It can be extremely frustrating when your cat stops using her litter box. Anything and everything in your home can become a potential target of urine or feces. Litter box aversion is the most common problem clients call me about and in many cases, those clients are at the end of their ropes. Cat parents seem to be able to tolerate furniture scratching, biting or constant meowing but when a cat pees on the carpet day after day it can be a deal-breaker. Nothing sends a cat to the shelter faster than a house that smells like cat pee.
Sadly, many of the cats relinquished to shelters, abandoned, or euthanized due to litter box problems could’ve been helped. Litter box problems cause cat parents to react impulsively, emotionally and sometimes irrationally. The sight or smell of cat pee on a cherished sofa or an expensive carpet can easily short-circuit a person’s patience. The level of frustration is understandable but how people handle the problem can either improve the situation or send it on a downward spiral. Here are some harmful mistakes I’ve seen cat parents make:
1. Waiting Too Long to do Something About it
I can’t tell you how many times people call me and request an immediate consultation because they’re planning on taking the cat to the shelter within days. The problem has usually been going on for weeks, months, and maybe even years and then the cat parent reaches the breaking point. The longer a problem goes on, the harder it is to correct. If you wait until the problem has caused you to reach your breaking point then you probably won’t be in a good frame of mind to do the proper behavior modification. It’s also not fair to the cat. When a cat feels she can’t use the litter box for whatever reason, it’s stressful. If the reason is medically related, it also causes suffering. Don’t wait.
2. Assuming the Problem is Behavioral
Many behavior problems have underlying medical causes. Many cats suffer in pain because a cat parent assumes the cause of the litter box aversion is due to a behavior problem when in fact, it might be due to urinary disease, renal failure, diabetes, or any number of medical issues. For older cats, it may be difficult to get to the box because of arthritis or other age-related problem. Whenever a cat displays a change in behavior you should have her checked out by the veterinarian. Once the veterinarian determines the cat isn’t suffering from a medically-related problem then you can start to tackle this from a behavioral standpoint.