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: There are numerous reasons why feline inappropriate elimination begins. However, no matter what the reason is for the behavior beginning, this reason rarely (if ever) is why the behavior continues. The main reason that the behavior is maintained is that your cat detects and continues to respond to scents from old inappropriate areas. No matter why the behavior started or why it continues, the following techniques have a very good chance of resulting in improvement.
The litter box should attract your cat mainly via her sense of smell. It should not contain, or in any way be associated with, any stimulus that is repulsive to your cat. To help ensure this, these tips should be implemented:
Use only standard clay litter.
Clean the box by dumping out all of the litter and rinse and scrub box well with hot water only. Do not use any type of cleaning solution or deodorizer. Do this once per week.
After the litter box has been scooped or cleaned, leave behind a small amount of litter that has been saturated with your cat’s urine (a tablespoon size will suffice), as well as a very small piece of your cat’s stool (about the size of a pencil eraser).
The box should be kept in a non-carpeted room.
Do not associate any form of physical interaction or correction with the litter box.
If your cat can detect urine or stool from previous inappropriate eliminations, chances are she will continue to use that area as a toilet area. Treat the inappropriate toilet areas with a cleaner such as The Eliminator Stain and Odor Remover.
Avoid the following:
Placing the food or water bowl over the area.
Placing mothballs or other repelling substance on the area.
Use of an electronic training device.
Disciplining after the fact.
Feline inappropriate elimination is modified by altering environmental factors such as confinement and not by physical interaction or correction. The purpose of confinement is to force your cat to use the litter box and to give you time to treat your home.
Confine your cat 24 hours per day for the first week of the program. You may spend as much time as you like with your cat while it is confined. Your cat should not be released from confinement for any reason. Once your cat has demonstrated that she will use the litter box when confined and once the area has successfully been treated, you can begin to give your cat more freedom.
During the second week of the program your cat may be released into the rest of your home, but only when you can watch her every second. If you cannot watch your cat, she must be confined. During the third week of the program your cat may be released into your home without supervision, but only for the two-hour period following a urination or defecation in the litter box. If your cat has gone mistake-free during the third week, she can then be given total freedom of your home. However, you must inspect the box to be sure it is being used on a regular basis.
ABOUT the Trainer
Dr. Bob Andrysco has a Ph.D. in combined studies from the colleges of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Behavior, and Human Psychology from Ohio State University. This unique combination of studies, coupled with his 22 years of practical experience, enables Dr. Andrysco to examine and help improve the relationship between any guardian and pet. Dr. Andrysco has published numerous works on the topic of pet behavior, including the popular book Tricks I Taught My Master. He also has an extensive history in the area of public speaking and has logged more than 2,000 hours on radio and television. Dr. Andrysco has consulted numerous organizations worldwide, including the Humane Society of the United States. Dr. Andrysco is based in the Chicago area, but also makes scheduled visits to Indianapolis, Columbus, OH, and Poughkeepsie, NY. He also offers assistance to pet guardians worldwide via telephone and e-mail consultations.