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

Joshua    Chandler, AZ

1/24/2007 9:25:13 PM

I've been having this same exact problem with my one cat for the past 3 or so months. There are two rather rowdy dogs in the house, so I thought the reason he was going to the bathroom everywhere but his litterbox was because he was marking his territory. I had a cover on the litterbox and I had it back in a corner. I put it in a more open area, took the cover off, ... Problem Solved! Now my place smells better, I'm not frustrated all the time, and my Smokey is more affectionate than ever! This woman is a genius!

Tish    Coonrapids, MN

1/23/2007 5:48:17 AM

I really enjoyed the info in this artical, it is somewhat helpful, but I have a different problem with my cat (Frank Sinatra)He does not poop in the litter box, he either goes in the bath tub or shower stall or the basin in the laundry room, we have four other cats and they all seem to get along I do not know what to do.I really enjoy reading about other cat behaviors it helps me to deal with my cats, but not this one, can some one give me some advice?

Martha    St. Louis, MO

10/19/2006 12:46:28 PM

My Bengal is 4 years old. She uses her box to defecate but urinates on fabric: Chairs, mattresses, laundry on the floor, etc. I have tried everything: Vet. check, Feliway, moving box, cleaning box frequently, larger box, choice of litterbox and she chose one with fabric. I even took her to a cat psychologist. She is an aloof and skitish cat but at bedtime is loving and snuggly. I don't want to get rid of her (one way or another). I don't want to use drugs, but I do want to use my home. As it is, I can't invite people due to the urine smell.

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