The Mind of Your Cat: 04/03

Question: Three years ago, my husband and I adopted two five year old cats, a female and male that had been raised together. At the time of their adoption, we already had a female cat that had been in our family for two years. The female cats appear to tolerate each other. The male cat, Chester, is a friendly, affectionate cat – though he and the original female do occasionally chase or bat at one another.

This spring, he began to urinate in several areas of the home. My veterinarian cured the problem with medication, and Chester now uses the two boxes in the laundry room to urinate. In fact, he prefers these boxes to the two boxes we keep in the basement.

But in the fall, he began to defecate on the carpet that is just outside the laundry room. When a litter box is placed in that location, he defecates just beside the box. We have tried several types of litter, and we have provided a secure outdoor area that the cats can access through a window. Help!

Answer: With all the care you have taken to assure the comfort of your cats, I expect that you also follow a strict cleaning program. In general, litter boxes should be scooped twice daily, then completely dumped and washed with mild soapy water as needed. Some cats are simply more particular than others about a clean litter box.

Does Chester find the litter suitable for defecation? Some cats have a strong preference for a particular type and depth of litter. We will return to this as we devise our treatment strategy.

And is the box large enough for Chester? If he is a large cat, he may not be comfortable posturing to defecate in a traditional litter pan, particularly if there is a hood or lid on the pan.

As usual, so many questions need to be answered. Let us begin by allowing Chester to answer some of them. This task is best accomplished by offering Chester simple choices and recording his responses. First, put two litter boxes side by side. Since you have already offered many litter types, why not start with two different box styles? You will need to find a very large box with low sides. (Think outside the box. That is, the new box does not need to be a traditional litter box.)

Place the new box adjacent to a traditional litter box. Put an equal amount of litter into each box and note which box, if any, Chester selects. It might be helpful to place these boxes next to the carpeted area upon which he defecates. Later, the boxes can be moved to a more suitable location.

With any luck, Chester will prefer one of the boxes. (Hopefully, the new one!) Your next step will be to put two of the favored boxes side by side, and to vary the type of litter. For instance, you might first test scoopable versus clay. Always keep his favorite litter in one of the boxes, and vary the style of litter in the alternate box. So, if Chester chooses scoopable, the next test would be scoopable versus crystals.

Once you establish a clear litter preference, try varying the depth of litter. Learn whether Chester is more likely to defecate in a box that contains one inch of litter, or one with three inches of litter.

Patience May Be Required
Each choice test should last for about seven to 10 days. If no option suits Chester, do not despair. There are variations to this test that can be introduced as needed. Your veterinarian or a behavior specialist can discuss some of the more complex treatment options that might be employed to satisfy Chesters needs.