Q: One of my cats, George, has started urinating outside the litter box. I wasn’t sure at first which cat was the culprit, but now he’s done it twice right in front of us. George is about 5 years old. My veterinarian says the problem is behavioral. With three cats, we have three litter boxes. One upstairs, one is in a bathroom on the main level, and the third is in the basement. The cats are littermates and get along famously. In fact, I’m worried that if anything happens to one of them, the others will mourn terribly. They’re all indoor cats. What’s wrong? – C.J, Tampa, Fla.
A: Certified cat behavior consultant Beth Adelman says when a cat urinates right in front of family members, the problem can likely be traced to one of three issues:
1. It hurts to urinate. A medical problem is responsible, such as urinary bladder stores or cystitis.
2. The litter or box is dirty, or the litter brand was suddenly changed and is not to the cat’s liking.
3. The cat is scared.
Adelman, of New York City, says to scoop all the litter boxes at least once daily. If you just changed litter brands, revert to the old one. Your litter box placement sounds OK, but ideally with three cats, four litter boxes is preferred.
Cat dislike change. Adelman says she also wonders if you can identify any variation in the household routine, from home construction to a change in your work schedule, even a houseguest. If so, consider toning down your cat’s anxiety by using Feliway, a copy of a soothing pheromone. A plug-in diffuser or collar infused with Feliway can help lessen stress.
“Sometimes we think cats are getting along, and mostly they are,” says Adelman. “But it might be that one cat is blocking access to the litter box – on purpose or just because it’s when and where he likes to hang out.”
Adelman adds, “Sometimes veterinarians make assumptions, I wonder if there was a truly thorough exam, and if blood work was done for this cat.”
A certified cat behavior consultant (www.iaabc.org) could assess the situation.
Q: Peaches was always wary of visitors, but over the past few months she seems totally afraid. Any advice? – B.H., Las Vegas
A: See your veterinarian, and soon. Cats are adept at hiding illness. Any time a pet changes its behavior for no apparent reason, there is, in fact, a reason. Ruling out a physical problem first makes the most sense.
You didn’t mention Peaches’ age. Older cats may suffer from an Alzheimer’s-like condition.
The problem could have begun inadvertently. Perhaps, for example, a loud noise occurred as a guest was walking in the door, and the cat now associates fear with visitors. You could ask guests to toss treats to your cat, but otherwise ignore Peaches to reverse the negative association.
Q: I realize our kitten is only playing, but she chases us down the hall, sometimes nipping at our pants legs. My husband and I are both over 80, and we’re afraid we might trip over her. Any advice? – P.M., Hollywood, Fla.
A: It’s true that your kitten is only playing. To keep things under control, try keeping a stash of little balls in your pockets, and when your kitten is about to get underfoot, toss the toys in the opposite direction. If this doesn’t work, toss bits of kibble from your pockets instead. It will be fun for your kitty to hunt down the snacks. Be sure not to add to her total daily food intake, however, or your kitty will soon be overweight.
If neither technique works, you may need to give your kitty a time out for chasing. It’s best to catch her as she’s about to chase, pick her up, gently place her in a separate room and shut the door. There’s no need to scold her, although you can certainly say, “Bad kitty.”
It’s important to offer your kitten an appropriate outlet for her energy. Play with her twice daily using an interactive toy. Enrich her environment with self-entertaining toys. These can be simple track toys (available at pet stores and online) featuring balls set in grooves that cats can bat around. You could also make your own toys, such as dropping Ping Pong balls in a tissue box, or creating tunnels by taping paper sacks together.