Why doesn't cat use litter?

Sunday, May 25, 2003


By Dr. John Koch

Question: My cat has stopped using his litter box. Is there some way I can retrain him to use his box?

Answer: Inappropriate urination, as it is usually termed, is a big problem. It is one of the biggest reasons cats lose their happy homes. First it must be determined if the problem is due to illness or due to bad behavior. If the cat is backing up to a wall or some other vertical object and hitting it with a stream of urine, then it is spraying. Spraying is behavioral. If the cat is urinating on the floor or some other horizontal object, then illness may be the cause. When illness is suspected, a urine test is recommended to confirm the diagnosis.

There can be some overlapping, however, in general, these different causes require different treatment. Behavioral problems are particularly difficult because you literally have to become a cat psychiatrist to provide treatment.

Inappropriate urination can be due to a cat having an alpha personality and wanting to establish dominance over other cats that might be nearby. It can be due to stress or self esteem problems. It can be due to disturbances of their sense of security. Cats need their space and if you put too many of them into one confined area you are inviting bad behavior. Inappropriate urination is most common in multiple cat households.

There are certain drugs that serve as calming agents and may occasionally help. There are general rules regarding litter boxes that should be followed. Always have at least one box per cat in your house. It is crucial that the boxes be kept clean and free of odor. Keep litter boxes away from noisy or heavily traveled areas. Keep litter pans away from areas where meals and water is served. Keep the type and the quantity of litter the same. Use a litter liner to avoid smell buildup in the plastic of the pan.

Keep the location of the litter pan constant. Do not use covered litter pans.

If you continue to have problems, contact your veterinarian. Many veterinarians may refer you to a cat psychiatrist. Although there are only a few, veterinarians that specialize in animal behavioral problems are available.

Dr. Koch is a Cape Girardeau veterinarian.

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