Ask the Trainer with Jane Ehrlich

Cattitude Feline Behavior ConsultancyJane Ehrlich - Feline Behaviorist

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: First, get Lucy to the vet. “Suddenly” may indicate that there’s a medical issue causing Lucy to “go” elsewhere. If the vet gives the all clear, remember that there are three main reasons for a cat thinking outside the box: medical, stress, or problems with the litter box itself. In the beginning, Lucy was soiling just outside hers, so that box may be the issue. Have there been changes in the type of litter you use or the way you clean the box (different products she may dislike, cleaning less thoroughly or frequently)? Avoid commercial products containing ammonia, bleach, or vinegar. Everything, including the litter, should be unscented; in fact, the best cleaner may be just very hot water! Whatever you use, rinse thoroughly.

Have you changed the box location? Cats hate change. Also, I noticed you write “box” instead of “boxes.” The rule is, one box per cat, plus one. So, Lucy should have two. Are there other cats in the house? Have the relationships changed? Is she feeling intimidated and can’t eliminate when she wants to?

While you’re sleuthing, create a clean slate. The best product I’ve found for clearing up the urine and its smell is Get Serious (GetSeriousProducts.com).

While you’re making the box more appealing (adding catnip to the litter might help), keep the places where you don’t want her to go less appealing. Close the laundry room door, lock up the plastic bags (which you should do, anyway; I’ve known cats who’ve ingested the stuff with unhappy results). Cover the couch with a bedsheet lightly sprayed with lemon, a scent cats usually hate. Try plastic carpet runners with the spoke side up. By changing smell and texture, you’ll keep Lucy from choosing spots you’d rather she avoided.

ABOUT the Trainer
Dealing with clients worldwide, Jane Ehrlich works with issues such as spraying, inappropriate soiling, aggression, introducing pets (and babies) to resident cats … you name it. Ehrlich’s had more than 25 years’ experience working with cat behavior, having originally studied under Dr. Michael Fox, scientist and internationally renowned canine/feline behaviorist. She spent 20 years as a clinical assistant and behavior advisor in the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in London. Ehrlich set up Cattitude in Phoenix three years ago, and is the only feline behaviorist in the state with so many years experience specifically in feline behavior.

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