Inappropriate elimination is the most widely used excuse for giving a cat to a shelter. It doesnt have to be that way.
When you first notice your cat is missing the box, take him to your veterinarian. This might be your first clue that your cat is not feeling well. If he has received a thumbs-up at the clinic, you may need to put on your detective hat to break the case. First determine whether your cat is urinating or marking. If hes spraying against the wall or other vertical surfaces, you have a marking problem. A puddle away from the wall means you need to look to the box for problems, but a stream in the middle of the floor or deposited feces could still indicate a marking behavior.
Often the pan does not meet your cats needs, says veterinary behaviorist Karen Overall, VMD. Some cats, especially large breeds, do not like covered boxes because they do not have room. In this case, your cat may stand in the box and hang his bottom out of the opening.
Sniffing out the problem
Cats are not that different from people in many ways, Overall explains. They dont want to use a dirty or smelly bathroom any more than we do. If you scoop the box every couple of days or change it once a week, there is a good chance you need to pick up the pace and scoop daily and/or change the litter bi-weekly. Do you use a scented litter? Cats are so close to the ground that their noses are right in the litter. Even though scented litters may be pleasant to you, it may be almost painful to your cats highly sensitive nose. A less offensive unscented litter might be just what the kitty ordered.
On the other paw, it may not be an olfactory problem at all; it might be tactile. Although recycled wood pellets may be good for the environment, they may be offensive to your cat. Kittys walking on those pellets is similar to your having to walk barefoot across coarse gravel to get to the toilet. It could be uncomfortable.
The problem also could be a personality conflict, says Overall, who is board certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. A bully cat or dog may block kittys access to the box. Or he may have found himself a prisoner in his own hooded box by an aggressive feline family member. Once a cat has experienced this, he will never go back, she says.
The other reason a cat may not use the box could be strife within the household. Marking behavior can be caused by aggression between family cats. In the beginning, marking is usually covert, Overall says. Spraying can be done by male or female, intact or neutered animals.
Treating urine spraying
Although urination and marking both involve urine, they are two completely different actions. If the cat is standing, wiggling its tail with a look of bliss on its face, it is spraying, Overall says. Sprayed urine hits vertical surfaces and drips down. Cats might also stand in the middle of a horizontal surface, such as a bed, and spray, in which case they will leave a long, thin wet area rather than a puddle.
If you crawl on your hands and knees over every inch of floor and find urine in a puddle in the middle, but no where else, the cat is not spraying, she says.
Spraying can be triggered by hormones in the affected cat or another in the household, by the addition of a new animal, by the visitation of a strange cat to windows or sliding glass doors, by seasonal changes, and by events only understood by cats, Overall explains.
Most often the key to treating spraying is pharmacological intervention, which uses any of a number of calming drugs such as diazepam and clomipramine. The particular drug used depends on the kind of behavior accompanying the spraying – if any. The treatment lasts a minimum of four to six months, but in severe cases, could be necessary for the life of the cat.
Remember that a complete physical examination by a veterinarian is the first step and frequently uncovers a medical reason. Finding and thoroughly cleaning all of your cats hidden spots are a vital key to litter box reform. And finally, help him overcome any emotional issues from which he may be suffering.
With some investigative work and patience, you should have him back in the box where youre both happier.