(Here are a few articles that were originally printed
in CAT WATCH, a veterinarian paper published by Cornell University)
Ellen Lindell, PhD
||(When a cat
'forgets' his housetraining)
Q. My cat
will no longer urinate in his litter box. The behavior began when
we moved to our new house a few months ago....
A. The best way to help the cat
back to his litter box is to discover the basis for his new behavior.
Urination outsidea box is a clinical sign, not a diagnosis in and
of itself. What are some of the most common reasons that a cat might
begin to urinate outside his box?
- Urinary Tract Infection or inflammation
- Reduced level of comfort in new home
- Barrier to the litter box
- Availability of a more convenient location
or more desirable substrate
YOU MAY NEED TO BE A DETECTIVE
So which of these applies to
your cat? First it is important to be sure he doesn't suffer from
a urinary tract disorder. A urine sampleshould be checked in any
litterbox trained cat that suddenly begins to not use the box. When
your veterinarian checks the urine sample, he or she will also be
able to screen for other underlying medical conditions that couild
affect the urinary tract.
When cats are not comfortable
in a situation, they may mark selected surfaes with their urine.
Although we don;t like the scent, the chemicals that are deposited
apparently do provide comfort to cats. In a typical case of urine-marking,
relatively small quantities of urine are deposited outside the litter
box. Larger urine puddles continue to be found inside the litter
Since your cat uses the new location
in lieu of the litter box, it is not likely that he is marking.
Still, there are some points to consider before a single, final
diagnosis can be confirmed with confidence.
First, are there signs that he
is not comfortable in his new home? Has he changed his habits regarding
eating, playing or interacting with the family? A relocation in
and of itself can create some insecurities for a cat, particularly
if the new home is larger than the previous one. A cat may feel
threatened by neighborhood cats hovering by a window. Sometimes,
cats can become anxious whe left alone, and continue to use their
litter boxes at other times.
Should a catfind it difficult
to access a litter box, he might begin to explore other elimination
options. If he does travel to his litter box to defecate, it is
not likely that he fonds the box aversive. But we should not ignore
the possibility of a litter box barrier. Many things can create
a litter box barrier. Even a middle aged cat may experience arthritis
pain that can contribute to a reluctance to climb stairs to reach
a box. Since he jumps onto a chair, pain is not a likely factor,
but a physical examination is in order.
Some cats are easily frightened
particularly when faced with loud noises. If accessing a litter
box means passing close to a loud appliance a cat might seek alternative
toilet areas. There can also be social barriers. Although you may
have no other cats, a dog or a young child may stand between a cat
and his litter box.
Finally, some cats are repelledby
dirty litter boxes. With the commotion of moving and redecorating,
litter boxes can get neglected.
A cat may discover a new surface
in the house that is quite suitable for elimination. In that case,
we would say that the cat has developed a new substrate preference
for elimination. One would expect similar fabrics to be targeted.
Your cats has selected a specific chair. When a cat returns to the
same location repeatedly, with no evidence for marking behavior,
a diagnosis of location preference is supported.
Don't despair! It is very likely
that he can be reconditioned to use a litter box in the location
of your choice. First, put a new litter box near the chair. When
he begins to use the box consistently, thoroughly clean and very,
very gradually move the box toward a location you would find more
convenient. Once you have successfully moved the litter box several
feet from the chair, place a small dish of food close to the chair.
Most cats do not view feeding stations as elimination areas.
If he doesn't begin to use the
box within two weeks, do consult a local certified behavorist. An
exact diagnosis would be determined and other interventions introduced
as indicated. Finally, do consider maintaining the new box someplace
on the first floor. It need not be in the living room, of course,
but he may appreciate the convenience of having a second box.
The scenario is not uncommon:
the cat eliminates outside the litter box, and the owner,upset with
the mess, assigns sly and vindictive motives to the animal.
says Katherine Houpt, VMD, PhD and director of Cornell College of
Veterinary Medicine's Animal Behavior Clinic. "Cats are fastidious,
and they like a clean place each time they go. Cats are usually
missing the litter box because it's a stinky place. You don't want
an outhouse for a bathroom; neither does the cat."
Rather than making a mess through
some sense of spite, cats actually have the ability to hold in urine
and feces, much as we do when no bathroom is handy. "Cats can
inhibit. They have voluntary control," says Dr. Houpt. "It
becomes a question of whether they have the motivation to do so
when we want them to."
She says her clinic gets anxious phone calls late on Friday afternoons
(just before weekend houseguests visit) from cat owners seeking
help for litter box problems. Most of them can be solved by following
the general rules of litter box etiquette.
- Consider the type and location
of the box.
- Determine the texture of litter
that best suits your cat.
- Try clumping or scooping litter.
- Keep the box and the area
- Clean the litter box every
- Make it an attractive place
that the cat feels comfortable using.
- Rule out medical problems
There are other considerations,
says Dr. Houpt. "If the cat misses the box, it could be due
to a medical problem. Maybe he can't get to the box in time or associates
the box with pain, as when a cat has a bladder stone. You have to
rule out medical problems first."
There also should be a separation
of at least three feet between the clean litter box and the spot
where the cat usually eats. But don't make it an incredibly far
distance between the two locations. If the cat spends a lot of time
on the third floor of your house, for example, placing the litter
box in the basement is impractical. It is too long a trip and not
necessarily within the cat's concept of his territory.
If there is more than one cat
in your house, consider the social interactions between or among
them. Some cats, Dr. Houpt points out, ill pounce on other cats
as they exit or enter the litter box. Cats are in a vulnerable position
when eliminating, so one solution is to introduce more litter boxes.
Alternatively, you can provide
a litter box for one cat in a private place, not accessible to the
marauding cat. In extreme cases, you can use a cat door that permits
entry only by a cat wearing a small magnet, attached to the collar.
In any event, Dr. Houpt cautions against using certain types of
closed boxes. "With some, the cat has to be quite acrobatic
to get in. And particularly with older cats, that maneuver may be
quite difficult." She says the general rule for the number
of litter boxes needed is one box per cat plus one extra box. Because
some cats like to urinate in one and defecate in another, some veterinary
behaviorists recommend that you have at least one pan per cat per
story of your house.
Most problems can be solved just
by sensible management of the litter box. If the cat continues to
be upset about something undetectable to the owner or displays some
form of anxiety, discuss with your veterinarian the possibility
of prescribing an antidepressant for the cat.
THE SOLUTION IS USUALLY SIMPLE
Do you have a cat that has urinated or defecated
outside his litter box? House soiling can become an enormously frustrating
problem, says Tracy Kroll, DVM, animal behavior resident at the
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. You can stop
your venomous thoughts of a house-soiling kitty, though: The best
solutions and preventive measures are quite do-able.
The nose knows
Cats that have contentedly used litter boxes may stop using them
when they aren't clean, comfortable, or seem unsafe. Too few boxes
and insufficient cleanliness are the most common problems, says
Kroll. Human companions frequently fail to scoop out waste often
enough. "Imagine how appealing it would smell and look if you
flushed your toilet only on alternate days," says Kroll, who
received her DVM in 1997 from Cornell. She recommends scooping boxes
clean at least daily. She also recommends setting out one more box
per household than its number of cats. For example, if there are
two cats in the household, there should be three boxes. Thus, a
cat whose box has become too full of waste has somewhere else to
Boxes need a thorough cleaning periodically,
too. Bear in mind, though, Kroll's comment about scented litter:
"We like fragrances; cats generally do not. If you think it
smells pretty, it's probably over-scented for your cat." The
smell of ammonia in many cleaners (which intensifies urine's odor)
and that of vinegar, too, will repel many cats. Regular dish soap
and water, applied with "elbow grease," are the best cleaning
The litter itself may be a problem. Preference
studies suggest the great majority of cats prefer clumping, unscented
litter; because its granules are typically finer. Clumping litter
is easier to remove because urine and feces don't remain in the
box after scooping. But each cat may have its own preference among
the many litter types. It is far cheaper to let your cat try different
litters to find one she likes than to deal with persistent house
Location, location, location
Litter boxes are commonly placed in basements
and bathrooms. But basements can be far from a cat's usual living
space, and some are dank, dark, and noisy. Would we like to go to
a basement in the dark of night or when a rattling dryer or furnace
is operating there? Neither would many cats. A box located on the
main floor of the house is usually best, ideally with another available
on the second floor if you have one. And if two cats have trouble
getting along with each other take care to leave more than one direction
for entry and escape from each box.
The particular box may also present a problem.
While we may like a hooded box for its restriction of odors, those
retained odors can make the box seem unclean to a cat. The hood
also restrict the mobility of a cat that likes more elbowroom. The
height or slant of a box's walls may make entering difficult, especially
for less limber; elderly cats. In general, the bigger the box the
better. Furthermore, boxes must occasionally be replaced because
plastic boxes will begin retaining odors after several years, regardless
of how we clean them.
Stopping and Preventing Improper Soiling
Improper soiling is new the preferred descriptor
because it's not inappropriate from the cat's perspective. When
a litter box becomes unusable to her, finding another dean and comfortable
spot - even if it's your favorite rug - is anything but inappropriate.
To her, the rug is a solution.
- Scoop out waste frequently
- Clean the box with - soap and water
- have one more box than the number of cats
- Place the boxes in accesslble, but not heavily
- Make sure the box is wide and long enough
and that your kitty doesn't mind a covered box and use unscented
A hooded box may retain odors that can make the
box seem unclean to a cat. The hood may also restrict the mobility
of a cat that likes more elbow room.
MY OWN PERSONAL
START AGAIN! In our experience,
we have also found that starting all over again by confining the
cat to one small room with all his necessities for a few days, then
gradually reintroducing him to the home, supervised, helps. There
is no point in allowing him to continue his new behavior! This just
leads to owners being angry and yelling at the cat, which simply
makes things worse. CONFINE him! Puppy owners would never consider
letting the untrained pup wander freely about unsupervised. You
need to get in the mind frame, and begin trying the suggested steps
MORE BOXES! Unfortunately,
many owners like the box out of site...like in the cellar. We always
tell people there needs to be one box per floor of the home! I know
it is more to scoop, but the trade-off is worth it.
SHHH!! Cats like their boxes
in quiet locations usually....some will only urinate in one, and
only defecate in the other! Also, if you changed litter....switch
WHAT'S NEW, PUSSY CAT?? If
your cat has been fine in the past, then you need to see what has
changed. A move or new furniture, addition or loss of a family member...while
you can't change these things you can at least understand where
this new behavior is coming from and do your best to comfort and
reassure your pet.
toss your kitty to the outdoors or to the pound in exasperation.
He simply will not understand what has happened to him. He depends
on you when he is both good and bad.