The Pet Vet says… Dealing with 'litter box avoidance' | February 15, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - February 15, 2008

The Pet Vet says… Dealing with 'litter box avoidance'

by Dr. Heidi Strand

Q. Sometimes my cat goes poop on my bed, or in my closet. I keep the litter box clean and in the bathroom. There doesn't seem to be any pattern to this messy behavior. Can you explain why he might be doing this?

Q. My 8-year-old male cat has started spraying and peeing on the carpet. He is an indoor kitty and at first I thought it was because he smelled another cat through the front door (My neighbor's cat is constantly at my front door). But then I started noticing that he has been spraying in the bedroom and in the living room and in the dining room. This morning when I was getting ready for work he calmly walked out and squatted on the carpet right in front of me and peed on the carpet looking at me the entire time! His litter box is clean and he doesn't seem to be in any pain. I am renting and my landlady is going to kill me if I don't get this under control.

A. House soiling is the bane of cat owners everywhere. Not to mention veterinarians. And landlords. Sometimes a medical reason can be found, sometimes it cannot. But the first place to start is with your veterinarian. Particularly with inappropriate urination, as in the second question above. Cats are more prone to urinary tract disorders than dogs, ranging from infections to bladder stones to urethral obstructions. Behaviorists theorize that when a cat has a urinary tract disorder and experiences pain or discomfort on urination, he then associates that discomfort with his litter box, leading him to urinate elsewhere. Problems with inappropriate defecation can sometimes indicate a problem with the gastrointestinal system or with your cat's diet. Giving your veterinarian a full history, including when the problem started, where it occurs, and how frequently, is very helpful.

If a medical cause cannot be found, then we usually look at the litter box. "Litter box avoidance" can occur because the cat does not like the box or its contents. Be sure to keep it clean, scooping once or twice daily and emptying to clean once a week. If you have more than one cat, you need at least one litter box per cat, as cats are territorial animals. If you have a covered box, you may need to switch to an open one. Or try changing litter - some cats do not like the clumping varieties or scented brands. Also, any areas in the house that have been urinated or defecated on need to be cleaned thoroughly with an enzymatic product like Nature's Miracle. If the odor has penetrated the carpet pad, your cat can still smell it, even if you can't.

Cats can have litter box issues due to stress as well. Conflict with other pets, changes in the household, even new pets in the neighborhood can all be stressors. If you cannot control outside situations (such as talking to your neighbor about not letting their cat visit your front door), then you may need to confine your cat to a smaller area with his litter box, food, water and toys. We call this "kitty jail." After a couple days, allow him out - if he soils the house, back he goes. Sometimes tough love is needed to save your relationship, and your sheets.

--Dr. Heidi Strand is a veterinarian for the East Bay SPCA in Dublin. She has lived in the Tri-Valley for 10 years with her family and an assortment of four-legged friends. Questions can be mailed to 315 Diablo Road, Suite 100, Danville 94526; or e-mailed to Her column runs every other week.