Marilyn Krieger, Certified Cat Behavior Consultant • The Cat Coach
Q. Our 7-year-old cat, Lucy, suddenly seems to be averse to using her litter box. She sometimes urinates near it, but, oftentimes, she “does her business” elsewhere, including on our couch, on the stash of plastic grocery bags in the kitchen, and even, worst of all, on our clean laundry in the basket. Could you tell us why this is happening and how we can fix the problem?
A. Before determining Lucy has a behavior challenge, have her evaluated by her veterinarian in order to rule out any medical problems that might be causing her to urinate outside of the litter box.
Once your veterinarian gives Lucy a clean bill of health, approach this as a behavior problem. There are a variety of factors that could be contributing to her elimination challenges. Based on the location of her accidents, it sounds like either the litter box, its location, and/or poor litter box management are triggering the behavior.
The first step to persuade Lucy to always eliminate in litter boxes is providing her at least one additional, large, uncovered litter box elsewhere in the house. Place the new box in a location where Lucy won’t feel trapped. Closets and showers are not good places for litter boxes because cats can potentially be cornered—those locations are usually small, enclosed and with only one exit. Good places for litter boxes have multiple escape routes and great views of the whole room. If you have multiple cats, then add more boxes throughout the house. Ideally, you should have as many litter boxes, plus one, as you have cats.
Good litter box management habits are mandatory. Scoop the litter boxes at least once a day. Dump the litter, wash the boxes with water, and replace with fresh litter every few weeks. Depending on the type of litter being used, the litter boxes may need to be emptied and refilled more frequently.
Additionally, thoroughly clean the target areas outside the litter box with an excellent enzyme cleaner. Otherwise, Lucy may continue to eliminate in the same places.
Keep in mind that Lucy is not a bad cat and should not be punished or yelled at. Something in her environment is causing her to feel stressed, resulting in litter box avoidance.
ABOUT the Trainer
Marilyn Krieger, a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant known as The Cat Coach, is an internationally recognized cat behavior specialist, offering both on-site and telephone consultations. Krieger works directly with clients, as well as through veterinarian referrals, using a combination of positive methods, including behavior modification, training, management, and education to help resolve cat behavior issues.
Her book, Cat Fancy’s Naughty No More!, focuses on changing troublesome cat behavior through clicker training, management, education, and other positive reinforcement methods.
In addition to consulting and writing, Krieger teaches classes and lectures nationally on cat behavior. She frequently appears on television and radio programs, providing valuable tips and insight on how to improve cat behavior. Recently, she was featured with her cats on Animal Planet’s Cats 101, showcasing clicker training and talking about cat behavior.