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Multiple litter boxes could curb kitty's strange bathroom habits

Steve Dale

My Pet World

9:30 AM EDT, September 30, 2013

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Q: Cujo stopped using his litter box last week. He's now using kitchen counters and inside the cabinets to do his business. I've always had cats and never encountered this problem before. Please help or I'll be forced to find Cujo a new home. -- M.I., Cyberspace

A: First and foremost, see your veterinarian. I doubt cats piddle on counters purposely to alert us that something is medically wrong, but this can turn out to be the case. The problem can be anything from feline idiopathic cystitis to diabetes, kidney insufficiency, or hyperthyroid disease, some of the most likely possibilities. Regardless of what's going on, while I empathize with your frustration, your cat isn't behaving this way "on purpose."

If nothing is medically wrong, close those cabinets so Cujo can't get inside.

My guess is that there are other cats in the house, or perhaps rowdy children who play near the cat's litter box or along his route to the box, or a dog who investigates the litter box up close and personal. Cats often use countertops as safe lookouts. Obviously, if dogs or kids are an issue, keep them far from the litter box(es).

Also, make sure you have enough litter boxes, which means one per cat plus one more (ideally). Therefore, if you have two cats, three boxes is best. Boxes set side-by-side-by side, is like having one giant box, so it's often better to place litter boxes at varied locations, offering options (particularly in multi-cat homes). Litter boxes should be scooped daily. Also, if you've changed litters recently, return to the old-standby.

I suspect you may have a multi-cat home. Sometimes aggression in cats is obvious, but some cat interactions are far more subtle. For example, a cat lying in the sun may actually be actually aggressing by deterring another less confident cat from getting to the box down the hall. The less confident cat won't pass by. That's why offering alternative routes to an alternative box or boxes may be vital.

If there is aggression, whether subtle or not, contact a professional, a certified cat behavior consultant (http://www.iaabc.org) or veterinary behaviorists (http://www.dacvb.org).

Q: I have a pair of 10-year-old cats who were adopted together as kittens. In November, one of the cats began to urinate and defecate on the carpet. He was diagnosed and treated for a urinary tract infection. Now, Lucy does urinate in the litter box, but defecates next to it. My vet wants to run a battery of tests which would cost $500. Hopefully, you can confirm that the problem is behavioral. -- F.M., Buffalo, NY

A: Anytime a pet displays a new behavior, especially an older animal, I wonder, 'why now?' Ruling out a physical explanation is important. Often when a cat defecates outside the box the problem is, indeed, a gastrointestinal issue. In a 10-year old, arthritis may even be an explanation. I don't know which tests your veterinarian is referring to, and I can't comment on cost, but my gut tells me this is likely the correct approach.

Having said that, there's no harm in trying a little trick. For reasons only known to felines, some cats spontaneously decide they want to piddle in one box and poo in another. One box is simply isn't good enough. They actually may prefer the boxes side-by-side (though I otherwise typically recommend against this). If there's a cover on the first box, consider an uncovered second litter box.

Also, I wonder if Lucy is, well, a big girl. Even large-size litter boxes may not be big enough for over-sized cats.

Depending on the type of litter you're using, just changing litters may solve the problem.

Another trick is to offer a carpet remnant on a cookie sheet. Place this right over the spot where Lucy is having accidents. If that works, then place a remnant (they should be replaced after being soiled on a few times) inside a litter box, and very gradually cut away at the carpet while simultaneously adding litter.

Q: My 11-year-old cat began to pee on things after our grandson was born. What should we do? -- F.K., Chicago, IL

A: While it does seem the stress of having your little grandson around may have prompted the behavior, stress may also unmask illness in cats, so a veterinary visit is in order. If your cat checks out, then simultaneously attempt the following to diminish stress:

--Anytime your grandson is present, take out the heavy artillery, such as salmon or tuna. You might even "act" as if these cat treats are coming from your grandson.

--Try a new balanced veterinary diet from Royal Canin, called Feline CALM.

--Feliway is a copy of a calming pheromone, the same one cats deposit on chair legs and human legs, which puts them more at ease. You could buy a Feliway diffuser and plug it in the room your cat uses most, or spray table and chair legs with the product.

--Enrich your cat's environment, offering your cat lots of toys and places to scratch. Periodically, allow the cat to "hunt" by hiding food or treats in various places, or use food- or treat-dispensing toys.

--Play is a great stress buster. Use an interactive toy to play with your cat daily.

Check out more tips on helping cats thinking outside their boxes in my ebook, "Good Cat!: Practical Answers to Behavior Questions," available wherever ebooks are sold ($2.99.)

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)