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Figuring out animal behavior cases can often be like detective work. Below are two cases. Both with the same basic problem, but with important differences to consider. Test your skills in behavioral analysis before reading my reply. Dear Dr. Spiegel, I have a Siamese cat about 3 and 1/2 year's old. When I first got her she was trained to the litterbox and used it for about a year. We then started taking care of our great grandchild and the cat stopped defecating in the litterbox but continues to urinate in the litterbox. I have changed the brands of cat litter, but it did not help. Once in a great while she may use the litterbox to defecate but rarely. She is a good cat, follows me everywhere I go. I do not want to get rid of her but will have to if she cannot be retrained to use the litterbox. Do you think she can be retrained? Very truly, W.L., Bear
Dear Dr. Spiegel, I have a male, four year old, Persian cat. I have tried everything to stop him from defecating and urinating in the dining room. I have put a litterbox in there, and he will urinate in it but not defecate. I moved the litterbox to the laundry room, and he would urinate there. I tried to put two litterboxes next to each other in the laundry room, but this week he stopped using the litterbox all together. I have tried all types of litter and am now using the new clump litter, which he liked, until this week. We moved two years ago, but he did this in the other house also. I have tried pepper, chemicals, foil, etc. Nothing works. We all love this cat but he is ruining my dining room. I can't block off the room. Help! Sincerely Yours, N.F., Newark
There are indeed numerous differences. Differences in the breed of cat, differences in owner-initiated treatment methods, differences in duration of the problem. In Question 1 (Q1), there is a presumed link, or implied causal relationship in the statement, "We then started taking care of our great grandchild and the cat stopped defecating in the litter box." This is, likely, of significance. But if we are to investigate this as a potential cause, we need a lot more information. How old is the child? Clearly different aged children are developmentally and behaviorally unique. If this were indeed the cause of W.L.'s problem, a baby could cause the onset of this problem for two reasons. Cat's can, but rarely do, use feces to mark their territories. Or the disruption of routines that a baby brings to a household can cause stress related changes in a cat's eliminatory behavior, and it can also cause some cats to seek an owners attention through this rather unattractive means. My guess is that an older child is involved. With a cat used to following its owner wherever it goes, an active energetic child can be an unwelcome stimulus to a dependent cat, and again you can have a stress-induced or attention seeking reaction. This is without mentioning that the child factor can be a complete red herring and not be the cause at all. One of the most important differences between the two cases is the lack of specificity as to location in Q1. Cat's eliminating outside of their litterboxes is the most common behavioral problem in cats representing approximately 80% of cat behavioral problems seen. Some of these cats have strong location preferences, like Q2. Others will go anywhere and everywhere, or vary location in some interesting patterns. This we don't know in Q1, but we'd certainly like to. Applying the right treatment that is going to solve a problem requires a lot of information. It's kinda like gathering evidence, finding clues, and tracking down leads in a murder mystery. And when you've done this, the answer is apparent. Q1 leaves a lot to be desired for info. Q2 is reasonably clear. Here we have a Persian, not the brightest of cats, although to some one of the most beautiful (...their smushed faces account for their decreased cranial capacity). This cat has a very strong location preference. While N.F. may not be able to block off the dining room she can run a photo-electric beam across the entrance ways to the dining room which when broken by the entering cat can be wired to emit a loud sharp sound. N.F., you will likely notice a rapid decrease in the amount of times you hear the alarm sound and in the number of accidents. Also, stick with the clumping litter. Scoop daily, and level off the surface. Change entirely every 2-3 weeks. And stick with two boxes. To W.L.: Yes, cats can be retrained to use a litter box. Call me so I can gain more info.