Solving Chronic Litterbox Problems

A feline behavior expert offers tips to help stop inappropriate elimination.

By Pam Johnson-Bennett

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Keep using the Feliway diffuser in his sanctuary room. Do lots of interactive playtime with him, using a fishing pole toy to help build his confidence. Then open the door and conduct a play session right outside the door. Gradually work your way into the main part of the house for these play sessions. Always end them with a treat or offering him a portion of his food. He needs as many positive experiences in the main part of the house as possible.

Set up several open, uncovered litter boxes in various parts of the house. They should be spread throughout the home to allow for different areas that a particular cat may claim. The rule is that you should have the same number of litter boxes as cats but when you're experiencing a crisis such as yours, you need to up that number. I would recommend initially setting up three or four boxes and then as Drake gets more comfortable in the home you'll probably find that one or two of the boxes aren't used that much and you'll be able to eventually remove them.

The boxes need to be in plain sight. Don't put them in closets, under tables or wedge them in corners. Since Drake is not comfortable in the home right now, he needs "escape potential" from the box. This means that he needs to feel as if he is totally safe when in the box and will have plenty of avenues to get out should he feel as if he about to be ambushed or is worried about a potential "intruder". Position the box in a room so it is on the side opposite the entrance. This gives Drake a longer warning time should someone enter the room. The need for escape potential is often why cats eliminate on elevated surfaces such as an owner's bed or a couch or the kitchen counter. It offers them more of a visual advantage to watch for intruders and it makes them feel more protected so they won't get ambushed from behind. It's also why cats may choose throw rugs because they are often in front of objects and out in plain sight so the cat has adequate escape options. This is something you need to seriously look at in terms of your litter box set-up.

As for drug therapy, buspirone is an excellent drug if prescribed and used correctly. The cat must be on the drug for several months at least and it usually takes about 3 weeks before you see a change in behavior. Drug therapy must also be used in conjunction with behavior modification. I think it might be a very good idea for you to look into having a behavior consultant visit your home so he/she can see your cat in his environment and make some specific behavior modification suggestions.

I can't be more specific without knowing more of your situation. For example, what is the relationship like between the cats, especially since the move?

The above information should get you started. Let me know if I can be of more help.

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

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