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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

My cat, Vishnu, was born outdoors in a feral cat colony. I rescued her before her eyes opened and bottle-fed her. She’s now a happy 6-month-old dwarf (lol), but she has some odd quirks. First of all, she’s constantly digging and rolling in her cat litter. I recently bought her a bigger box, but she’s still digging, rolling and getting litter all over the floor. I thought it might be the scent, so I changed to an unscented litter, but she’s still doing it. Now she’s taken to digging all her food out of her auto-feeder, and she seems to be grooming and rubbing against everything. The vet says it’s stress but nothing has changed. Do you have any insight?

~ The crazy cat lady

Long-haired ginger cat digging in the snow

“Did I Get It?” (CC-BY) by Dwight Sipler

Siouxsie: Well, digging is a natural behavior in cats. We learn from our earliest days that in order to stay safe, we need to bury our waste and any leftovers from what we kill, so we don’t alert bigger and badder critters to our presence.

Thomas: But your little Vishnu does seem to be taking it to an extreme!

Bella: I like tipping the litter box over from time to time. It’s fun to watch Mama cuss and swear. Tee hee hee!

Siouxsie: Seriously? Bella, that’s just gross!

Bella: Well, at least I don’t stand with my back legs on the edge of the box and get poopies all over the floor!

Siouxsie: *hiss*

Thomas: Bella, be nice. Anyway, yes, Vishnu’s behavior could have its basis in stress. Sometimes, cats in shelters sit in their litter boxes because they get a sense of security from being surrounded by their own scent. The digging and rolling could fulfill the same needs for your baby.

Bella: As for digging food out of the feeder, that could be a sign that she needs more stimulation and play. We kitties, especially young cats like myself and your Vishnu, need to get lots of interactive play and intellectual stimulation so we don’t get bored and become destructive.

A closet with a litter box made from a clear storage tote on the floor.

Litter box made from a storage tote, courtesy of Felines Are Wonderful

Siouxsie: So what can you do about this? Well to address the issue of kitty litter flying all over the place, we’d recommend that you try a large storage tote, preferably one with clear sides like the one in the photo at left. This image came from the Felines Are Wonderful blog, and you can see that it has a shallow cutout on one side to allow easy access to the box.

Thomas: And for the record, thanks to our Auntie Adrianna, Mama just found out that an IKEA Toftbo bath mat is absolutely the best litter mat ever. The litter from the box and from our paws gets caught in the rug, and it’s very easily washable.

Bella: To deal with the stress Vishnu may be feeling, try a couple of feline pheromone diffusers. Don’t plug a diffuser in near the litter box, though.

Siouxsie: As for the food digging, we think you’ll be able to both stop the digging and give Vishnu some intellectual stimulation by exchanging her automatic feeder for a rolling food ball. These are available at almost every pet store, and they’re also sold through online retailers.

Rolling cat food ball

Rolling cat food ball

Thomas: Mama and Auntie Adrianna usually recommend these to their cat sitting clients whose kitties need some extra exercise and intellectual stimulation to avoid boredom eating. If you get one of these, Vishnu will be able to play to get her food and get some of her hunting energy out.

Bella: Of course, these food balls only work if you’re feeding kibble. If you feed canned or raw food, you’ll have to try some other tactics because you can’t leave that stuff out all day.

Siouxsie: If that’s the case, we’d recommend hiding treats around your home so that Vishnu has to hunt for them. But not too many treats, because you don’t want her to get fat!

Thomas: Playing is crucial for both stress reduction and intellectual stimulation. We’d recommend that you get a couple of “thing on a string” toys (our favorites are Da Bird and Neko Flies) and do at least two heavy-duty play sessions a day.

Bella: When we say “heavy-duty,” we mean get Vishnu running and jumping until she pants — as long as she’s healthy and doesn’t have any heart issues — and tire her out.

Siouxsie: Play with her just before her meals so she can “eat her prey” after she’s done with her “hunting.”

Thomas: If you need or want to play with her at other times, reward her with a treat at the end of the play session. But be careful not to overfeed the treats because she could gain weight if you don’t balance out her regular ration and her treats to provide about the same number of calories she’s currently eating.

Bella: Good luck, Crazy (or perhaps Not So Crazy is a better name because you want to make sure your kitty is happy and fulfilled). Please let us know how things turn out.