New Pet Snake Has Changed Cat's Behavior

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, offers insight to resident cat's response to a natural predator.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: July 17, 2009, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: My husband and I have an issue with our cat and we have no idea how to take care of the problem. He is a 10-year-old neutered male. He has been an "only child" until recently. We adopted a corn snake from a friend and since "Jake" has come to live with us, our cat has decided to poop on the floor. His litterbox is clean. We have not changed the litter brand or where the box is kept. We have rubbed his nose in it, put him in his litterbox and closed the door for a day. This advice was from our vet. We have ignored the bad behavior and nothing has worked. It was brought to my attention that maybe he doesn't feel like the alpha male anymore and is getting back at us. I understand bringing a dog or cat into the home, but a snake? Any advice? We are confused and concerned.

A: Please do not punish your cat. He isn’t being bad, and he’s not using the litterbox because of “alpha” issues. He has a very good reason for not using his litterbox. Rubbing your cat’s nose in the excrement is inhumane and will not remedy the situation.

Your cat is responding in a realistic and natural way to the snake. Many cats are frightened of snakes; though there are cats who will bat snakes around and sometimes kill them. Depending on the size and type of snake, they can be a threat to cats and cats can be a threat to them.

Your cat is probably responding instinctually out of fear to the snake. Additionally, your cat has been the only animal resident in your home for his whole life. Bringing in a new animal at this stage, especially one who is a predator, such as a snake, can be alarming and stressful for your cat. Cats who are not feeling secure often will eliminate outside of their litterbox. When a cat goes to the bathroom, they are vulnerable. This is an opportune time to be picked off or ambushed by another predator. Snakes are predators, even if a corn snake’s favorite meal is a mouse or a rat. Your cat is not feeling secure enough to use his cat box.

My first recommendation is to find another home for Jake, the snake. Your kitty is your first child and deserves first consideration. I happen to appreciate and like snakes, but would never have one with my cats. Very rarely is there social harmony between snakes and cats. Jake deserves his own home where he can be Corn Snake King. If you are unwilling to find another great home for him, my second recommendation is to have a “snake room,” where he is in a secure habitat. Jake's room needs to be completely off-limits to your cat. Since corn snakes can be escape artists, his habitat has to be completely escape-proof, just in case your cat does accidentally dash into the room.

From your e-mail it also sounds like you have only one litterbox. You need to provide your cat with other clean, uncovered cat boxes. They should be located in different areas of the house so that your cat has choices. The boxes should be located in areas where your cat will not feel he might be ambushed or cornered.

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New Pet Snake Has Changed Cat's Behavior

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Reader Comments

Tommy    pocatello, ID

7/20/2009 7:13:44 AM

cool

Jeff    San Jose, CA

7/19/2009 4:22:43 PM

Interesting!

Donna    Austin, TX

7/19/2009 3:56:04 PM

Having a snake in the house would make me feel pretty insecure, too!

Shirley    Tucson, AZ

7/19/2009 11:04:10 AM

Poor cat. Hope they get the snake a new home. Also I believe I'd get a new veterinarian.

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