How Do I Curb My Cat's Resource Guarding?

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, discusses ways to eliminate your feline's domination of litterboxes.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted Nov. 14, 2008, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: We have a cat named Wimberley, who is not spayed. She is about 10 months old and we rescued her from being thrown out of a moving truck. She was nothing but skin and bones when we found her. We have two litterboxes that I clean out every day. One is downstairs in the laundry room and the other is in the upstairs bathroom, and is not used very often. Wimberley will allow Bear, the other cat, to use the boxes right after I clean them, but then she dominates both boxes. What do we do?

A: Thank you for rescuing Wimberley. Sometimes traumatized cats need a little help adjusting to their new homes. It sounds like you are doing a fantastic job with her. On an aside, please do get her spayed.

Wimberley’s behavior is called resource guarding. Cats don’t have the monopoly on resource guarding; it’s a fairly common animal behavior. Animals who resource guard keep other animals from accessing resources such as food, cat boxes, favorite people and toys.

Your current litterbox configuration is a set up for resource guarding. There aren’t enough litterboxes and the two you do have are located in areas where Bear can feel trapped. A typical fall-out of litterbox resource guarding is inappropriate elimination.

With some simple litterbox management, Wimberley’s behavior can be turned around.

Cats need choices. Also, cats don’t like to feel trapped. You need additional cat boxes placed throughout the house. The boxes shouldn’t be covered and shouldn’t be located in areas where Bear can feel cornered or reticent about using them since Wimberley is into resource guarding. 

Covered boxes keep odors in, but cats also can feel trapped in covered boxes since they can’t see out of them and there is only one exit and entrance. Instead of standard litter boxes, I recommend the large 66-quart Sterilite Clearview storage containers. They have high sides and are translucent. The translucency allows cats to see other animals that may be approaching. Since there are no covers on the boxes, cats feel more secure because there are many ways out of the box. The tall sides make cleanup easier, especially for those cats that like to dig to the center of the Earth or like to stand up while urinating.

I recommend adding at least two additional cat boxes in different locations in the house. Bathrooms, closets and laundry rooms aren’t great choices for litterboxes for two reasons: Cats can feel cornered in those areas and those locations are easy to resource guard. Ideal placements for cat boxes are areas where Bear and Wimberley can see the whole room and out the door.

Bear will appreciate having additional cat boxes to choose from. Additionally, Wimberley will find that she can’t successfully resource guard the boxes in the new open locations.




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Reader Comments

Laurie    Lake Alfred, FL

1/2/2009 9:32:08 AM

Thanks for this information. Our kitten Cuddles was the first of the litter to potty train and helped the others to learn. Our only male Tigger has decided to resourch guard all four litter pans and has caused Cuddles to behave badly. We love her and were really trying to help her overcome her problem. Now we realize it was caused by three of the litter boxes being located together. We have placed two in other locations and hope this will help her. Thanks for the artical.

Noelle    Beecher, IL

11/16/2008 6:11:26 PM

What a great article. Thanks

D    Indy, IN

11/16/2008 10:01:45 AM

I had no idea that cats have this behavior, too! Actually, I just learned a few months ago about dogs having it with their food and toys.

E    Attleboro, MA

11/16/2008 12:24:34 AM

good article

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