Set Him Up to Succeed; Avoid Punishment

Question:
My husband and I got a shelter cat about 6 weeks ago. He is one and a half years old and neutered. For the first two weeks he would poo and wee in the automatic litter tray. Then one day he decided to poo on the floor. We started cleaning out the tray more regularly but he would poo to the side. He would run and hide when we came to him just after he pooed on the floor. My husband was so angry he rubbed his nose in it.

Dr. Nichol:
My residency training is in veterinary behavior medicine, not the human variety, but I’m guessing your husband must have been really upset to rub his nose in cat stool. I doubt the spectacle had any meaning to your cat other than providing further evidence of how truly bizarre our species’ behavior can be.

There are many reasons for a cat to fecal soil, with anxiety topping the list. Forcing this youngster’s face into his excrement can only intensify his stress. It’s time to treat the cause of the problem.

Whether he was startled while defecating in one type of pan or when using a particular litter your confused kitty has an aversion to his current restroom options. Research has shown that when it comes to litter pans, size matters. Purchase a couple of big plastic sweater storage boxes. Lose the lids and cut down part of one side to make an entry point for your wayward pooper. Clumping litter, like Fresh Step with carbon, is usually best. Experiment with different depths in each pan and add a product called Cat Attract.

Forget punishment; use generous amounts of positive reinforcement instead. For the next few weeks keep the kid close by tethering him to your belt with a 6 foot leash. Take him to the pan following meals and wait quietly to tell him how special he is when he does the right thing.