Failure to use the Litter Pan
Soiling problems are the number one reason cats are surrendered to shelters. The cat is obeying his own feline imperative, but you can stop it if you can understand why he’s doing it.
First, is the problem spraying or failure to use the litter pan? Spraying means a squirt on a vertical surface in response to some threat to security or territory. Soiling on a horizontal surface usually means a problem with the litter pan or a medical problem.
In the case of spraying, if your cat is not altered, get it done. Neutering solves most spraying problems since spraying is a response to the mating drive. Both males and females can spray though it’s more common in males. If your cat is altered then you’ll have to play detective. Are you moving or remodeling? Is there a new pet or family member? Make sure the ‘problem child’ is getting no less attention than he enjoyed before the others arrived. Ensure that he can eat, drink and sleep without being pestered or intimidated. Herbal remedies such as Rescue Remedy, Feliway or vet-prescribed hormone or drug therapy may help too.
If the spray is on objects that belong to someone, there is likely a problem with that person. Has someone he loves gone away or returned? Has someone new joined the home? If a door, window or the fireplace is sprayed, your cat may be getting the scent of a cat outside. Try blocking his access to the window or put some of your own cologne on the door frame or fireplace bricks. You can also try keeping strange cats away by planting lemon balm herb plants below your window. Most mammals find the lemon balm offensive and avoid it. You can buy devices to keep animals out of your yard. For example, the Scarecrow hooks up to your hose and squirts trespassers.
In the case of failure to use the pan, the first priority is to get the cat checked by a vet. If there’s a painful condition, she will associate pain with the litter pan and avoid the pan. Bladder infections are easily treated. If both urination and defecation occur outside the box then the problem is likely the pan and not medical. But a vet should confirm that. As for the pan, is it in a high-traffic location? Is it easy to reach? (An arthritic older cat may have trouble with stairs.) Have you switched litter types? If you haven’t, try a different one. If you have, switch back. If he spends little time scratching in the litter, he’s probably bothered by the litter type. If he scratches on the floor outside the pan then the pan may be too small. Is the pan clean? Nobody likes a dirty pan, not even the cat! Avoid using citrus-scented cleansers on it. Are his food and water too close to the pan? Is the box hooded? That can be claustrophobic or create a vulnerable situation if another pet waits outside to pounce. Try an open pan. Is another cat using the same pan? You may need separate pans for both cats. Does anyone pester him when he’s in the pan?
Changes in her world can also cause a cat to soil outside the pan. In this case, it’s a desperate message to her person that something is wrong. Look for changes in the home such as people or pets leaving or arriving, things being moved, taken away or added. Sometimes the problem can be a single event. One cat began avoiding his pan after being terrified when a heavy object fell on it while he was using it one day.
When everything checks out, you may need to retrain your cat to use the pan. First, clean soiled areas with an enzyme cleanser. Pet supply stores sell cleansers designed for this purpose. In a pinch, use equal parts vinegar and warm water. Don’t use ammonia-based cleansers. Now cover or block off those areas and place a solid air freshener in that location. Citrus scented fresheners are best. The point is to eliminate any lingering odour that will trigger soiling there again. If possible, place a litter pan on or near the site and move it gradually to where you want it.
The cat may need to be confined to a small area with his litter pan, food, water and bed until he’s using his pan again. Let him out for a while after he’s used his pan. Put him back if he starts sniffing around. Praise him when he’s used the pan. It may take a few weeks. But using the pan will become a habit again.
Lastly, never punish your cat. This will only teach him to fear you and increase the anxiety that causes problems. Reprimanding him and tossing him into the pan will associate the litter pan with punishment.
If you want to adopt a shelter cat only to learn that he was surrendered for soiling problems, don’t worry. Katie’s Place gets all new cats vet-checked so any physical cause would have been eliminated, and most cats stop the unwanted behaviour entirely once they’re in a new environment. Whatever it was that set him off disappeared with his old life. Most people are delighted with their adopted cat, and the cat is delighted with them.
Kelly lost his home due to inappropriate soiling. Whatever caused it, the problem was absent from the new environment and new family that he joined.
He was adopted in early 2006 and his family sent us an update in April ’07. They said, “He is just the light of our lives! He is very talkative, and insists that everyone wake up at 5 AM to feed him and pay attention to him. He has even developed a sort of mutually respectful relationship with our dogs. And he is sooo cuddly, if he wasn’t so heavy I could hold him for hours. Even self professed cat haters who come to our home find they can’t help but fawn over him. He is just so beautiful and regal he commands everyone’s love and adoration.”