Dear Critter Corner: My cat has started to go to the bathroom outside the litter box. He was great for the first few months we had him and loves the family, but lately has started to leave presents in unexpected places around the house. A month ago, we dog-sat for a week, but the animals got along well. What can we do to help our cat and our carpet?
The most common cause of housetraining problems with cats is stress. Cats are particularly sensitive to environmental changes, even subtle ones. You mentioned that you dog-sat for a week, and while the two may have got along well temporarily, the lingering scent of the dog may be triggering a reaction in your cat. If your cat currently has run of the house, try getting them to sleep in a small room with food, water, engaging activities, and a clean litter box.
Cats often go to the bathroom as soon as they wake up. Make sure the litterbox is cleaned daily as many cats are particular about the cleanliness of their box. If your house is large, adding an additional litterbox in the areas the cat peruses is beneficial. Whatever you do, do not punish your cat for failing to use the box. Cats respond poorly to punishment, and this can compound any stress they are already feeling. A cat on the receiving end of punishment may disappear and hide for days. Instead, try coaxing your cat to play in a recently cleaned litterbox. Get them in the habit of being comfortable in the box even if they do not have to use it. If you do catch them in the act, praise them gently. Cat pheromones can also help to alleviate stress, although they take time to start working. You do not have to use them permanently, just until the behavior subsides.
Daniel Levit is the Assistant for the Behavior and Training Department at the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA. For more information, visit www.PHS-SPCA.org, call 650-340-7022, ext. 416, or e-mail [email protected]