My cat's bathroom behavior is degenerating!

by Amy
(Minneapolis, MN)

My cat's bathroom behavior is degenerating and now she goes EVERYWHERE!

I have two cats - male and female - and the male is very tidy and never ever goes outside the box. The female - Belize - used to poop outside the box from time to time and then, over the course of about a year, she stopped pooping in the box at all.

Now, over the last few months she's begun peeing outside the box! I don't think she uses the box at all anymore! Plus, it's not like she's only going in one place, she goes all over. Upstairs, downstairs, on the rug, on the stairs, under the table, next to the box, far away from the box, on my CLOTHES, etc.

The two cats have always had a love - hate relationship and I wonder if she doesn't like that the boxes smell like him but I'm not sure how to give her a box of her own that he won't use.

I've tried multiple different kinds of litter, different boxes, different numbers of boxes, keeping them in different places around the house, Cat Attract litter and powder stuff, everything!

I used to have a lot of problems with her having soft stools and I used to think she was trying to get my attention about being uncomfortable by pooping on the floor. I have since gotten her on a high-fiber prescription food that helped immediately with the softness. I thought that might solve the problem but it's just getting worse and worse. It's like she's un-litter box training!

I'm completely at my wit's end; I love her very much but I can't handle poop and pee everywhere. She's sweet and cuddly and doesn't seem to have any health problems - she goes in regularly for check-ups - but she just doesn't use the box. I've tried every suggestion the vet has given me but it hasn't done any good. Sorry to be long-winded but I'm desperate!

My Thoughts:

Wow! I feel your pain. It sounds to me like she's either highly stressed or ill (possibly both). So, on the assumption that she's not ill, you'll have to determine the cause of the stress, and then do what you can to remove or reduce it.

I would not, however, rule out some sort of illness or disorder. Do you know the reason for the soft stools?

I'm not questioning your veterinarian's competence, but I have read a number of stories of apparently healthy cats with litter box problems. Many of them were treated by several vets, none of whom could find any physical cause.

These cats turned out to have an underlying illness that was not properly diagnosed. They may also have had a behavioral problem too, but the physical problems were the original and continuing trigger and not easy to find. For bowel problems, without X-rays and extensive tests, it's sometimes not possible to know the cause.

The problem gets compounded because as time goes on, it's impossible to separate the behavioral pieces from the physical. It's also impossible to correct without treating both causes.

So, that having been said, let's consider the stress factors and what might be done. Without temporarily isolating the two cats, I think it would be difficult to solve the problem.

I'm sure that you've covered some (or perhaps all) of this already, but just in case...

Some cat owners have reported that Feliway did wonders to relieve stress, calm cats down, and clear up litter box problems (and other behavior problems as well). Have you tried it?

Also, for two cats, you should have three boxes. Those three boxes should be placed in areas that are safe, relatively noise free, and allow your cat to do her business without feeling stressed, rushed, threatened, or trapped in any way. It sounds like you've tried that, but it's worth mentioning for anyone reading.

Long term, it's probably
impossible to give her a box that your male cat won't use as well. If it's a relationship problem, then either the two cats will have to work it out (with your help), or you'll have to keep them separated, at least for the most part. The problem sounds extreme for it simply to be a love-hate between the two cats, but anything is possible.

In any case, the first step is to isolate her and retrain her with her own box. If you place her in a small-ish room with her own box, food, water, a sleeping spot and toys, and she doesn't use the box in a reasonable amount of time, then I suspect it's highly possible that there is some illness at work here.

Choose a room, preferably sunny, and set her up with her own little world there. Keep your other cat out of that space during this time. Any disruption in this process means going back to square one, so you have to be consistent.

One caution. You have to thoroughly clean any previously soiled areas so that she's not tempted to use them. Once a cat goes in a spot, they like to return to it. Don't use ammonia based cleaners. Instead, use an enzyme based cleaner and white vinegar or bleach (if you can) to clean the areas and remove the smell (your cat's nose is ultra-sensitive). Don't leave any trace of cleanser or bleach smell behind.

Some cats seem to like the privacy of a litter box cover, but they tend to retain the smells. Provide an uncovered litter box of adequate size and clean the box thoroughly and use bleach to disinfect. Rinse thoroughly and remove all traces of cleanser/bleach. Make sure the box is completely dry before adding litter.

Use unscented, clumping litter. Cat litter varies from batch to batch somewhat, and can vary greatly from type to type or company to company. I usually prefer Arm and Hammer or Fresh Step, but whatever your cat likes best (if you remember) is the best choice.

Some cats like more litter, some less, but usually the litter should be evenly distributed in the box, about 2 to 4 inches deep. Some recommendations are to make it no more than 2 inches, but I have found that anything less than about 3 inches can cause the urine to run down into the bottom of the box. This may happen anyway, especially if your cat likes to make a little ditch, but 3 to 4 inches of depth can help. You may have to dry different depths and see if your cat seems to have a preference.

Clean the box twice a day as a clean cat box is essential, especially during this retraining time. Play with her and give lots of attention and praise her heavily when she uses the box.

Once she's using the box regularly again, you can reintegrate her back into the rest of the house. Keep in mind that there may be setbacks, and you may have to start the process over.

If it really is a matter of a conflict with your other cat, that's something you'll have to mediate and help them to come to terms with, or keep them separated.

In extreme cases, it may be necessary to go the next step, which is to put her in a very small room (like a bathroom) for the retraining. Beyond that, a small cage or carrier with water. Let her out (but isolated from your other cat and in a small space) for feeding and playtime. Place her in the box after eating and drinking much like you would a kitten who has never used the box before.

Lisa A. Pierson has a great section on the litter box from your cat's point of view. It's worth a read.

I hope that helps some and please let us know how she progresses.


Comments for My cat's bathroom behavior is degenerating!

Average Rating starstarstarstarstar

Click here to add your own comments

Jun 20, 2011
Some key points
by: Kurt (Admin)

I'm sorry to hear that you're having problems with your cats, Tina. I'm assuming that both of your cats are desexed, and that neither one have medical problems.

I'm not sure why you can't separate them, but this may be the best or only way to resolve the problem. Cats should be introduced slowly, starting with a quarantine period. This may apply to a reintroduction when one cat has been gone for an extended period as well.

Some cats will even reject another housemate they've had for years after an overnight stay at the vet. Something doesn't smell right and their guard goes up. Quarantine with slow introduction is the way through this.

In addition, isolation retraining, using either a separate room or a large cage is sometimes the only way to get enough control to retrain a cat who has gone off the box. This may be especially true in multi-pet households.

I would recommend also that you never punish him for not using the box, and instead praise him whenever you catch him doing something (anything) right.

Here's what the Dumb Friends League says about punishment and
litter box problems.

"Don?t ever punish your cat for eliminating outside of the litterbox. If you find a soiled area, it?s too late to administer a
correction. Do nothing but clean it up. Rubbing your cat?s nose in it, taking her to the spot and scolding her, or any other
type of punishment, will only make her afraid of you or afraid to eliminate in your presence. Animals don?t understand
punishment after the fact, even if it?s only seconds later. Punishment will do more harm than good."

I would also ensure that he has an area of the house where he can climb (cat trees are good for this) and be at peace. Most cats need this space. I would increase his exercise, play time, and pay more attention to him as well.

Cat Attract litter may help to attract him to the box, and Feliway may help to reduce tension and make him feel more secure.

I'm not sure why you would consider giving him up to a shelter, since if I understand you correctly he is your long time resident cat. She is the newcomer and (we're assuming) the cause of the problem.

Unless you know of a true no-kill shelter, it's likely a death sentence for a 7 year old cat with litter box problems. But if you're going to give one of them up, why him? If you do decide to give him up, please find him a good home.

I'm hoping instead that you'll be able to retrain him.

Jun 17, 2011
by: Tina

My 7 year old male cat inherited a cousin after my mother-in-law died last year in August. She is 2 years old and the two of them became good friends. Sometime in January this year she got out of the house and was missing for close to 2 months.

When she returned it was like she was never there. After a little over a week the two began to play again but the male cat will no longer share the litter box.

He has gone on the kitchen counter daily until I figured out that I have to keep it covered with a towel. He now goes on the kitchen floor daily. I can not separate them. She will use any litter box that is in the house.

I have punished him and even placed his face in the mess chastising him and nothing works. I am tired of cleaning after him and afraid of what will happen my first long weekend away. I am thinking, hot summer day, it will attract flies which will lead to maggots!!!

Considering shelter but love him dearly. Any other suggestions which has actually worked for someone?

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Cat Litter Box Problem Issues and Solutions.