Bathrooming Battles (and Litterbox Hacks for Tripawds)

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Having a tripawd cat can be very rewarding, but is not always easy – especially when it comes time to use the litterbox. Feta cat, in particular – due to her problems with her remaining hind leg – has been having some serious struggles.

When I first brought Feta home, I used the same shelter-issue, easily-sanitized, stainless steel litter pan that I’d used with previous fosters (like these cute lil guys):

Kittens included for scale and adorableness.

The shelter had warned me that Feta might need a low-sided litterbox so she could get in and out more easily, so this seemed likely to do the trick. However, after a few days of her making a tremendous mess, it seemed that the steel tray was too small for her – since she couldn’t easily turn around to dig and bury and squat to do her business, she was throwing litter all over the place and occasionally missing the box (such as the dreaded “four paws in, butt sticking out over the side” litterbox disaster position!). Also, despite my daily attempts to help her stretch and exercise, her leg seemed to be getting worse. Or at least, she was choosing to use it less. Thus, the creation of the cardboard monstrosity you saw in our earlier post!

If I’m really polite with this, will you agree to clean up after yourself?

This did well enough for a time, but cardboard is not quite as durable/cleanable as stainless steel (who would have guessed?!) and poor Feta could get in the box pretty well, but had trouble turning around and getting out, so she’d go in, do her thing, then try to leap out the sides and/or flail around while trying to turn in a circle. (In retrospect, back pain may have contributed to this?)

Also, full disclosure here, my lease was almost up and I needed a way to quickly hide evidence of Cat if my landlord wanted to show the apartment. After consulting with a number of people/websites, I decided on modifying a cheap plastic under-bed storage container, cutting (with my best kitchen shears, obviously – who has tools?!) a lowered lip for easier entry. To further try and minimize the mess (and keep my stupid cat-turd-eating dog out of the box – easy accessibility for cat means easy accessibility for dog, too!) I nested the storage bin in an extra big cardboard box with entry AND exit holes cut. To top things off, since she was getting litter all over her, I tried switching her to a more natural, more edible (you’re welcome, dog), non-clumping pellet litter. We tried both Yesterday’s News and Feline Pine (mixture pictured here).

Wow, so luxurious. Doesn’t it make you just want to sit down and have a poo? No? Okay, how bout a nice pee??

While this contraption suited me just fine (aesthetic challenges of having a giant cardboard-enclosed litterbox in the middle of my living room notwithstanding), it was only somewhat helpful for our dear Cheesecat. The lip was still too high for her to go in comfortably, though she often preferred to go in on the high side anyway. Furthermore, she was unable to support herself in a good bathrooming position, so generally ended up falling mid-business. This was not enjoyable for either of us.

Was it the pellet litter (too slippery??), the plastic box (maybe that was slippery? maybe the sides were not ideal? maybe the shape was wrong?), or just a result of problems with that back leg? I didn’t have a chance to fully test any of these theories, because shortly after the birth of Big Plastic Potty Box, Feta got adopted!!! So into the trash it went.

Unfortunately, Feta continued to have trouble in her new home, and eventually came back to foster with me. This meant, among other things, that I needed to come up with a new litterbox solution.

Operating under the assumption (okay, blind guess) that the pellet litter was too slippery, we went back to regular clay litter. As a first, simple attempt, I jury-rigged a simple cardboard box by cutting it down and taping the inside (for some desperate semblance of waterproofing). (The baking pan with Feline Pine was for the current foster kitten’s use – more details and cute Tripawd-on-Kitten action to follow in a later post.)

Success! …if you describe success as making a box for your cat to effectively poop in. Turns out, I do. Success!!

The cardboard “wings,” as well as the towel underneath, were absolutely necessary for controlling the spill-over problems. Feta seemed to like this box setup well enough to use it with fewer butt-over-the-side mess incidents, but it was really messy. As her back leg was now worse than ever, she was essentially a 2-legged cat trying to use a litterbox. Awesome.

I tried several other variations – the two-tall-sided plastic-lined box being my personal favorite from a cleaning point of view – but they all had different drawbacks and all were still very messy. (It’s hard to avoid mess when the poor cat sits in her business and then drags her butt all over the floor!) So, our current state of affairs is clay litter (don’t buy the cheap stuff in the tub you see in that one picture, it’s gross, go for the name brand or something less dusty) and a wide array of litterboxing options, with LOTS OF RUGS AND FLOOR PROTECTORS (did I mention how I rent?! yeah…) and super-diligent cat-and-litter-cleaning.

Yes, that is a home carpet shampooer and a vacuuming robot on the right. Do not recommend the robot for litterbox issues (they will drag poo etc. all over the place worse than a bum-dragging 2-legged cat), but the carpet shampooer has been VERY nice to have.
FML. You're lucky you're cute, cat.
The current setup. The “puppy pads” do not work very well, since they get caught and dragged on the cat. The cardboard works well to absorb urine and catch litter spills, but for obvious reasons needs to be changed out frequently. The small rug I saved from the trash room when a neighbor threw it out because it had been peed on all over the place. (“A pee rug?! PERFECT FIND!” I say, taking it home, because I am insane. See also: carpet shampooer.) The larger rug is one I was going to throw away but decided to keep so I wouldn’t get too upset when that area of the floor got soiled and litter-sprinkled. The plastic sheet is one from Ikea designed to protect floors from rolling chairs – works very well as protection because it lies flat and is not too slippery, but stray urine can get under it and get disgusting, so additional protection is also recommended. Here, I have a full cardboard box flattened out with gaps taped shut to protect the wall and the under-boxes spaces.

So, that was a lot about cat bathrooms. My Cliff’s Notes version, based on what I’ve tried so far:

  • Pellet litter may be slippery. Clay or something like wheat or corn litter may be a better choice (though note: if there are any wounds or incisions still open, litter may stick to them, so something organic and non-clumping is likely to be your best bet).
  • Cats, especially limited-mobility cats, really like to have an entrance and a SEPARATE exit path from the litterbox. To help your tripawd feel extra comfortable, provide them with more than one way to get in/out of the box.
  • Low sides are essential, but are likely to contribute to mess.
  • Use floor protectors, cheap rugs, old towels, heavy-duty rubber litter mats, etc. to help contain the mess and save your floors/sanity.

Do any of you have tips on litter box hacks? Would love to hear what other tripawd owners have found effective!

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10 thoughts on “Bathrooming Battles (and Litterbox Hacks for Tripawds)”

  1. You have worked so hard making a litter box work. I have no suggestion for creating something effective for Mona. She is a front-leg amputee and prefers to go outside. When she covers her poo she hops and shoots the soil back through her bowed rear legs. It flys quite a distance. Unfortunately she does the same in the litter box where I cut a lower entry. After she has been in the box there is a pile of litter outside it where she has shot it out between her legs. Sometimes she shoots out the poo.

    Mona will not use Yesterdays News and any pellet type. I really like your entry and exit idea.

    Great blog! Thank you.

    Kerren and Tripawd Kitty Mona

    p.s. Tell your dog that Mona calls litter covered poo “Almond Roca”

    1. Oh, silly Mona! Good thing she enjoys going outside 😀 My quad-pawd dog, Rascal, is a big after-poo-dirt-kicker and really sends it flying, too. At least it’s probably very good exercise for those legs?

  2. We have 5 cats here and mom uses an old plastic dog crate top turned upside down instead of cardboard because our kitty Emily sometimes hangs her bottom over the edge when she pees. Mom puts a bath mat in the front of entrance to catch most of the litter. If Emily pees over the edge, it’s easy to clean up with some Simple Green and paper towels when she scoops the box. We also use clumping litter. You can also get a low front litter box for about $6 at Walmart it is higher in the back than the front, but if the storage bin thing works, keep using it. Just a suggestion!

    1. I love the low front litter boxes, but sadly, they are not quite low enough for Feta cat… YET! I am hoping we can graduate to that soon, as she gets more leg strength/flexibility back. Thanks for the ideas!

  3. We found our tripod kitty in a local park. After trying unsuccessfully to find his owner we decided to keep him. He would poop in the litter box but did not cover it up. That was fine. Peeing was a problem. He would pee on rugs not carpeting thank goodness. Rugs can be washed. Finally I got puppy pads for him to go on but it made the floor wet. I then put a pad in a box. He used that but the box would get wet. Now I bought a plastic litter box and put the puppy pad in it. He is using that. It is very easy to throw the pads away and is saving our floor so I don’t have to constantly mop it. He is such a sweetheart and we can’t believe he was left in a park to survive. He had to be treated for worms he picked up before we found him.
    He is a lucky cat but so are we. He completes our family of three female cats and is so respectful of them.

    1. That’s so sweet! Thank you for giving him a chance and working with him despite his less than ideal bathrooming behavior! I get Feta’s pads at Costco – if you have one near you, they’re a great deal 🙂

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