Litter Pan Choices & Fear Avoidance

Question:
Last year during the July 4 fireworks, my 5 year old cat tried to use the litter box, messed on himself, and got a urinary infection. Ever since, he messes 6 inches away from the box although he uses it to urinate. I have tried moving the box, but he just moves another 6 inches and messes.

Dr. Nichol:
I think I’ve figured out what you mean by mess. I’ve often thought my hair was a mess in the morning. Now, I understand what it really looks like. Thanks for that.

It’s not unusual for cats to suddenly lose their bathroom etiquette if jolted out of their blissful state while doing the right thing in the right place. A badly timed explosion can lead to a fear-based association with the type of litter, the location of the pan, or even the shape or size of the pan. This “one-event learning” has convinced your cat that defecating in his pan could detonate a bottle rocket.

Add a second litter pan in a different room with clumping litter. Scoop twice daily and dump and clean the pans weekly. Really big pans, like a large plastic sweater box, are more likely to be used. Lose the lid and cut down one portion so your cat doesn’t have to pole vault to use the facilities.

Help your kitty maintain his sanity during the festivities by providing him a secluded spot, away from windows. Cover his enclosure with a towel for extra sound insulation and switch on a noisy fan to mask the racket of bombs bursting in air. An antianxiety supplement like Zylkene or Anxitane could help. A more severely affected cat may benefit from lorazepam. And for cryin’ out loud don’t tell him he’s a mess. You’ll only hurt his feelings.

Cat Behavior Class
Do your cats fight and bite? Do they believe your home is their bathroom? Are they de-upholstering your furniture? I’ll address any behaviors that damage your feline relationships in my seminar at the Animal Humane Adoption Center, 9132 Montgomery Blvd. NE on Monday July 14 from 6-9 PM. Cost: $40. Go to facebook.com/drjeffnichol or call 792-5131 to register. Bring plenty of questions. I’ll give individual help.