Seventeen years of sharing my life with my cat Midnight has perfectly synced our schedules. Every day we wake up, eat, watch TV, and go to sleep together. If I hit “snooze” too many times, she perches at the foot of my bed and yowls until I wake up. When it’s time for her thyroid medication, she meets me next to the cabinet where her pills are kept. On days I return home later than she expects, I find her waiting under her potted tree with a glare that says I’ve been worried SICK.
Not only is Midnight skilled at memorizing everyone’s daily activities, she has also mastered the art of civil disobedience. When I throw off our routine too much, a protest that is impossible to ignore takes place in the form of an inappropriate elimination at the top of the stairs.
When Midnight begins going outside the litter box, I first make sure that there is nothing medically wrong. If she has diarrhea, she is probably unable to make it to her box in time. If she urinates outside the litter box, I’m on the look out for symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection or kidney disease. As long as her stool is normal, she is not urinating more frequently than usual, she has no blood in her urine, she is not lethargic, and is eating and drinking normally, her inappropriate eliminations could be a reaction to a recent change or stressful event.
Scolding or punishing Midnight would only increase frustration without solving the problem because it does not address the cause. Trying to carry her to the box has only been met with growling and hissing, as if she was saying, Don’t look at me, it’s your fault!
If I don’t determine the cause quickly, the eliminations will continue as she makes a habit of going outside the litter box. Keeping a log of when, where, and the possible whys help me identify household stressors. Even if a change doesn’t seem like a big deal to me, it might be a big deal to her. This big deal can be anything such as a new food bowl, her water not filled to the very tip-top of the bowl, her favorite blanket in the laundry instead of on the bed, or a closed door to a room she likes.
While I check Midnight’s belongings and favorite areas to make sure nothing is out of place, I also make sure her litter box is clean. But sometimes her dissatisfaction is more complicated than just a dirty box. The litter might be too deep or not deep enough. She might dislike the strong, chemical scent of the litter or the plastic liner. The texture of the litter could be irritating for her sensitive paws. Perhaps the location of the box is not convenient, quiet, or private enough. These preferences have changed throughout Midnight’s life. For example, when she was younger she preferred a top entry box because our dog Magic was unable to bother her while she used it. But as she has become arthritic in her older age and Magic has passed away, she now prefers a box with lower sides which is much easier for her to use. Experimenting with different combinations of box types, sizes, and locations has helped us create a satisfactory set-up.
Although I don’t appreciate Midnight’s aggravating demonstrations of civil disobedience, anyone who lives with cats already knows that trying to force these headstrong freedom fighters to do anything a human’s way is a waste of energy. But keeping a log and patiently working our way through the checklist of Midnight’s possible frustrations encourages her to return to consistently using her box (at least until I mess up the next thing).
A variety of issues can cause inappropriate eliminations such as: medical problems, household stressors, litter box preferences, or conflicts between cats in multi-cat households. First be sure to rule out possible medical problems such as diarrhea, urinary tract infection, kidney disease, kidney stones, or blockage.
Thoroughly clean the area with a pet cleaner to be sure a lingering smell doesn’t encourage them to use the same area. Scolding or punishing will not create a long term solution and will only create more stress for the cat. Identifying household stressors, experimenting with litter types and locations, and adding more litter boxes (especially in multi-cat households) are the best ways to resolve the issue.