Ask the Trainer with Pam Johnson-Bennett

Cat Behavior Associates

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 Pam Johnson-Bennetteven, 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: Litter box problems can be stressful for everyone involved, most especially the cat. There’s a three-step approach that I use for solving litter box problems:

1) Take Lucy to the veterinarian. Even if you’re sure the cause is behavioral, it’s important to make sure there isn’t an underlying medical condition such as the start of lower urinary tract disease, renal failure, or diabetes, to name just a few.

2) The next step is to look at the litter box set-up. Some reasons why a cat may reject the litter box include: cleanliness, wrong size/type, unappealing litter, disagreeable box location. In general, when the cat eliminates near, but not in the box, she’s often saying that she’s trying but there’s something wrong with the set-up. Are you scooping at least twice daily? Is the box covered? If so, take the cover off. Is the box too small? Are there other cats in the home? If so, you need the same number of litter boxes as you have cats. These are just a few questions to ask yourself.

3) Look at household dynamics. Is this a tense multi-cat household? Has something changed in the home? Figure out what might be stressing her out and help her become secure in the environment through behavior modification. If there’s tension between her and another cat, help them both feel less threatened. If she’s uncomfortable with another person, then work on improving that relationship. If she’s lonely, set aside time each day to conduct an interactive play session, and incorporate the use of puzzle feeders and activity toys so she has something to do when you’re at work. The bottom line: Get to the underlying cause and work on creating a secure, fun, stimulating, and comfortable environment for her.

ABOUT the Trainer
Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC, is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and best-selling author of eight books. She is a former Vice President of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and is the founder/co-chair of the organization’s Cat Division. She is a professional member of the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals. Johnson-Bennett is also on the American Humane Association’s Advisory Board on Animal Behavior and Training. The revised and expanded version of her best-selling book, Think Like a Cat, will be released late September 2011. Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, LLC, a private veterinarian-referred behavior service in Nashville, TN.

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