Why Doesn’t my Cat Use the Litter box?

cat - teacher

If there’s one issue with pets that ranks up there as extreeeemely frustrating, it’s when cats don’t use their litter box. Oh, the tales I could tell as a pet whisperer! And I have a personal story to boot. (More on that later.)

Whenever someone calls for an animal communication session about this dilemma, the first thing I recommend is checking with a veterinarian to rule out a bladder infection or other health issue. Once the motivation is determined to be behavioral, I’m always curious to know what changes have occurred in the household around the time of the avoidance of the litter box.

In my experience, the addition of another cat to the household is the most common cause of spraying (territorial marking of a vertical surface, like a wall or cabinet) and/or urinating on a floor or carpet outside the litter box.

Once this behavior begins, it’s wise to be pro-active by adding one more litter box than there are cats in the household, at least temporarily. (If you have 2 cats, then you need 3 litter boxes.) It’s also helpful to keep the boxes extraordinarily clean. Another precaution is to keep clothing and anything else you value up off the floor or anywhere else the cat might be urinating. Some people even go so far as to roll up area rugs that cannot be thrown in the washer.

The good news is that there are many excellent products available to help with the odor. There are even home-made solutions that work remarkably well. Google is your best friend here.

Determining the motivation for a cat’s lack of potty manners is my job as a pet communicator. For me, every session is like a mystery puzzle, and I enjoy helping to resolve situations such as these.

For most cats, the underlying cause for peeing outside the litter box is fear-based, which may be expressed as anger. And the cause generally has to do with a shift in the cat’s sense of security within the home.

This shift can often be traced to a recent move, a sense of being demoted within the family hierarchy, or a new cat in the home or neighborhood. (One note of caution here — as much as we animal lovers like to befriend stray cats appearing at our sliding glass doors, know that indoor territorial spraying could be a consequence. And these “stray” cats often have loving families waiting for them.)

Here’s another take on how a simple change can inadvertently result in a cat failing to use the litter box. A dear woman bought a litter box with an automatic cleaner for her fastidious kitty. Well, you guessed it, one day the cat was using the litter box at the exact time the auto-removal system kicked on. The litter box in that second turned into a monster akin to a vacuum cleaner! Fortunately, the solution was simply to return to the non-automated litter box.

It might be helpful here to share a little about cat dynamics from their point of view.

Cats have only been companions to humans for 4,000 – 6,000 years, in contrast to dogs, who have been by our sides for 12,000 – 40,000 years. Domestic cats retain much of their wild nature. Part of their natural instinct is a reliance on an intense bonding with family members, as they eschew cats (or people) who are outside of this closed circle. Think of a feral cat community where large numbers of related cats live in close proximity. A strange cat appearing could mean grave danger for the young and weak members of the colony.

Dogs are also devoted to their pack. However, when an unrelated dog joins the family, canines tend to see the pack as even stronger. Dogs are generally open to new community members, while cats are generally closed. It’s genetics!

Cats are also notoriously resistant to changes in their home environment. It’s just the way they are. I estimate that it takes cats 6 months or more to adjust to a new home, compared to about 6 days for a dog.

So here’s a typical situation. You bring a cat home who hides under the bed for days or weeks and slowly comes to accept that this home and new family is a safe place to live. The people and animals are not blood-relatives, but the cat adjusts to, and even grows to love, its new family. All is well.

Then a new cat appears in the home. The biological sense of danger for both cats can be extremely intense. It’s actually a life and death trigger for them. The original cat must be thinking their human has gone mad to allow such a dangerous interloper into the home. This situation goes against everything down to their bones.

Sometimes this adjustment period results in hissing, fighting, growling and, yes, peeing outside the litter box, to mark territory or to express displeasure/fear.

When the cause of litter box issues is due to another cat, my communication role becomes one of helping each pet find a new sense of security within the person/animal hierarchy in the home. In some cases, this can include dividing the house into different territories for short- or sometimes long-term buffer zones.

As a new cat is being integrated, one valuable piece of information an animal communicator can provide is determining which cat is the instigator of the troubles. Cat behaviors, for humans, can be quite mystifying. We miss about 90 percent of cat-to-cat body language, and often misinterpret what we do observe.

My rule of thumb is this: whichever cat is making the most noise is probably the one being harassed by the other cat, who is usually stalking or showing threatening body language that we interpret as benign. “They were sitting near each other so nicely, and then all of the sudden they launched into this huge fight!” is a frequent comment I hear.

Once we’ve sorted out the fears, aggressions and family dynamics with people and pets, then it’s time to develop a plan to help each cat feel secure in this new familial situation. And, sigh, it can take time. Yet, the situation can be resolved. Have hope!

In one case, a very mature, elderly, male cat was feeling threatened by an immature, 2-year-old, female. He felt his role in the family was to maintain a harmonious balance, and this new cat was constantly stirring up chaos. After 6 months of attempting to manage a situation that was spiraling out of control, he starting peeing. Everywhere. His people thought he might be incontinent and maybe ready to go. But his spraying was really a desperate call for help.

We humans talked at length about the dynamics between the cats and within the family. There was a huge personality conflict on top of everything else. Yet the people were determined to work things out. And they have. The last report I received was that both cats had been using the litter boxes for months.

One of my favorite litter box stories is about a 2-year-old, black, muscular, feral cat, Max, who had been injured and was being rehabilitated in Sara’s study attached to her garage. The bond between them was growing day by day, however Max absolutely refused to use the litter box she had created for him, which was as big as a sandbox.

During a session with Max, the three of us sat on the patio between the studio and the house. He communicated that he was tired of being in survival as a feral cat and longed for the cushy life of a domesticated cat, like Sara’s 2 indoor cats. I explained that a non-negotiable requirement to being a domestic cat was to use the litter box. He poo-pooed the idea, saying the concept was simply absurd. I pointed to the 2 cats sitting at the doorway watching us. I said that they always used a litter box. I’ll never forget him looking at me, at Sara and at the cats. Then with wide eyes, saying in disbelief, “Every Time!??”

Soon after, Max began using his litter box. He decided it was a small price to pay for living a life of luxury. Sara found Max a lovingly devoted companion where he lived as a single cat. For the rest of his life, he slept in a warm bed, ate delicious delicacies — and always used his litter box.

Finally, my personal story happened with my very sweet kitty, Chloe. She was an amazingly loving girl who slept with me every night. I would do anything for her. She had always used her litter box without complaint.

Toward the end of her life, she had dementia. One night, I woke up to a warm liquid seeping through the duvet cover. Chloe was lying right next to me. As soon as she saw I was awake, she began purring happily, wanting to be petted. She was completely unaware there was anything amiss, though I leapt up to change the bedding.

And so began the last month of her life where she chose 4 or 5 places in my home to urinate, none of them in the litter box. I adjusted by putting plastic and thick towels down on her favorite spots and more plastic between the sheets and mattress. Three loads of laundry a day with plenty of Nature’s Miracle became the norm.

And here was my innocent, adoring kitty. I remember one day making the decision to set aside my frustration, to love her and give her the best end-of-life companionship I could possibly create. The worst case scenario would be that I would have to replace the carpet.

Then one morning, she died a very peaceful death. And how I longed to relive those final weeks of her sweet life with me again.

It took a few months of repeated carpet cleanings for the odor to dissipate, but after a year or so, the smell was completely gone.

My only experience of a cat peeing outside of the litter box was bittersweet. It may seem odd, but I have fond, even humorous, memories of Chloe peeing outside her litter box. Yet the stress was undeniable.

Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to ease the stress other families experience by helping cats choose to use their litter box again.

 

Dec 30, 2014 | Posted by in Uncategorized | 2 comments

Comments (2 Responses)

  1. nwwJ1 says:

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