Q. I have a female cat that is about 6 years old. She adopted us when she was a wild kitten. She stays out all day, and we lock her in the garage at night. At night and during the day, she comes into the garage to do her business. I have put several clean litter boxes in the garage, but she will only do her business on the garage floor. I am at my wits' end. I had our vet check her, and there were no problems. I have used sprays, orange peels, ammonia and foil paper, but nothing helps. Can you help us? Apart from this, she is a wonderful cat.
Della Frankel, San Clemente
Q. We have a 4 1/2-month-old female kitten that won't use the litter box in her room. When we got her at six weeks and she was confined to that room, she used the box immediately and knew just what to do. After she had the run of the house, she started urinating and defecating on the rug or on any paper that was around. She would never use the box, just go any place--once right next to the box. I couldn't figure out what to do, so I thought that maybe if I changed the kind of litter, it would help. She used it for two days, but after she went she didn't cover it up. Then, that was the last time she used it at all. Now she's outside most of the time, and I've only seen her urinate in the grass twice. She also went on the rug outside and on the patio. What do you think is wrong? We've never had a kitten before, and all of our friends with cats have never heard of this problem. I just don't know what to do, short of keeping her outside all of the time.
Joan Smithers, Fullerton
A. Probably the most common behavioral complaint I hear from cat owners is that their cats don't use the litter box. Unfortunately, there is often no clear single answer. Many cats will use their box routinely, then occasionally go outside the box or in inappropriate areas. In order to change this behavior, we must try to identify the cause for the change.
The most common solution is to keep the litter box clean and fresh. Some cats have a preference for a particular type of litter and will accept nothing else. A problem may arise when a cat starts to scratch on the rug or floor next to the litter box and prefer those surfaces to the litter. The cat then starts to use these surfaces and not the litter box. To stop this, you must remove the desired surface from the cat's access and confine him to the litter box. You may gradually allow the cat access to the surfaces to reduce the elimination problems. It may be possible to place carpet, for instance, around the box like a border. Thus, the cat will scratch on the carpet while using the box.
Changing the location of the litter box may also help. It may be necessary to place food or water bowls in areas where the cat has been going in order to discourage the use of these areas.
Odors from other cats that previously lived in the home or have entered the home may cause a cat to start urinating or defecating in those areas in an effort to cover up the stranger's scent. It may be necessary to clean these areas thoroughly and use scents or repellents to help keep your cat away from these places.
Sometimes the cat responds emotionally to the litter box because of some previous trauma or upset in the household, such as a new pet, new people or a change in feeding schedules. The cat will show that she is upset by eliminating in other places to draw attention to herself.
As you can see, there are many possible reasons for a cat to stop using the litter box. You will need to retrain her and be very patient.