8 out of 9 cats I've had innately wanted to use a litter box. (The 9th cat didn't do it, but she had many, many issues, including epilepsy and what basically amounts to a mental handicap.)
Cats instinctively want to hide their droppings (in order to hide themselves), and will generally do so in the best place that's available to them.
Whenever one of these cats did not use the litter box, there was usually a good reason for it:
- I forgot to clean the litter box and it really needed a cleaning.
- The cat couldn't make it to the litter box in time.
- The cat did not like the litter we used (wood pellets and chalk grounds were apparently not acceptable for the respective cats we used it for).
Almost always, the cats didn't just urinate anywhere they pleased when they didn't use the litter box. They still picked specific spots, e.g. carpets, flower pots, etc.
The fact that your cat uses the duvet but not the mattress suggests that it's still choosing the best spot. Your duvet is likely more absorbent than the mattress, or it carries a stronger smell (which hides their smell), both are good reasons for why a cat would think that it's a good place to urinate.
If it's still choosing the best spot, that means that it either actively thinks that your litter box is not the best spot, or that it has never considered the litter box as a viable spot (this can happen if e.g. another cat is already using it).
Also I've been trying to discipline this behaviour by keeping my eye out for him squatting and moving him to the litterbox - which doesn't seem to be working and I can't catch him when I'm asleep or not there.
This is a good approach, but your cat may not learn quickly (and you may respond too late for it to register that its urine is well absorbed by the litter).
You can also try it the opposite way: Pour some cat litter over a spot where they urinated. The idea is the same: you're showing the cat what happens when you combine urine and litter. They'll make the connection between the two eventually. This is more uncomfortable for your case because the cat uses your duvet, but I assume you wouldn't want to use a duvet sprinkled with fresh cat urine anyway.
Note that if your cat is a slow learner (as my 9th cat was), you'll need to do it slowly. Progress through the ranks as quickly/slowly as the cat is able to keep up:
- Preventively pour some litter on their favorite urination spot. See if they still use it.
- If they do, put the litter in a box, and put the box on that spot. See if they still use it.
- Gradually move the litter box and the duvet away from each other, but keep them in sight. Make the cat choose between the duvet and the litter box.
- If the cat chooses the litter box, great!
- If the cat does not choose the litter box, remove the duvet and see if it defaults to the litter box.
- If it's still not getting it, keep using the duvet as a litter mat and buy yourself a new duvet.
- Gradually move the litter box to where you want it to reside.
Notice that none of the steps entail punishing the cat. It generally doesn't work, definitely not as easily as for dogs.
Instead, what you should do is investigate. Try figuring out how the cat decides on where to urinate (making it choose between the duvet and the litter quickly reveals the cat's reasoning). The best way to change a cat's behavior is to investigate, understand and apply their reasoning, so that you can design the intended location (litter box) to be the best option in the cat's opinion.
As a somewhat silly (but apt) example, if your cat always urinates on green carpets and never on red carpets, and you have a red litter box; you'll be better off buying a green litter box instead of trying to get the cat to change its color preference.
My partner has a spray bottle that he uses and he's been spraying him whenever he tries to get on the bed - this also seems to have no effect.
That's because it teaches him the wrong lesson.
If you use punitive measures like spraying, you're supposed to use them directly after the specific misbehavior you want them to correct. The idea is simple: when the punishment seems to be an inevitable consequence of the misbehavior, and the cat does not want the punishment, that creates an incentive to not engage in the misbehavior.
But the trigger for being punished is getting on the bed, regardless of whether he intended to urinate or not. The lesson you're teaching him is that he's not allowed to be on the bed.
Even if that lesson sticks, then he's just going to go find another spot to do his business. Trying to teach your cat all the places he's not allowed to urinate is a Sisyphean task. You're better off trying to teach where he should urinate.
Even if both methods are equivalent, ask yourself whether this is really the life you envisage for your cat. Consider going to school, and you get to pick the school:
- A school where wrong answers are punished, and right answers reward you with nothing (except a lack of punishment).
- A school where wrong answers are not punished, but right answers are rewarded.
Regardless of which is the more efficient teaching method, wouldn't you lead an overall happier life in the second school?
My partner is now wanting to use a small cage to punish him like we did when we had ferrets but I'm not convinced that this will help at all.
This is not a good idea. Cats do not respond to the intention of teaching like dogs.
If a dog does something, and you get upset with it, it instinctively connects the two events. It knows that the human's interaction often related to what the dog just did; and therefore the dog knows to listen to the feedback and learn from it. Dogs look at intended communication.
Even when they have no idea what you're saying, they still infer that it's related to their actions. Because that's how their mind works. They are social animals, and therefore have experience with the concept of feedback.
A simple example is when you discover after the fact that your dog destroyed something. If you get upset (hours after it actually destroyed the object), the dog will still understand that your feedback relates to his actions, because the dog understands that you only just discovered evidence of his destruction, and you're clearly pointing at it.
If a cat does something, and you get upset with it, the cat registers that as two separate events. It does not consider the fact that your interaction is related to what it just did. Cats are not social animals. They have no experience with listening to feedback.
Cats don't work that way. Cats look at cause and effect. Getting upset at the cat does nothing, as the cat isn't even remotely interested in what you're trying to communicate.
Compared to the dog example, you can't punish a cat after the fact. You need to do it immediately, so that the cat eventually understands that its a direct effect of what happened directly before it (their misbehavior). If you respond too slowly, it's not going to understand that, and your (unkind) feedback will only reflect on the cat's opinion of you without actually teaching it anything about misbehavior.
- Cats do what they want to do. They make their own decisions, and will continue to do so.
- Cats do not listen to what you say. They do what they think is right.
- In order to get a cat not to do something, offer it an alternative that the cat thinks is better. Your cat is currently considering the duvet a better spot than the litter box, so you need to change the litter box (e.g. use different litter) to make it a more desirable spot.
- Cats don't respond to punishment the same way as dogs do. If you do use punitive measures, make sure to only enact them as an immediate response to misbehavior. Don't punish them after the fact because they will not understand the reason for the punishment, and they will think you're being unkind for no apparent reason.
- Do not punish a cat for something that could lead to misbehavior (e.g. jumping on the bed). Only punish them for actual misbehavior (urinating on the bed). If you didn't catch it in time, there's nothing more you can so, you missed your shot. Taking it out on the cat is only going to diminish the cat's opinion of you.