Wednesday, January 20, 2010 11:25 AM

Soiling Outside the Box: Behavioral Causes

If a physical cause has been ruled out by your veterinarian, then you must look for another, non-organic reason for the litter box aversion. If your cat is not sick, then you probably have not noticed any blood in the urine, diarrhea or hard stool when you were cleaning up the messes. Therefore, there must be a behavioral problem here.

Let me define what I mean by "behavioral". I don't mean that your cat is trying to punish you for something, like not buying his favorite food, having a baby or not paying enough attention to him. Animals react to their environment, no more. They don't plan retribution; that is a characteristic of human beings only. Punishing or trying to psychoanalyze a cat that is soiling the house will only prolong the agony, believe me--much as punishing a toddler only makes toilet training that much harder.

What I do mean is that the cat is reacting to changes in his circumstances and/or environment that are messing with his happy little routine, and he doesn't like it. Cats love routine and don't like change, just like most humans. The difference is that humans can understand the reasons behind the disruption, while the cat cannot. Think about what might be going on in your and your cat's life. Moving, getting married, domestic arguments, having a baby or adding another pet to the household can all upset your cat. If you bring another adult cat into the home, for instance, your cat may start spraying in order to protect his territory.

Other, more mundane problems may be dirty litter boxes, or not enough boxes for the number of cats in the household. One per cat is de rigeuer, though we have two for three cats and it works fine (I clean them at least twice daily, though). Keep the boxes in the same location once the cats know where to find them. Hooded boxes really turn some cats off, since it captures smells inside. Changing litters can also be a problem; if you want to switch to a natural brand, for example, add a little at a time to the usual litter so that the change is gradual. Don't use deodorants or scented litter. Most cats don't like perfume-y smells.

How do you stop this behavior? Clean the messes well, using white vinegar in water to rinse. Don't make an issue of it; the cat won't understand, anyway. Keep kitty under surveillance and, when you see "bathroom" behavior start, scoop him up gently, cooing and whispering sweet nothings in his ear. Put him in the clean box, help him paw the sand (as if he's a kitten again) and praise him constantly as he does the right thing. Then, give lots of attention so he knows this is what you want him to do. Even though he's not doing this for attention, you should give him extra anyway. Something's upsetting him, and TLC is always good for that. It never hurts anyone to be treated like a king (or queen) sometimes!
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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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