Litter Box Training
Domestic cats win hands down when it comes to house manners and exotic cats are more easily influenced by what other cats show them than what we try to teach them. For this reason, we employ domestic cat mothers, strays with kittens of their own for the most part, to help us guide these impressionable little ones. Our Veterinarian, Dr. Stacie Wadsworth D.V.M., specializes in cat care with her own clinic called Carrollwood Cats and takes in all of the felines brought to her doors. She screens them for every known disease, worms and vaccinates them and then adopts them and their kittens out. We often turn to her for surrogate mothers and step brothers and sisters for our exotics. Even free ranging domestic cats will use a litter box if they are confined to a cage.
We use a four foot square wire cage that is two feet tall. It is light weight and easy to move around and clean under. Even if the surrogate mother is not inclined to nurse the exotic cub, after proper introduction, we have never had to worry about her hurting a kit. When she teaches her own young, or when she uses the litter box, the exotic kitten will follow their example and it’s as easy as that. Once the cats, kittens and cubs are all consistently using the box, then we allow them to run loose. If someone has an accident, then he goes back in the cage for a day or two until manners are resumed. For the exotic cat, this re-learning process can be necessary for a lifetime. If the cub is larger, you may need to confine him to the bathroom for a couple of days until he remembers what that box full of sand was for. Just like with domestic cats, if you see the kitten going where it shouldn’t then scoop him up and take him to the box. A lot of yelling will only frighten him and may cause him to hide under the bed, or in the closet to eliminate.
If a surrogate mother is not practical, then you will have to do this in cages and in stages. When the kitten is about four weeks old, offer a box with low sides and a non clumping litter. (The popular clumping kind turns to cement in their intestines and must be surgically removed). This year we had ten bobcat kittens that jumped right in and knew what the box was for. If your kitten prefers to eliminate somewhere else in the cage, then scoop up the poop and put it in the litter box and put the box in the corner the cub had preferred to use. Repeating this process a couple of times is usually all it takes. If you allow the kitten to roam freely before being adequately trained, then you may never instill this litterbox habit and it won’t be long before you won’t want to live with this animal any longer. Another trick to teaching the kitten to go to the litter pan is to pour a little ammonia in the box to attract them for that purpose. Cats like to use the same area as everyone else, at least when they are young and subject to peer pressure, so they may believe that another cat went there before.
Because of this, it is very important to keep the floors clean, so that the cats do not choose their own spot and then entice all their friends to do the same. Under beds and behind the furniture are favored spots and you may have to customize your furnishings to prevent cats from getting to these humanly inaccessible places. Once a bad habit is started it is very hard to break. It is worth the extra effort to make training as positive an experience as possible.
We have had some kittens that required more work than any others. For these we use little baby steps by using a large tray filled with litter that fills the entire floor of the cage and gradually reduce the size of the box as the kitten accepts the difference between litter and no litter. Each time the cub has an accident, then we back up to the size that worked last and after a few days of success, return to reducing the size of the box. When the kitten is using the litter pan regularly, then we can let him roam freely, but any accident results in return to the cage and the litter box, until training is re-established. N o one hates to see cats in cages, more than us, but it is a necessity that will allow the cat many years of freedom if you are consistent.
Toilet training is quite easy for some breeds who naturally prefer to eliminate in the water. Bobcats are a natural for this sort of training and as long as you don’t mind sharing the commode with the cat (they are a little messy) then it can be the easiest for you and the feline. A common problem with exotic cats and housebreaking is that if you teach a cat to use a box, then it cannot distinguish a box with litter in it and a box with jewelry in it. Any box is fair game, as is anything that could be loosely construed as a box, such as an arrangement of high things, in box like formation, like a living room pit group, with the ottoman missing. Even cats with very good house manners will fall into a case of mistaken identity. The same is true of cats trained to water, you must cover your fish tank and not leave big bowls of water, or sinks full of water, or bathtubs full of water where the cat is likely to come across it. To the exotic cat, water is water and the toilet is no more compelling than any other large body of water.
Training a bobcat, or Leopard to use water, only requires offering a large, shallow pan full of water and nature will take it’s course. As the cat gets larger you can place a toilet seat over the pan of water, or over the litter box for cats started on litter so that this becomes routine. N ext move the accepted “toilet” closer and closer to the real thing, until they are side by side. Then using telephone books, you can gradually lift the height of the “toilet” upwards, until it is level with and adjacent to the target toilet. The transition over should come natural after time, the key is to be patient and observant. Once the switch is made you can remove the bogus “toilet” and work on teaching the cat to flush. The only drawback to toilet training is that some cats like to stand in the water while they go and then when they hop out they get the seat all wet and smelly. I find it easier to wipe down the seat than to deal with litter boxes though.
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Some breeds of cats are so insistent on using water, that they will soil their own water dishes and for these we offer a water bowl and a bowl to defecate it. Most exotics will be happy enough with this provision, but some want to go in ALL water containers and for them you must get creative in providing a clean water source for them to drink from. If they are caged it is not too difficult to attach a water dish to the wire, with the top being higher the rump of the cat, so that it has to reach up a little to drink. If the cat climbs the wire to go in the dish, you can attach a shelf over the top of the dish, high enough for the cat to stick it’s head in and drink, but low enough that the cat cannot squeeze in backwards. Another alternative is to cut a hole in the wire and hang the dish on the outside (enclosed with wire of course) so that the cat must stick it’s head out to drink. Some people use water bottles and/or drip lines, but the bottles are a pain to clean and the drip line could clog for days, before someone noticed the cat was parched. If your water soiling cat is a housepet, you can provide a sanitary water dish by using a plastic bucket or container with a lid. In the side, a few inches up from the bottom, we cut a hole large enough for the cat to poke his head through comfortably and drink.
If the cat was properly house broken and then begins having recurrent accidents there could be more going on than their forgetful nature. Often sickness will manifest itself in the cat soiling places other than the accepted container, as the cat may not be able to control it’s bladder or intestines. Sometimes the feline is trying to tell you something, such as “I don’t like the new cat” or “I don’t want to share this space with your new friend” or “I’m ready for love! Can anyone out there smell me?”. Be sure that the cat is in good health and stress free before assuming that the problem is a training issue.
If the problem is health related, you will need to have that diagnosed and cured before your training can resume. If the cause is stress then each and every situation will require it’s own remedy to remove the cause of the stress if possible, and if that is not feasible, to help the cat cope with the new situation. Cats, both exotic and domestic, are creatures of habit and they do not like change. Something as simple as moving the furniture around can really upset a cat so keep this in mind when you begin thinking about introducing new animals or people to your “pride”.
If the problem is due to the cat being in the mood for love, there is nothing you can do to stop the spraying. It doesn’t matter how early you spay or neuter and exotic cat. When they are full grown they all spray. Males and Females, neutered, spayed or not; they ALL spray. Too many people think that they will take home a cute little exotic, raise it up and let it pay for itself by producing a litter or two of kittens but then they have an adult that they can no longer handle. Even females will spray buckets on everything, including you to attract a male and the males are worse. We have terrazzo floors, plastic on the walls and two full time housekeepers to clean up behind all of them, and if we didn’t, we couldn’t live in the same house with them.
Neutering a male is a simple procedure and he can come home the same day. Spaying a female requires the removal of the womb and requires an overnight stay. Altering is a permanent decision and not one to take lightly. If you were to die, or be incapacitated, would there be a home waiting for your neutered pet? Many of the cats we have brought home from auctions were cats that were altered or too old to breed and the only people who would purchase them were the taxidermists and the owners of hunting ranges. In many cases, an old or un-breedable cat is worth much more to some people, dead than alive. The tamer the cat the more valuable they are to the sport hunters, because even a lousy shot can bag a Mountain Lion or a Lynx, when the cat will walk right up to them. Canned hunts are abominable, but they are not illegal, and as long as there are sick people in this world, your pet is not safe if out of your sight.
It is legal in the USA to operate what are commonly referred to as game farms or hunting ranches. These are businesses that cater to enormous, macho egos of those “humans” who thrill at killing an animal. For a fee a hunter can be guaranteed the opportunity to tract down and murder the animal of his choice. For a few hundred dollars a person can go to these farms and be guaranteed the kill of a Cougar. Because the rancher is dealing with the lowest form of coward, the best animals for him to purchase are the discarded pets sold at auction. This way the hunter is at virtually no risk and can get very close to his target. It is openly legal to offer Cougars, Bobcats and Canadian Lynx for the killing, but it is possible, illegally and at a considerable price, to “hunt” Lions, Tigers and other endangered species by invitation.
There just no are good options for exotic cats and the best thing you can do is to not support the exotic cat trade by buying.
Big Cat Rescue has evolved since its inception in 1992. By 1997 we had seen enough of the abuse and abandonment caused by the pet trade that we had previously engaged in to know that there was no reason to breed exotic animals for lives in cages. As a result we increased our efforts through spaying, neutering and cage building to ensure that we would no longer be a part of the problem. As we have continued to learn about the causes of so much suffering we have become
active in stopping the exotic pet trade through education and legislation. The above is provided only for those who have already made the mistake of supporting the pet trade so that the animal in your care does not suffer even more after being ripped from his mother.
Note: I am not a veterinarian. Please consult with a licensed veterinarian if your exotic cat is dehydrated.
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