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Litter Box Blues – Part I
Oftentimes, I find dog owners who also have cats. Sometimes the owners come to me with questions about their feline friends, some of whom don’t seem to make it to the litter box. When your kitty starts soiling outside the litterbox, it can be a frustrating (and smelly) situation. As a faithful cat companion, you might have to do some detective work to figure out what the underlying issue is before you can resolve it, but it’s well worth the time to make sure your cat is healthy and happy and your carpets are stain-free. Soiling outside the litterbox can cause your relationship with your cat to deteriorate and can end in rehoming your cat, sending them to a shelter or euthanizing. And that can affect everyone, including your dog if you have one.
To begin, if your cat has a problem making it to the litter box, he or she could have a urinary tract or bladder infection, or other medical condition. For this reason, you should bring your cat to a vet as soon as the behavior begins.
There are two different types of elimination cats do outside of the litter box — marking and soiling. Marking is when your cats spray small amounts of urine to show which territory belongs to them. They will often spray to mark territory for other cats in the house or even cats they see through the window. The behavior might begin near doorways, windows or on curtains. Even if you don’t see visiting cats, they are likely coming within your cat’s eyesight at night. Contrary to popular belief, spraying isn’t limited to male cats, though they tend to spray more than females. You can help prevent this problem before it starts by having your cat spayed or neutered at a young age, though that doesn’t guarantee your cat won’t spray.
Soiling is different than marking. Soiling is when your cat eliminates urine in a puddle, like emptying a full bladder. Soiling can also be feces. Sometimes cats will even go right in front of their owner on places like beds, couches or belongings. This problem has many possible causes. One of the primary causes of soiling is stress. Don’t mistake your cat’s expression of stress as anger or getting even. Your cat is letting you know, in one of the only ways he/she knows how, that something is bothering him/her. Don’t punish your cat for this behavior by yelling or squirting the cat with water. This will only make the problem worse because it causes your cat more stress.
Cats thrive on routine and like to have control, so they are stressed out when things change in the household. Cats may seem indifferent to your presence, but they definitely take notice of it. They can suffer separation anxiety. If your cat is soiling in areas of the house like the bed, the couch or the main living areas, it could mean your cat is lonely. These areas of the house tend to carry the most amount of human scent, which your cat finds reassuring. If your cat seems to be targeting a specific family member’s belongings, it could mean the cat is conflicted about the relationship with that person. The family member should spend more time with the cat so that he/she feels reassured that soiling isn’t necessary. Be patient with your cat.
Tune in next week for more reasons why your kitty may be avoiding the litter box and how you can help your kitty get back on track.
Lisa Marino, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, PMCT, has taken her varied teaching experiences and applied them to helping owners understand and train their beloved four-legged family members. She has more than four years’ experience leading group dog training classes at Best Paw Forward in Hartland, WI, and opened Head of the Class Dog Training LLC in Winchester, VA in 2012, where she conducts group classes and private lessons, as well as helps owners to modify their dogs' problem behaviors.
Lisa earned her CPDT-KA in 2012, is a 2015 graduate of the prestigious Karen Pryor Academy and is a Pat Miller Certified Trainer.
She has 4 registered therapy dogs and is a Pet Partner Therapy Team Evaluator and a member of HOPE AACR. As a former middle school teacher, she works well with families and children and does school presentations on various dog related topics.