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Fussy feline doesn’t know where to go
Dear Dr. Spiegel, I have just moved into a new apartment last week. My cat Sandy (a declawed, neutered male Persian) could not stay with me in my temporary home for the past 6 months, so he stayed at a relative's house. As soon as I moved, I brought Sandy to the new apartment to stay. After he was fed, we placed him in the litter box about every 10-15 minutes so that he would be aware of where to "go." It's been 4 days, and the only place he seems to want to go is in the back end of our bathtub. I moved the litter box into the bathroom and he still went in the tub. Last Friday night, we had to go out so I placed his litter box in the tub right where he had been going, but when I got home he had not used the box, but instead defecated on the rug directly in front of the bathroom door! I'm sure this is a behavior problem related to being moved, but what can I do to stop this habit and get him litter trained again? I have owned Sandy for four years and have never had a problem with him. PLEASE HELP! S.H., Wilmington
Dear S.H., Being moved into a new environment can be quite stressful to a cat. They know something's up when you're getting ready, and then from the car ride on, it's a lot of sudden changes. That's particularly upsetting for cats, who like to feel in control. That's why when you move, you really ought to start the cat out in a quiet room (ideally with a window they can look out of). It should have a litterbox, food and water. When the cat's comfortable, settled and playful, you can introduce it to the rest of the house. Now it's time to correct a major myth. Picking up a cat and putting it into the litterbox is not an effective way to get the cat to use the litterbox. If it was, then they wouldn't jump out of it right away. If anything it can make them view the litterbox more negatively. It is now a place that has unpleasant feelings associated with it, and that is not something they'll be attracted to. By repeatedly putting a stressed cat into the box, he probably wants to stay as far away from it as possible. To make him aware of where to go, you simply put him in the room with the litterbox. He will quickly discover it and use it, if need be. So what do you do now? Your cat has a preference for using the bathtub. While reestablishing his litterbox habits, keep the door to the bathroom closed or keep an inch of water in the tub. Keep him in another room with that litterbox plus a second one. Put an unscented, urine-clumping, scoopable litter in one of the boxes. You may want to put no litter in one box, as he may like a feel similar to the smoothness of the tub. Let him out only when you can watch him, and then play and interact with him to get him more comfortable with his new home. Give him free run after 1 week.
Dear Sir, Do you have a formula for a home made or know of a liquid concentrate spray that may be used around bushes and in yards that is not harmful to people or landscape but will repel cats and dogs? I manage a housing complex where cats/dogs as pets are not allowed. However some tenants persist in feeding all the "strays" in the area, thereby creating a major problem for the rest of the tenants. I do not wish to harm anything or anyone - not even the "strays" but need to keep them away. Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated. N.M., Selbyville DE
Dear N.M., No, I don't have such a formula; though if anyone does, I'd love to know. There are a few products on the market (e.g., Repel) that are supposed to repel animals. The problem is that the smell tends to dissipate too quickly, or there must be wind or rain to activate the smell of the products. And even if the product did work, you have a situation where stray animals, who are generally much more hungry than house pets, have learned that your housing complex is a place where they can rely on a regular meal. The chemical deterrent may help somewhat, but it's likely to be a lot of work, a lot of expense, and not effective enough to adequately meet your needs. You'd also have to keep it up continually. You could spend some money and set up a system with ultrasonic alarms which are activated by motion sensors. Though if the animals heard it all the time triggered by human movement, they could become habituated to it (i.e., it wouldn't bother them anymore). Whether or not you could use it effectively would depend largely on the path these animals are taking to get to your building. The physical structure of this housing complex would certainly come into play. And then again you could always put up a physical barrier, like a fence. This is probably the most reliable solution. But don't get an invisible fence... it only keeps dogs in! You always have the option of calling out the animal control officers of your community. They catch `em and take them to the local shelter where their fate is a big "?".