his tail back and forth, sometimes he'll go out and stand for about 10 seconds then wants to come back in and then on rare occasions he'll just take off running. I've been letting him out at night and waiting for him to reappear the next day. I'd love to have him stay over night but not sure how to accomplish this without his using the box for his bathroom.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much.
post #2 of 21
The best way to do this is to make the box into something that the cat recognizes. Get a bag of potting soil at your local store and fill the box up with that initially. Let him get used to going in the dirt (don't use straight dirt or you will have a bug problem) once the cat is using the potting soil, start mixing the regular clay litter in with it until eventually he will be just be using straight clay litter. Good luck!
post #3 of 21
Thread Starter 
Good heavens, that's absolutely brilliant! Thanks Hissy!
post #4 of 21
Barb - how is it going?
post #5 of 21
Thread Starter 
Hi Debra,
Well, haven't gotten the soil yet, but will get a good bag today. He honored me with his presence last night just long enough to grab a bite to eat, give me a couple of licks on my feet then it was out the door into the night and I haven't seen him since. Thanks for asking though and when he blesses me with his presence long enough to introduce him to his new bathroom I'll let you know how it or better said he goes!
post #6 of 21
Wow! that was a good one! That was so obvious I wouldn't have thought of that!
post #7 of 21
Thread Starter 
Well, what can I say---what is such a wonderful idea about using the potting soil has only left me with little black paw prints after he's bolted out of the box never having used it for the purpose for which it was created. I don't know! I might just have a cat that is so used to being outside he may never want to use anything other than the great ourdoors for his bathroom. Thank heavens I'm behaving like a new mother and can hear the meows even when I'm asleep. It's either getting up to put him out, putting him outside before I go to sleep or putting in a cat door and hope and pray he doesn't bring any uninvited guests home with him for a sleep over.

post #8 of 21
When we first brought in our first feral adopted kitty all he wanted to do was sleep on the dirt. (We had to use dirt as we didn't already have a cat so didn't have litter when we rescued him).

I don't know if our experience helps you at all. Our feral was a kitty of 9 - 11 weeks, not two years. And we were bringing him inside permanently, unlike the 2-year old stray (Booger) we care for, who sounds much like your black cat.

We put a box of dirt and the cat in a crate. Lazlo huddled and slept (sort of) on the dirt. He hung on for just about 20 hours. (We kept taking him out of the crate and petting him, letting him explore the house, etc. But when we went to bed, we took the crate in the bedroom with us, and kept him in the crate). The next morning he finally caved, and he peed in the dirt. We praised him to high heaven, and let him out of the crate. Then we put some of the dirt with his pee in it into the litter box. He immediately jumped in there and took care of the rest of his business. We put the litterbox where we wanted it, making sure he saw us put it there. He hasn't gone anywhere else since.

I don't know if you're up for that method, though, because with a two-year old you'll probably get a lot of wailing to LET ME OUT OF THE CRATE. Our young-un at the time was too scared to even complain.

But thought I'd pass along what worked for us. Good luck!
post #9 of 21
Thread Starter 
Oh Laurie that does sound like somthing I might try. I'm not sure if I can take the loud "LET ME OUTs" that I know I'll get, but I think I will at least try some real dirt. If I can only find where he does go outside then I could at least get some of the "seasoned" dirt and use that. I don't mind his wanting to go outside to the bathroom, but I just wonder what he'd do if I wasn't right there at his beckon call. Not sure I want to take that chance without having a back-up plan!

I'll "talk" to him about it when he comes in today and see what we can work out. Outside of this one little problem, he's been a real joy so far. He was also my hero the other night and I'll post that on another thread later.

Thanks again Laurie---I'll keep you posted as to any progress.

Barbara "Mupcat"
post #10 of 21
What an angel you are for working so hard with this kitty! It's amazing what joy they bring us though, no? Obviously, "seasoned" dirt would be the best! If I had to bet, I'd be willing to bet that your black kitty (have you named him yet? What's his name?) wouldn't go anywhere in your house without yowling in discomfort first. But it isn't my carpet! Our Rocki won't go anywhere but outside. We live is such a small house though, it isn't necessary to train her because she can't live inside. When she wants out, she hops on the bed to wake us up, and we let her out. But with a real house (we live in an R.V.) you have other considerations. Continued wishes of good luck. And please let us know what your black kitty's name is!

post #11 of 21
Thread Starter 
Thanks Lauie for the kind words and the encouragement. Guess I could try to follow him around a while, but the problem is he rarely shows up before sun down and then asks to go out about 4:00 in the morning so unless I had a flashlight----well you know. Also he may be one of those "I want my privacy" types and it wouldn't do any good anyway.

His name "Kee-Kee" evolved because I couldn't string a bunch of "Here kitty,kitty,kitty,kitty--s" together coherently without it coming out "Here kitty,kitty,keekeekeee" My tongue just would refuse to say all the "t's" so I just started calling him Kee-Kee. Must work cause he'll come whenever he's around and I call him.

I'll keep you all posted from time to time.

Barbara Mupcat

P.S. Must be a hoot living in an RV---bet you've seen many wonderful places.
post #12 of 21
Kee-Kee's a great name! And with a great reason for it, too! :tounge2:

And no kidding. Their hours sure aren't ours! The latest Rocki has stayed sleeping is 5:00am from the evening before. She usually likes to leave between 1:00 and 3:00am. We haven't slept straight through a night yet since rescuing our two (now) inside feral kittens. And the only reason we'd slept through the night prior to bringing them in is that Rocki only likes sleeping inside during the Winter, so we'd had a couple of months to get our sleep recharged up. !!! (Of course now that we have the kitties she wants in all the time. We're waiting until we take her in Oct. for her annual shots before letting her back in. Want to make sure she doesn't pass along any beasties or viruses to our indoor kitties).

Again, good luck. And I'd love to hear, from time to time, how things are going!


P.S. We originally bought the R.V. for an extended honeymoon, and later developed our love for travel into work conducting research around the country. We've been doing this since 1994 (!), but have been stationary since 9/11 last year, when we really needed to be NY based. We simply refused to move in the city let along near it, and we're happy here in our little home. Now that the two kitties are growing (!), we might consider a nearby home. Now we have a colony of ferals we care for - I can't imagine leaving!
post #13 of 21
Thread Starter 
That's great Laurie! How exciting to live as a turtle with your house on your back so to speak---doing research and hopefully getting paid for traveling. Not a bad life!

You know, I cannot for the life of me understand the time clocks of various critters both 2 legged and 4 legged and those that swim. People that fish, for example, leave at some ungodly hour as if the fish don't eat later in the day. I know there must be some scientific reason as to why cats are nocturnal--- must have something to do with hunting. Kee-Kee's funny though. He killed a mouse the other night IN THE HOUSE, well not sure he killed it or it died of a heart attack, but anyway he actually found another one that got away from him so now he's on perpetual mouse watch and his sleeping regime has changed a bit.

Would love to get another cat that is a bit more loving but am afraid Kee-Kee is too possessive of me and wouldn't allow another one in the house. How did you solve that problem? Maybe it hasn't been a problem for you. Guess I could have revolving cat doors and when one is in the house the other one would stay outside--LOL!

Thanks for keeping in touch and I sure will let you know of any other happenings.

Barbara "Mupcat"
post #14 of 21
Quite frankly, we didn't solve the problem. We started feeding Rocki late last summer. After a month or so, she would come close enough and allowed us to pet her. But she only came by in late afternoon or night. She did not want to come in the house, she was scared of it.

I picked her up and put her on my lap one day. After that, she started hopping up there as soon as I sat down. She was love starved.

We bought a crate and took her to the vet to get spayed, shots, de-wormed, etc. We had de-flead and de-ticked her already. I was afraid she'd run away, but when we brought her back, that was the first she slept in her bed inside. After that, we started feeding her on the bottom step inside the door (two steps up into the house)(it was getting cold out!). The first snow storm was when she first did her MEEEEOOOOWWW LET ME IN! After that, she slept here almost every evening, 2 - 10 hours after being fed. Spring came, and she didn't want to come in any more, but she wanted to be groomed and petted every day (outside).

Then we rescued the two feral kittens. We let the kitties and Rocki see each other through the screen door, and there was lots of hissing! Rocki wants back in again, but too bad. We live in a really rural area, so cars really aren't a concern. There are lots of areas around here for shelter in the rain - and from April to July, when we brought in the kitties, she didn't want in, rain or no! So now she's going to have to wait until we get her her annual shots again. I think the kitties are going to freak that they have to share the small space here with her - but Rocki never cruised "the house." She eats on the bottom step, hops onto my lap for pets, then into her bed next to the door for sleep (and the kitties have never been allowed to sleep in her bed). The only time she makes it all the way into the bedroom is when she wants out.

We're going to take cat site advice and get them used to each other's smells, and then "inside" visits will be supervised. The kitties dinner time is the same time Rocki usually came around for dinner, and then they sleep for hours, while she would normally be asleep. And while our kitties are loving, neither one is a "lap" kitty, so we'll just see what happens!
post #15 of 21
Thread Starter 
"The only time she makes it all the way into the bedroom is when she wants out."

Ok I got it all except this last sentence. I thought Rocki was "banned" to the outside until she gets her next shots. Do you mean she gets inside into your bedroom? I'm sure I'm missing something.

That's so strange about her not wanting to come back inside when spring rolled around. So the kitties are inside/outside? Sounds like Rocki's a true feral cat and maybe, like Kee-Kee, will never be completely tamed. Not sure that isn't a good thing though. Right now as I'm typing this, I haven't seen him since last night when I let him out. He didn't stay the night--must have had a hot date or something.

I can't believe how much I'm turning into a cat person. I've always had a dog of one type or another ever since I was a little girl, but since we lost our 15 year old Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier this past May I've decided to try a cat again. Would have done it sooner, but thought I was allergic to cats. Turns out not to be true---just the usual coastal allergies everyone gets around here in the spring. I think I'll try another cat and hope Kee-Kee will accept it. I'd really like to have a "lap" cat----they make great tranquilizers!

That's a wonderful idea about the smells, just not sure how to accomplish that. At one time I was going to get a purebred and was thinking of either a British Blue or American Shorthair, but not sure I want a completely indoor cat. I know "they" say indoor cats are as happy if not happier than their outdoor/indoor buddies, but I don't know, there's something about having a cat cooped up 24/7 that bother's me. If I did that I know I'd be building yet another addition onto the house for them to have a caged outdoor area. Decisions, decision, decisions!----but happy decisions!
post #16 of 21
Oops! Sorry that wasn't clear. I was describing Rocki's behavior when she was allowed inside. And I'm positive she wasn't born feral because she's a pure bred Maine Coone. We're in an R.V. Park (on a farm), and my theory is someone who came through for a weekend or week or something had her, and she "escaped" and they weren't able to find her before they had to leave. But she must have run away young, because all of the inside noises scare her, which means she doesn't remember being familiar with them. I just think she's a survivor, and this area is her territory. There are lots of trailers parked here permanently, so lots of shelter (under decks, etc.). She has a long heavy coat, so she can take the chilly winters and cold Spring/Fall days. My theory is she likes her independence, and come Spring she was willing to come in to eat, but always wanted to leave right away as opposed to stay at all, either for pets or sleep! But as soon as I would go outside, she wanted pets and to be groomed. So we just started feeding her out there too once the weather was warmer.

The two kitties we adopted are feral, of a feral mom. And they are completely indoor cats. We are getting them used to wearing collars (for I.D.) and harnesses, and we will take them out at some point on a leash.

Thoughts to consider when making your decisions:

Even hand-raised or pure-bred kitties aren't necessarily going to be lap cats. If you have that expectation and it doesn't work out that way, you'll probably be very disappointed. It is simply the personality of each cat, and I don't know if there's any way to know before adopting or buying them if they're going to be "lovers."

I'm allergic to cats, but when the decision came to rescue Lazlo or not, I didn't care about the allergies. I now take Zyrtec-D twice a day and have a cream for my arms when I get hives. For me, it's a small price to pay!

And if you decide to get a non-feral/stray kitty, PLEASE make it an indoor cat! Our kitties lived outdoors for the first 2 1/2 months of life, and the two now share our small home full time. We have lots of toys and constantly change the environment (with bags, boxes, etc.) to make up for the lack of space. They seem happy and don't complain. And don't try to get out, either. They love watching out the window, and we play with them a lot to make sure they get enough exercise. So I'm just worried about what will happen when we let Rocki in for the first time - meeting through the screen door (kitties in, Rocki out) has only met with hisses so far.
post #17 of 21
Oops! Almost forgot! There are many threads somewhere in the Cat Site explaining the "argument" in favor of indoor only cats, but the summary is:

Unless you live in a really rural area, cars, trucks, etc. could lead to a real short life of your loved one;

Diseases, many of them fatal and painful, like Feline Leukemia or Feline AIDS

Pests - fleas, ticks, etc.

It's really quite dangerous out there for them. Rocki disappeared for four days once, and I was beside myself. She finally turned up, not hurt, but a total mess. There are now wonderful enclosures for cats, some with walkways and runs. Someone from Australia posted great pictures - sorry I don't know the thread to link you to! Many breeders won't sell you cats unless you plan to keep them indoors. And PLEASE check your breeder! There have been some real horror stories on this site.

And finally, one last thing. I was never a cat person. Always had dogs growing up. Hubby hated cats. Rocki showed up last year and was kind of a novelty for us. Started feeding her so she'd stop making a mess of the garbage. Then the feral family turned up behind us, and the kittens were so cute! Somehow we became their caregivers, and we ended up adopted two of the litter. We now care for many ferals, and are trapping, neutering and releasing them. Feeding the whole crew, making sure there's water, etc. Hubby still doesn't like cats, per se, but loves our two so much they can always put him in a good mood! :tounge2:
post #18 of 21
Thread Starter 
Oh, I know you're right about the indoor/outdoor subject! We live right on the ocean in a fairly rural area so traffic wouldn't be a problem. We have a bed and breakfast that consists of only 2 cottages so they're never many cars around. Probably my main concern would be the other critters that are in the area---you know all the normal ones plus the newest a bobcat which was seen only once, but it does mean it's in the vacinity.

Well, if you can keep a pair in your RV then I should not feel guility of "depriving" them in a 2 bedroom house. Still will probably add on something where they could go out and get some sun.

Oh, I would never put a pure-bred outside and that's probably why I haven't gotten one/two yet. I was speaking if I got one from the humane society that had already been used to outside. Please, if you run across that thread about the enclosures let me know, or if anyone else reading this remembers please post it. Thanks!

Yeah, there's no assurance that any cat will be a lap cat, but some breeds are more inclined such as the "Ragdolls". My problem is that a breed such as that is really too laid back for me. I think I want a funny, happy cat that likes to be loved and won't climb the curtains. Not asking for much am I! LOL!
post #19 of 21
Lovely exchange, many thanks for a lot of experience of dealing with different environments. This whole thread should really be repeated on the forum for SOS rescuing cat and the one for multicat households. I would have missed it except for the original topic.

apropos the original topic. I utilize the bathroom for toilet training of new cats if they don't immediately recognize the usefulness of the litter box. I usually make use of the time they are taken to the vet for spaying or neutering, then let them have several days of quiet time in the bathroom -- easy to clean and disinfect -- usually has a good door. I put a litter box. If the cat goes in the corner, I transfer some of the produce into the litter box and clean up the room. It is rare that a cat will not recognize the proper use for the litter box.

I have never had a cat who wanted to sleep in it once it had the smell of feces or urine in it, but I have had puppies who have preferentially maked out the litter box to sleep in. And I have had several puppies who have come to the conclusion that THEY should also use the litter box, which takes some intelligence, and cats who will systematically claw up any drain covers in tub, washbasin, or floor trap and try to aim carefully enough that they use the drain for their business.

Just think back to potty training your kids. Only cats and dogs USUALLY learn in a matter of days or weeks instead of months.

Can you let us know how things worked and what you tried in the end? In every attempt to change behavior, you need a lost of persistence, consistency, and patience. Each animal, like each child, has its own behavior patterns and learning abilities. What works with 9 tenths of the cats of the world will not work for the final tenth.

post #20 of 21
Thread Starter 
Hello Catspride,
Thanks for joining in on this not too pleasant subject. Your idea about the bathroom is great and I just might try that. Think my problem is that since Kee-Kee started out his life as a feral kitten this will either take much longer than his more domesticated brothers and sisters, or I'll just adjust to his routine. I may put in a cat door and that might solve the whole problem.

As far as his sleeping in the litter box, this was sans deposits so I'm pretty sure if he had used it for it's intended purpose, he wouldn't have used it for a bed. So far that's been his one and only time doing this.

I really was hoping Hissy's suggestion of the potting soil would be the answer, but that drew no interest from him whatsoever! If I'm lucky and happen to find his outdoor privy, I'll make sure to get a sample and mix that in with the soil.

One idea that I was curious about is the one where the cat uses the toilet as a litter box. I'm wondering if anyone on the forum has tried this and if so was it successful.

I'll never be able to turn him into a complete indoor cat and not sure I'd want to anyway. I know in the best of all worlds that's the best life for our cats, but in some cases I think trying to change a long time behavior is perhaps a little cruel. I'm sure others may disagree.

Thanks again, Catspride, for your input. You're right, they really are like our children aren't they.

Barbara "Mupcat"
post #21 of 21
Dear Mupcat, the thing about toilet training a cat takes a lot of time and patience, and then you have to allow for spray that doesn't quite make it. I did not see the articles mentioning how you manage to get the cat to remember a good position for defacating. I was thinking the other day that it would be convenient to invent a potty chair for cats that would give their legs proper support at the proper angles. The fact that a cat can manage to hit a drain opening in a wash basin is proof to me that with the right design it would be a possibility.

The thing is, time for training and then reinforcement of training. If I had had one or two cats, I would have thought it worth the effort just because it was interesting to see if one could do it successfully. But I have in excess of 14 cats at the moment. You might find some articles on how to do the training on the internet.

I confess most of my cats will happily use a sort of community litter box quite comfortably, and even, I think, with a certain pleasure that they are covering over each other's scents. Of course, a community litter box needs to be dealt with as a priority job several times a day. It only comes to that during wet weather, when none of our desert-familiar cats wants to go outside. Cats, like people, are very individual about how they conduct their intimate activities, and the best thing is to go along as you can.

I have a small window that is perpetually open. The cats can jump up to the sill from inside and out, and thus have access to food, the airconditioner in the summer and the warmth in the winter. Some cats prefer to stay in most of the time, and others do not. Some want to go off for days or weeks at a time, and then they suddenly appear through the window and stick around for some weeks or months. I think a cat door is a very good idea if you don't mind the cats going out. If you have a cat-escape-proof fence around your yard and a cat door for the house, then you have the best of everything.

I would continue to try Hissy's idea of the litterbox with dirt. The intention is not a huge depth, but something that resembles the ground outside. Then doggedly putting her into the box if she wets in the house. My extended family is proof that ferel cats can eventually become indoor cats with proper manners, but sometimes it takes a long time. Patience.

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