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Old 05-03-2020, 05:16   #1
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Litterbox and other cat Q's

I'm almost home with my (new to me) boat and intend to liveaboard at the marina for the foreseeable future.

I want my little bud to stay on the boat with me of course, but I have some concerns.

First, the litterbox. He does this weird thing where he stands up majestically with his tail straight up in the air and he shoots his urine almost straight backwards. It often misses the litterbox completely. I am thinking to convert a low cabinet to a small litterbox room. Pop a hole in the door that lines up with the box, so that it stays out of the way. Has anyone done this? What obstacles can I expect with this?

Also, I can imagine litter in the bilge will destroy a bilge pump pretty fast. They make those plastic landings for cats to step on when they leave the box to get the litter off their feet, are those sufficient? Any other ideas as now the box + landing will be taking up a ton of space.

What kind of litter do you recommend? I currently use the clumping sand stuff. I'm afraid that'll get everywhere. Is there something better for a boat?

And finally, he has been an indoor housecat his whole life. He loves to explore though. Loves being outside (he has access to a screened in balcony currently). He often tries to escape to explore the community. I'm afraid he'll easily get off the boat in the marina and make his way onto other boats, which could be disastrous. I have this fear that he'll pee on someones boat of scratch something, or get hurt or lost. Really can't have any of those things happening. Are there any methods or tips to allow him on deck without worrying about an escape? I get super stressed just thinking about it. And what if he falls in the water?

Any tips or personal experiences will be greatly appreciated!

Also I'm sure this has been discussed, but searching "cat" in a boat forum pulls up a lot of catamarans.

Edit: one more quickie: His cardboard scratchpads leave a mess of shredded cardboard everywhere (worried about the bilge again). I plan to use that scratch rope stuff on some table legs. Any other scratch toys I should know about?

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Old 05-03-2020, 06:11   #2
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Re: Litterbox and other cat Q's

Our ship's cat has a tall litter box with it's own removable (for cleaning) hood. Came with a swinging plexi door (but we didn't attach that). We just keep a rubber mat and an old beach towel underneath the box and extending out from the front a bit, so we can shake out the towel periodically.

Chessie likes Arm & Hammer clumping litter; several kinds available, which we happen to prefer is not my department. Cat stays indoors all the time, no outdoor wandering... just as at home when we're on land.

We trim her claws periodically, and that controls scratching damage to a certain extent.


Selby Bay, South River, Chesapeake Bay, USA.
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Old 05-03-2020, 06:54   #3
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Re: Litterbox and other cat Q's

We have two cats on a 36ft monohull. It's already been a year and so far so good!
We have one top entry litter box ( ) that we've used for year on land and boat. Since being on the boat we've switched to non-clumping litter as that keeps the mess down (no tracked litter, no weird mess when it comes in contact with water). We also have a litter genie ( ) though since using non-clumping litter I hardly use the genie anymore.
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Old 05-03-2020, 07:03   #4
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Re: Litterbox and other cat Q's

When we lived aboard with 3 cats, we had an enclosed litter box built into a locker in the head. It had a small pet door in the locker door thru which they accessed the litter box. The liter box slid out on rails for easy access/cleaning.

They were also outdoor cats which helped when we were tied up somewhere. However, indoor cats are probably best kept indoors as they dont have experience with the outside world and dealing with risks like dogs.

Re the odd urination habit of your cat. An enclosed liter box will help that, and reduces escaped liter. But, that sounds like "spraying" (marking territory with musk glands) not urinating. Is there a strong odor too?

One of our cats was very adventursome and social. He loved meeting new people. When we approached a marina he would lauch off the boat onto the dock before we were even tied up. By the time we got the boat secured, he already knew everybody in the marina.

He did fall overboard a few times, and that is a risk. We had some fake turf on the lower sugar scoop steps to help him get back aboard. He was a strong swimmer so he could get to safety. He did fall off the docks in marina once where all the pilings ended on the underside of the dock so there was nowhere he could climb back on to the dock. He was not happy...and yowwed very loudly...we found him clinging to the upper end of a piling underneath the dock.
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Old 06-03-2020, 10:19   #5
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Re: Litterbox and other cat Q's

Our boat has a companion way ladder with 3 steps that you remove to access the door to the front of the engine. I built a cat box that fit behind it that had a separate top section and a giant mouse hole between steps for access. I don't remember my rationale but for awhile we had two cats sharing and later one big ex-tom and it kept everything pretty tidy. During a 60 hour really terrible weather episode near Isla Cedros he took to spending the worst of it in the cat box as long as we kept it clean.
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Old 06-03-2020, 12:54   #6
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Re: Litterbox and other cat Q's

We have a pair of boat cats that started out as ferals that adoped us while still on land...

We adapted them to the Breeze litter system before moving onto the boat. That works well for us and eliminates the possibility of clumping litter creating concrete in the bilge...

We have a lot of info with links to several resources on our page about our boat cats.

And if you aren't already aware, and have access to Facebook [I have a different name I use for it...] there is a great private group of boating cat owners Gatos del Mar. You have to request membership [free] and you will find lots of discussions on all the questions you raised.

Best wishes with your feline crew.

Cheers! Bill
SV Denali Rose

Short on opinions; focused on research, facts & experience [yours and ours...]
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Old 06-03-2020, 13:07   #7
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Re: Litterbox and other cat Q's

I too built ours under the companionway stairs. At around the 12:00 minute mark of this video I go over how it works (the build was an earlier video).

Two things that I planned to add, but never did were an exhaust fan with charcoal air filter venting into the engine compartment, and a swinging door to help keep the scent down. Neither have been needed if I keep the litter box clean.

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Old 06-03-2020, 13:47   #8
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Re: Litterbox and other cat Q's

Some cats can be trained to use the head. There are a number of videos on YouTube about this.
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Old 06-03-2020, 15:10   #9
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Re: Litterbox and other cat Q's

There is an eco-friendly cat litter available in NZ, called "pine pellets". They absorb urine, but turn to dust in the process. The litter box has a fine screen that allows you to keep the good pellets (after removing the solid lumps with a slotted spade), and then discard the dust. Much better for bilge pumps than any calciferous cat litter.
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Old 06-03-2020, 15:18   #10
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Re: Litterbox and other cat Q's
A great top-loading box.
We used one cruising for two years with two kitties. We are now land-bound, and have two! They are awesome!!!

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Old 06-03-2020, 18:16   #11
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Re: Litterbox and other cat Q's

I lived aboard in Alameda many years ago, preparing Pegasus for an eventual Pacific cruise. One afternoon there was great activity on one of the many beautiful and I might add rarely used yachts, people running to the vessel, gaining entry, only to reappear rather green and ummmm gaging. Readers are probably ahead of his precautionary tale...
As it turned out, a cat had gained entrance through an open porthole, dislodging same as she/he entered.... trapping the feline an estimated 6 weeks earlier.
Yes, the smell one can only imagine, the damage inflicted by this otherwise benign house cat was total and catastrophic. Glorious teak woodwork, curtains, leather covered salon, veneered cabinets, bedding... all scared, ripped and torn beyond repair. They ended up towing this 72’ pride and joy out, I never saw Her again.
The moral: always leave two ports open so strange pus, sorry cats can get out.
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Old 06-03-2020, 18:28   #12
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Re: Litterbox and other cat Q's

Given that your cat is a “he”, is it possible he hasn’t yet been neutered? Because normally the sort of horizontal urination is described as “spraying” and is normally the habit of an un-neutered tom cat marking territory. If this is so, neutering him is probably the only solution.

As far as going ashore in the marina, we found it near impossible to stop our cat from exploring and frequently got complaints from neighbors that he was visiting their boats (not all people like cats). But he was neutered and never, as far as we know, urinated on any other boats.
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Old 06-03-2020, 21:35   #13
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Re: Litterbox and other cat Q's

As a boat owner that has had cat invasions, I do not like being in a marina where cats are left to wander the docks. They are curious, will come in at any possible time or hatch or porthole, especially invading in the middle of the night.
Food gets eaten, stinky spraying around the boat, scratches on cushions, etc.
If you cannot keep the cat in the cabin, keep it tied with a string in the cockpit.
Cats do not last very long on boats that go long distance cruising, as they hear a flying fish on the deck or some such, make a grab and go over the side.
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Old 08-03-2020, 15:05   #14
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Re: Litterbox and other cat Q's

We enjoy having our cat on board (his name is Hobie - seemed appropriate), but he does come with issues that you need to be on top of.

As far as litter goes, I tried clumping litter for the first three years. Then I switched to the Breeze pellet system. Although hard little pellets do get kicked around the parameter of the box, it's better than having all the clay litter going all over the place and into the bilge. If you do use clumping litter, make sure you get a really heavy one so it doesn't fly around so much. I do wash and reuse the pellets in the Breeze system, but you will need to bring a good supply of pads with you from the states - they are impossible to find in the Bahamas or Caribbean. Amazon has pretty reasonably priced knock off pads.

We are rarely at marinas, but when we are, our cat loves to go visiting. One of the most important things you can do is leash train your cat so that you can walk him just like a dog. Get a good snug harness and make sure he/she can't slip out of it easily - the small dog ones are better than the cat ones with soft collar and perfectly safe. I then rig a line in the cockpit so he can sit on the combing but go no farther. When he wants to check something out, I put him on his leash and we walk the docks.

Most cats are good swimmers. Ours has fallen in twice but not off the boat - once jumping from the dinghy to the boat and once jumping from the dock to the "mainland" and not realizing he was still on his leash (bad cartoon moment). He swam like a maniac, so we were pleased to see that he could swim in an emergency. We do have a lifejacket for him on board, but have only used it about once when we were in the dinghy. I recommend that you tie something off the back of the boat to enable him/her to climb up on their own - some people use rug squares, macramed (sp?) rugs, or even noodles.

Wherever you plan on going, make sure you are up to date on what permits, vaccinations, etc., you have to get before going there. There are some really strict restrictions in the BVI's and various Caribbean islands - they will confiscate your pet if you don't comply. For the Bahamas, you need to get a permit to import your cat before you arrive. For any British islands, you will have to put your cat through Titer vaccines.

Also be sure that you know where the veterinarians are located. I had to fly Hobie from Georgetown in the Exumas to Nassau when he had a struvite crystal blockage - the vet only comes once a week to Georgetown and the cat would have been dead by then. So be prepared for the unexpected.

Also ask your vet to give you some basic pain and anti-anxiety meds for your cat if you won't be near a vet. And pack plenty of food and litter. Our cat is on a prescription diet, and in the Bahamas it's $4.50 for a six ounce can, so we load up in the states. Litter and cat food is very expensive in the Bahamas.

Hope that helps. Happy to answer any other questions. Melanie
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Old 26-03-2020, 20:39   #15
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Re: Litterbox and other cat Q's

My kids' cats used to sling kitty litter every where. I purchased a large clear tote and cut a round hole in one end. Placed the cats individually in to the tote with the litter box and they figured out the rest on their own. The plastic box would be easy to clean urine off of if need be. Hope that helps.

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