Q: My 18-year-old cat, Sophie, was missing the litter box because she didn’t step far enough into it. I bought a larger box with super-high sides, but when she steps into this box, she just squats at the edge. I don’t use a cover or lid and clean the box regularly. Why does Sophie behave this way? She is in the early stages of chronic renal failure but otherwise in good health. What can we do? – M.T., St. Paul, Minn.

A: It turns out that far more cats have arthritis than previously thought, even if there are no obvious signs. This may be the case with your pet.

“Poor positioning in the box is often related to poor mobility, stiffness or pain,” says feline veterinarian Dr. Susan Little, of Quebec. Talk with your veterinarian about this and the possibility of using pain relief medication.

You might try using a large plastic storage box (the type used to store sweaters) as a litter box. Cut out an entryway (smoothing off any sharp edges) so your cat can just walk in comfortably.

“Also, if the litter box is in a darker place, or Sophie seems to have more accidents in the evening, plug in a night light,” suggests Little, a past president and board member of the Winn Feline Foundation, a nonprofit that funds cat health studies.

While you say you clean the box, the big question is, “How often?” Once or even a twice a day is a good idea.

Ultimately, you may need to place a large plastic mat (which you can wash) under the litter box. Overall, it appears your cat is doing well considering her age.


Q: Our 6-month-old kitten is very nice, except that he poops on the washing machine. He knows he’s not supposed to do this because when we confine him to the bathroom (with a litter box) for a few days, he does fine. Then, after a day or two of freedom, he’s back on the washing machine. Now, he’s started urinating on the washing machine. We’re going nuts and are ready to give him up. Any advice? – V.B., Phoenix

A: Your kitten is not having accidents on purpose. He feels anxious about something going on when he has the freedom of the house – something that doesn’t happen when he’s sequestered in the bathroom.

This little guy’s behavior sounds like a classic case of intimidation by another pet. It could also be that your kitten’s litter box is in a poor location, and relieving himself on the washing machine offers a better view. Perhaps the litter box is too close to where young children play, which concerns the cat. The bottom line is, this kitty doesn’t feel confident enough to use his litter box.

Sometimes it’s obvious that one pet is intimidating another, while sometimes the signs are subtle, particularly among cats. Simply seeing an established cat sitting close to the litter box may be off-putting to your kitten. He’s choosing the washing machine as a place to do his business because it’s elevated.

My guess is the washing machine is in the same room as the litter box. If so, you might try setting up a sturdy snack table and placing a litter box on the table, offering a lookout spot similar to the washing machine. An uncovered box is preferable.


Q: My 8-year-old miniature poodle and my daughter’s 9-month-old Corgi love to eat birdseed that’s fallen to the ground. We’ve heard this seed is dangerous for dogs. Is this true? – P.R., New Richmond, Wis.

A: “Bird food isn’t toxic, per se,” explains Dr. Gerry Klein, a supervising emergency veterinarian in Chicago. “Eating very large amounts of the bird seed could cause stomach upset or potentially even an obstruction,” he notes. “Another related concern could be the dog eating up bird droppings along with the seeds, which could potentially expose the dogs to parasites.”

When your dogs are outside, the solution might be as simple as offering something better for the dogs to do than scarf bird seed. Actively play with your pets by tossing a toy or a ball, or provide treats or food-dispensing toys (such as Kong Wobbler, traditional Kong toys, IQ Ball or sterilized bone).

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can’t answer all of them individually, he’ll answer those of general interest in his column. Send email to Include your name, city and state. Steve’s website is