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Outside the Box, Part 2

How to Solve Problems

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Cats urinate on beds, couches, carpeting and even their owners. Why do some cats enjoy scratching around in their litter boxes to the point of absurdity, while others use the litter box only sporadically or avoid it entirely as though it were a cat-eating monster? One desperate cat owner who called Cats International's Behavior Hotline recently confessed that her cat, Mitzi, had not defecated in the litter box for 11 years! Another cat owner hadn't cleaned the litter box for three months because her cat, Jed, wouldn't go near it. She did, however, have to wash her bed linens daily because Jed reliably chose the bed for his bathroom, even when she was in it.

Not all cat owners are as long-suffering as these two, but all of them love their cats and want to see the end of a problem that severely strains their relationship with their furry friend. Is it possible to correct housesoiling problems with any degree of certainty that they will not recur? The answer is yes-if you are willing to follow some important recommendations that will work with the cat's basic nature and instincts to modify the behavior. It's not difficult or expensive to solve problems of inappropriate elimination, but it does require a willingness to see life from the cat's point of view.

Seek Out the Cause

Cats are genetically inclined to seek out an easily-raked substrate in which to eliminate. That's why kittens need very little training. Just place them in a litter box after a big meal and their instincts take over. If kitty is not selecting the litter box as her preferred area, then something is wrong. Perhaps she has a urinary tract or intestinal disorder that makes elimination uncontrollable or painful. She may be associating the litter box with her discomfort, and is therefore avoiding it. It is important to know that there may be no obvious symptoms of a health problem (cats are masters at hiding pain) other than the cat's inconsistent use of the litter box. It is always advisable to first rule out health considerations by taking kitty to the veterinarian. In the case of inappropriate urination, a urinalysis is a good first procedure. If the problem is defecation, a fresh stool sample will be needed.

Cats are also territorial animals by nature, and one of the ways they mark their territory is with urine. The urge to urine mark comes with sexual maturity, so all cats six months of age or older should be spayed or neutered to prevent urine marking. If the cat is already urine marking, sterilization at any age will eliminate the behavior in 90 percent of male cats and 95 percent of female cats.

If the problem is not kitty's health or hormones, then perhaps the litter box is the problem. Is she eliminating near the litter box but not in it? If so, this may indicate that she intended to use the box, but for some reason she just couldn't bring herself to get into it. Usually this is because it is too dirty. Remember that cats are self-cleaning. They are not going to voluntarily step into moist or dirty litter that they will later have to clean off their paws or fur. (If they weren't so fastidious, would we really want them to walk all over our homes and furniture?) A box that seems clean to you may not be clean enough for your cat. Since their senses are far more acute than ours, what is not offensive to us may be unbearable to them.

Check the Litter

Have you changed litters? Is the new litter a different texture or scent? Being creatures of habit, cats don't appreciate sudden changes. Don't surprise kitty with the new litter you bought on sale today, or she may surprise you with a present of her own. The money you saved on litter can be easily negated by the cost of cleaning products necessary to neutralize kitty's objections. If you want to introduce a new litter to your cat, place a litter box containing the new litter next to her old litter box. Add a scent cue to the new litter, so she knows what it's for, by taking a small amount of urine or stool from the old box and placing it in the new litter. If, after several weeks, she is using the new litter enthusiastically, you can dispense with the old litter. However, if she tries it only occasionally, don't risk offering the new litter exclusively. Remember that it is kitty's preferences, not yours, that count when it comes to the litter box.

Next > Could scented litter be to blame?

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