Cats Onboard [Updated Jan-2019]

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Helping Landlubber Felines Convert to Life Afloat

How did we make sailors out of the two cats who adopted us over the years?  (See their bios in our Crew Manifest.) 

Bill had considerable experience from the past raising of a cat on a cruising boat [BC loved to travel in boats, automobiles, airplanes, etc. as a consequence.] But neither of us had experience helping landlubber felines adapt to life onboard. 

We found some books written by a cruising Veterinarian who goes by Capt'n Dr. Dave

They helped guide us through the process with our feline crew.
And here is a cat loving Veterinarian who created and maintains a well written web site all about achieving proper health and nutrition for our feline friends. [We highly recommend you set aside some time to delve into the material presented there...] 

What about seasickness? 
We have one cat that suffers on occasion. Our vet told us to administer 1/4-1/2 of a Bonine tablet ahead of time. [NO substitutions! Only Bonine.] 

Gus benefits from a 1/4 Bonine tablet on days when it might be a bit sportier than usual... [The Admiral usually consumes the other 3/4...] 

Boat Litter Boxes

Our cats were used to clumping litter in large, enclosed litter boxes. Cruising with a cat in times past Bill used everything from washed beach sand to potting soil [basically whatever was available while cruising...]

This time around, we didn't want to store the weight and size of clumping litter needed to cover several months at a time. And remember, it is actually a liability on a boat: it isn't waterproof and could potentially clog the limber (drain) holes in the bilge, not the mention what it might do to the bilge pumps...

And we especially wanted to eliminate the odors, airborne dust [Bill has asthma] and tracking of crunchy sand sized particles in the boat... Therefore, we shifted our 2 cats over to the TidyCats Breeze litter system in early 2014 [months before they became sailors] and have no regrets. [Nor do they...]
The Breeze litter system is often offered for less than $30 including shipping in the US. And the expendables [absorbent pads and ceramic pellets] are like ink for a cheap printer; we shop carefully each time for best deals. Sometimes that takes a few days as prices fluctuate often- like airline tickets. [More below...]
The only scooping required is for solids. Liquids pass through the ceramic [i.e., non-adsorbent] pellets to the absorbent pad, below.
The Breeze eliminates dust and tracking because the litter is waterproof, ceramic pellets, and the [reversible] tray that holds the absorbent urine pad makes changing the 'diaper pad' painless. If you don't let solids accumulate, the box is odorless [unless you allow the urine pad to become over saturated...]
With 2 cats, we end up changing the pads on 2 litter boxes about weekly... [i.e., 1 pad/week/cat give or take...] The pads hold a lot of liquid and don't drip or leak or smell [again, if not over saturated...]  We simply fold them in thirds for disposal in a plastic bag. There are cheaper, third-party pads available, but we have found they don't hold nearly as much liquid- necessitating more frequent changes- and they don't have the odor neutralizer- so they aren't really cheaper or better...)
We have considered modifying a pad tray by drilling a drain hole with a short pipe underneath [that would fit into a shower drain...] Position that drain hole over the shower drain [which has an isolated sump pump, and is flushed regularly with the fresh, soapy water from our showers...] This approach might reduce/ eliminate the need for pads when the litter box is located in a shower pan... Watch for updates...
Odors? None- as long as you:
  • Clean the solids out daily or per use
  • Don't let the urine pads get oversaturated
    • We have found that 7 days from 1st urination is about max before odors begin...
  • Keep enough pellets in litter box to completely cover the bottom
  • IMPORTANT [Update 2-Jun-2017]: Only use unscented Breeze litter pads. 
    • Breeze now makes two versions of the urine pads; scented and unscented. We accidentally received an order of the scented pads and couldn't even keep the unopened box [of plastic sealed pads...] indoors the odor was so strong. We returned them. Be aware when ordering... 
    • We have received reports of cats that were veteran users of the Breeze litter box rejecting it when scented pads were tried. 
    • And the scent is so strong they would stink up the entire boat...
  • Avoid the generic, cheaper litter pads as well
    • The ones we tried started to smell after a couple of days. We then realized that the Breeze pads [remember we use the unscented ones...] are treated to control the urine smell; the generics are not. 
    • To quantify, we average about 7 days per pad per cat with the Breeze pads. We only get 3- 4 days from the generics. Therefore, no real cost savings, and risk of urine odor to boot.
Cost comparison?
We find this system is 30-50% cheaper than good clumping litter if we shop very carefully [Prices are all over the place...] 

Since we converted to the Breeze litter system, 6 months worth of supplies for 2 cats have run between ~US$70-$90 every 6 months from Amazon [including shipping.] We find the pellets last 2-6 1-3 months, and in a pinch you can soak them to clean/sanitize and recycle them back into use. 

We have read of others using wood litter pellets [e.g., cedar] and small plastic balls [e.g, Airsoft balls] with purported success. We haven't tried this, and wonder if the wood pellets might soon become urine soaked and smelly, and whether the small spherical balls might be difficult to walk on and dig holes in? [for the cats...] 

Storage requirements?
Storing 6 months worth of supplies requires about the same amount of space as 2 weeks worth of clumping litter... and is much lighter overall. That is another big win for us. 
This means by ordering ahead, we can carry 2+ year's worth of litter products for 2 cats in less space than 3 months of clumping litter would require... and the Breeze litter pelets are waterproof...
Here is what we buy: [The best pricing we have found- and they fluctuate. Please share if you find something better...]

How did we get the cats to adapt to the new litter boxes? 

We put the Breeze litter box next to their old litter box and stopped cleaning the old box during the transition period [but always keep the new box spotless...] It took about 3 days before they stopped using the old box, at which time we replaced it with a 2nd Breeze litter box...

We always keep litter boxes in separate areas of the boat, and well separated from their [and our...] food and water... 

We accomplish this on the boat by keeping one litter box in the master head shower [temporarily relocating it to the master cabin sole or mid-ship cabin/ laundry room /workshop when using the shower] and the other in whatever location isn't in frequent use at the time; typically alternating between the forward head or forward cabin [when no guests are aboard.] Sometimes we might even put one under the lower settee table, laundry/work room, etc. They learn to look for it- which is good prep for travel off the boat [based upon past experiences traveling with a cat....]

How did you get your landlubber cats to adopt to life afloat? 

Please leave a comment with any tips and tricks...

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