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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Feta Finds her Furs-onality

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As Feta started to feel a little better and settle into her new (temporary??!) home, it quickly became clear that she was a very quirky cat.

You'd look stupid in this hat, too.
“Who are you calling ‘quirky’?!”

She started showing her playful side more and more, and it turns out she just loves catnip mice.

And catnip birds. And catnip anything, really.

“Dude. Duuuuude! Like, DUDE! This bird thing is FREAKING MEOWT!!!”

She became more demanding, too – if I was sitting in my computer chair, she thought she should be sitting with me, and would beg pathetically until I helped her up.

"Note
“Yes, much better. This is how you should treat Cat.”

In fact, she became a pretty vocal cat overall – pretty laid back, but also not shy about trying to get my attention! …or maybe just trying her paw at karaoke?

“I BELIEEEEVE I CAN FLYYY!” “No, you can’t. You’re a Tripawd Cat, not a bird. Enough!”

Most surprising to me – though really, I should have expected it – was how obsessed she was with food. Compared to my dog, who won’t eat a filet mignon if it’s not cooked to his exact specifications (which are always subject to change), Feta would eat anything, anywhere, at any time! I thought everyone said cats were picky?!

She raided the grocery bags.

“Look, ma! I learned how to get up on the couch!”

 

What kind of cat eats tomatoes?!

She tried to get into things that fell out of the fridge.

“If it has my name on it, can I eat it?!”

She just overall went after food any time, any where she could find it. Boy am I glad she can’t get up on the counters!!

Finally, after umpteen warm compresses, courses of antibiotics, and vet visits (the last of which she had to attend by train, since my car was broken!), Feta was cleared to go cone-less!

Just a three-legged cone-headed cat wearing a harness, safely belted in to her stroller, walking back to the train station. NBD.

 

No, thank YOU, NJT! Three paws up for cat accessibility.

 

Cone-free at last!!!!!! Oh boy, was she excited to be able to finally groom herself again. Finally, FINALLY, the amputation site infections had all cleared up and she was back on her way to health.

“Oh, abdomen, how I’ve missed your sweet hairy taste!”

 

However, while the stumpy-leg issues were resolving, it became increasingly clear that something was not right with her remaining hind leg. Even at rest she held it stiffly, sometimes sleeping with her leg splayed out at weird angles.

Cute, but… odd. Much like this cat.

I continued doing my best to do “passive range of motion” leg stretches with her daily, and tried to support her as she walked on the leg as much as she was willing (which was not much). Still, she started increasingly choosing instead to stick her back leg out straight in front of her, like a strange fuzzy cat-ski, and paddle herself around using only her two front legs.

Hilarious to watch, but can’t be good for her!

This continued even after we moved to a new apartment, with her paddling around and looking silly while her stiff ski-leg was getting caught on things and causing all sorts of trouble.

“I, uh… caught you a mouse?”

 

It was distracting you from petting me, anyway. It had to go.
“What do you mean, ‘Why is the internet out’? How should I know? I’m a cat!!”

So, while the infections were gone, and the amputation site was now beautifully healed and filled in with fur, all was not well with Feta’s rear end, which was causing all sorts of problems. Next up: stay tuned for The Litterbox Battles!

Feta’s Stump Stumps Me

So, I found myself with this 3-legged cat living in my bathroom. After diving head-first into fostering, this was neither the strangest nor least-expected thing to happen to me this year.

Still can't decide if she sniffs and licks me out of love, or a desire to see if I'm edible.
“Well, looks like I ended up with a 3-legged bathroom cat.” “Well, looks like I ended up with a weird-smelling crazy human.”

 

While the cat herself was easier than expected, her leg stump was starting to seriously concern me. I didn’t know what if anything I should be doing to care for it (clean it? bandage it? leave it alone?), and it looked to me to be open and unhappy. But, since it changed very little from when I first brought her home over the next several days, I figured it must be working as intended. Or something like that.

Seriously, that does not look comfortable

Before long, however, it started to get worse, and what I thought was “cat breath” smell I started to suspect was actually coming from the wound. Uh oh!!!

Graphic wound picture – if the amputation site looks like this, it is not good. Also, bad smell is bad news.

Consulting with the shelter, it was decided I would try to keep her from licking it and see if it got better.

Curse you, human, and your lick-blocking contraptions!

“I will lie here glaring at you with angst and resentment until you feel guilty enough to feed me the good treats.”

 

To keep her up and moving about, I also started feeding her kibble out of an interactive food dispensing ball. This worked great, except she would roll it around until it got stuck in corners or passageways where here lifesaver-bumpered head couldn’t reach. Eventually we gave up the food ball and donated it to another cat at the shelter whose current enrichment feeder was wearing out.

Before long it became evident that the licking was more likely to be a consequence of, rather than the cause of, the issues with the amputation site. So, much to everyone (except the vet)’s dismay, back to the vet clinic she went for a thorough wound-cleaning and antibiotics.

I took advantage of her absence to Macguyver her a new litterbox contraption, as she was having significant trouble using the standard-shelter-issue stainless steel pan I’d had for her before. Cardboard “waterproofed” with decorative tape? Why not? Nothing but the most attractive bathroom decorations for my precious, abscessed, 3-legged shelter snowflake.

One must be polite to one's pottying pets
Thanks for your sacrifice, neighbor’s Chewy.com box I pulled out of the trash room! Pinterest, here we come!

 

To everyone’s frustration (except perhaps the vet’s office, since they loved “Mama Cat” and were always happy to see her), this process of leg infection, treatment, good health, then reinfection, continued through several more cycles (and several different antibiotics) before things finally settled down. Fortunately, the abscesses all seemed to be relatively superficial, but we were all still very concerned that the infection might either spread (“It’s not like there’s anything more we could cut off!” lamented the shelter director) or indicate the initial infection was worse than we’d thought (“But what if it’s been the SAME INFECTION all along?!” I moaned to my dog. He sighed indifferently.).

Along the way, Feta was graduated to the full Cone of Shame, which she had to wear for several months. She donned it quite glamorously, even if she looked kind of like a deformed art deco lamp.

“I am a blooming Catflower Lamp! Give me treats to see me shine!!”

 

Eventually, after some additional veterinary flushing and re-suturing, the amputation site looked like this – forming an ugly-but-healthy kind of barrier of dead skin, which eventually came off of its own accord. The tricky part was keeping a close eye on it to make sure no infections / abscesses returned.

Maybe we’ll give you a few more weeks to recover before your Sports Illustrated bikini shoot, eh, Feta?

 

What was most remarkable to me was how sweet and cooperative Feta remained through the whole recovery process. Whether it was happily slurping up her raspberry-flavored meds (mixed with wet food and canned pumpkin, to help with poo problems):

This looks more like the result of the poo problems than the prevention!!

Or just continuing to be gentle and affectionate with me even as I gave her uncomfortable hot compresses and leg stretches several times a day:

Volume up for a purr party!

Feta the Cheese Cat was just a rockstar, a true model patient. Good girl, Feta. You are awesome.

Cheese Cat sold separately.
Like my shirt? You can get one just like it, or one featuring a cat instead, here! 😀

Feta Cat Goes to Foster

Before Feta, I had been fostering a series of orphaned kittens and had never had a full-grown cat. However, since I was moving soon, after returning my last litter (to go into their new homes), I told the shelter that I couldn’t foster anymore until I got settled in my new apartment.

The next day, I went to volunteer and drop off some “unneeded” fostering supplies… and came home with a three-legged cat. Oops.

Who could resist those eyes?

 

I was to keep her “just for the weekend.” Ha! Didn’t quite work out like that!

The “foster quarantine room” (extra bathroom) was quickly cleaned and sanitized, and Feta Cat moved in. I knew nothing about her other than that she’d recently had a leg amputated and had been living at the vet’s office.

Feta shows off her new stump.

I immediately noticed two things – one, she is very friendly and kind, and two, she was having trouble with that remaining back leg:

https://goo.gl/photos/CZj4JeqcTXPY7Eti9

Relieved that I hadn’t been stuck with an aggressive cat who wanted to eat me (especially since although I’ve raised a bunch of kittens, Feta is the first adult cat I’ve been responsible for!), I set about figuring out what she needed and working to get her comfortable in her new digs.

https://goo.gl/photos/UwcqC3kE5cAHYGDs8

“Hello. I am Cat. You gives foods now, yes?”

 

She was (very, very carefully) introduced to my dog, a meeting which went surprisingly well!

“Hello, strange big-eared cat. You has foods?”

 

It became obvious that she was friendly – really, really friendly – and absolutely loved human attention! (As well as food. Really big on food.) At the vet’s suggestion, I worked on encouraging her to move around and get some exercise, especially with that weak hind leg. Feta was a great sport about it all!

https://goo.gl/photos/hpcBRsABfrYW2dqr7

All in all, Feta decided that she liked being in foster, and I decided that I liked her, too! For the moment, everything was going great!

“I will not chase this thing, but if you hold it for me, I will bat it with my paw until I grow bored and demand more interesting playthings.”

 

Feta Cat starts a blog

Hi everyone, and thanks for your interest in Feta the Tripawd Cat!

Feta’s story, as I know it, is currently in the middle of its development (this is when some exciting plot turn is about to happen, right??) but for blogging purposes, it seems most sensible to start with the beginning.

For the Cliff’s Notes version, you can read her whole story so far summarized here.

However, if you’re ready to go back to the beginning and work your way up, stay tuned! We’ll walk (or, more accurately, hop-drag) you through the whole story.

 

Does this cone make me look fat? No? Then why are you being stingy with the treats?!?!
Feta Cat does some market research before embarking on her own literary experiment.