When Your Cat is Thinking Outside the Box, part 2

more from Dr. Karen Becker

This week we look at Urine Spraying as the reason for cats not using their litter box.

Urine Spraying

Some cats spray an area outside the litter box to ‘mark’ it. If your cat’s doing this, he’s not technically relieving himself – he’s sending a message, usually to other kitties in the vicinity.

Spraying is accomplished by backing up to a vertical surface like a wall and urinating while standing.

Most people associate this activity with tomcats, and while it’s true neutered males are much less likely to mark their territory than their intact counterparts, about ten percent of neutered males and five percent of spayed females will spray at some point.

It’s assumed by behaviorists kitties spray to keep other cats away from their domain. So if you’re suddenly discovering yellow stains on walls, baseboards, window coverings or furniture, you need to figure out what your cat’s reacting to.

It could be another cat in the household, especially if the other kitty is a recent addition to the family. It could also be the sight, sound or smell of cats outside your home that your kitty has become aware of.

Tips for dealing with spraying behavior:

  • Minimize exposure to other cats. (This is obviously much easier to accomplish if the problem is a neighbor cat and not another feline in your household.) Close the blinds if your cat is seeing other cats in his yard. Relocate his window perch or the piece of furniture he sits on to watch the offending cats outside.
    Thoroughly clean the areas your cat has sprayed with an enzymatic solution that discourages re-soiling.
    Put something your cat won’t want to walk on, such as two-sided tape, aluminum foil or a plastic carpet runner turned spiky side up along the sprayed areas to discourage kitty from getting close enough to spray.
    Provide your cat with something stimulating to watch like kitty videos or a bird feeder placed outside, but well away from the areas of your yard neighborhood cats frequent.
    Consider investing in a pheromone product like Feliway® to help curb spraying behavior.
    Minimize changes to your cat’s routine and environment. Stress can trigger spraying behavior.
    Talk to your holistic or integrative vet about other safe alternatives for de-stressing your kitty, including calming flower essences, herbs, amino acids, homeopathic remedies and nutraceuticals.

Litter Box Issues

A third possible reason your cat may relieve herself outside her box is that she isn’t comfortable using it. She may dislike its location, the type of litter, or the size of the box. If you’ve made a change to any of those three things recently, it could be what’s behind your kitty’s sudden change in elimination behavior.

Some general guidelines:

  • The placement of the litter box should be in a relatively quiet, low traffic area of the house where there’s little chance of interruption while she’s using the box.
    Research indicates kitties prefer large litter boxes to small ones, and many cat parents have been able to resolve outside-the-box soiling by simply investing in a larger litter box.
    If you have a multi-cat household, you should have a minimum of one box per cat.
    Research suggests the majority of cats favor unscented, clumping litter. If that’s not the type you use, I recommend giving it a try to see if your kitty prefers it.
    Cleanliness of the box is also very important, as kitties are fastidious creatures and are offended by dirty litter. I recommend twice a day scooping of all feces and urine clumps, and weekly disposal of all used litter.
    It’s important to wash the box thoroughly after dumping the used litter to remove as much odor as possible. Use plain hot water. If you use soap, choose a natural, fragrance free variety. Avoid any cleaning product that is scented or contains potential toxins.

Keep in mind these are simply guidelines, and even if studies indicate the majority of cats prefer this or that, your feline companion may have her own unique preferences when it comes to her bathroom design.

Please Don’t Make a Bad Situation Worse!

If your cat suddenly starts relieving himself where he shouldn’t instead of where he should, try to remember there’s a reason for the behavior. The reason may not make sense to you, but it does to your cat, and now is a good time to remember he is, after all, a different species! Your pet needs your help to find the cause of his behavior and fix the problem.

Under no circumstances should you ever punish a cat for improper elimination. The first order of business is to get him to the vet to either rule out a health problem or uncover one and get him the help he needs to feel better. Punishing a sick cat won’t resolve the issue and is certainly not something a concerned, loving pet parent should ever do.

Next on the list is to make sure his bathroom suits him by focusing on the location and size of his litter box and the type of litter in the box. Imagine if you were forced to relieve yourself in a dirty, cramped or unnatural spot, with activity swirling around you. Then imagine being punished for finding a more suitable location for yourself. Work with your cat, not against him, to help him be comfortable with his potty area.

If your cat is marking his territory rather than relieving himself outside his box, you’ll need to figure out what’s provoking the behavior and take steps to extinguish it. If you’re not able to handle the situation on your own, consult your holistic or integrative vet or a board certified animal behaviorist.

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