Can Persistent Litterbox Problem Be Solved?

A feline behaviorist offers steps to retrain a skittish cat to use the litterbox.

By Pam Johnson-Bennett

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This kitty may be eliminating near the box because those the times when he needs to have more escape potential. Where are the areas in the home where this kitty feels more comfortable?

Here's the plan:

1. Make sure you are scooping boxes twice a day

2. Remove all covers from boxes so the cats have more escape potential.

3. Add a couple of litterboxes on the main floor of the home. 

4. Set up a Feliway Comfort Zone diffuser in the basement (not next to the litterboxes though). The diffuser contains synthetic feline facial pheromones and they have a calming effect on cats and can help them calmly identify with a territory. The product is available from pet supply stores. 

5. Incorporate two or three interactive play sessions with this kitty using a fishing pole-type toy. Bring the kitty in an area away from the other cats so he can relax and concentrate on enjoying the game. The play sessions will help build confidence, ease tension, and will help him to trust you more. 

6. Watch all the cats to see if there is a specific time of day when this cat eliminates inappropriately, or if it happens after an encounter with another cat.

This should get you started. In order to help you more I'd need more specifics about the cat. This is a problem that has been going on longterm so it won't be fixed over night. I applaud the patience you have shown and all that you've done to correct it. Did your veterinarian ever talk to you about any anti-anxiety meds for the kitty?

Finally, even though creating a kitty area in a basement is convenient, it's not necessarily the best for the overall hierarchy.

Let me know if you have questions on any of the above. You can also find step-by-step instructions on interactive playtime, understanding the multi-cat hierarchy, and how to solve litterbox problems in the book, Cat vs. Cat.

Pam Johnson-Bennett, CABC
IAABC-Certified Animal Behavior Consultant

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Reader Comments

Kathie    Holland, PA

2/13/2007 8:01:14 AM

I have been reading your answer about a cat that dirties right outside the litter box being afraid of other cats. I have just recently acquired a cat from a multi cat family. This is a one year old calico and she is very skiddish. I already have put litter boxes on both levels of my house and she is still not using either box. I have no other animals or children in my home. What else can I do to make this cat feel more comfortable and use the appropriate litter box.
PS She came to her previous owners home as a stray but was de clawed and neutered. I know she has probably had a hard time and I do want to make her part of my life.

Kay    Dallas, TX

10/27/2006 6:47:48 AM

An excellent article but you can go one step further in odor elimination. X-O Odor Neutralizers are a great way to eliminate odors. It is an all natural product. It is safe for people and pets. I do pet rescue and have 22 cats still in my home. I have 7 litter boxes to take care of daily. I spray it in after scooping, and after a cat has had a really smelly stool. My Veterinarians use it and love it. I give it to everyone in my pet rescue group. It has been on QVC for about 5 years now. You can call 800-442-9696 for more information or go to their web site at and find where to buy.

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