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Dear Doctor - Our experts address litter box avoidance in cats

Indoor cat suddenly wants to go outside

[From Tufts January 2011 Issue]

I have a wonderful 5-year-old cat rescued from Hurricane Katrina when she was a kitten. This year, she has decided to drive me crazy by going from one door to the other and meowing constantly. She is not allowed out in my apartment complex and has not really given me much trouble — until now.

I’ve had her for four years and she has never acted like this. I tried walking her on a leash, but the experience was disastrous. She doesn’t play with cat toys, so my veterinarian suggested that I adopt a kitten. I hesitate on this, but will wait for your reply. I’ve had more than one cat at a time, so I think I know what to expect, but at 80 years old, I have some doubts! My cat is a very high strung, nervous cat; she hides when anyone comes to my house. Any help you can give me will be more than appreciated.
Frances Hunt

Dear Frances: It does seem that your cat has suddenly got the call of the wild and wants to be outside again as, no doubt, she once was. Why she waited this long to express her frustration with the indoor life is a mystery to me, though springtime, with all its outdoor goings on, is always a key time for cats’ wanderlust to be titillated.

The fact that your cat’s spring fever has taken four years to emerge, however, makes me wonder if something outside has changed to attract her attention. Perhaps a new neighborhood tomcat has been giving her the eye or a bird has made a nest in a nearby tree or bush. We may never know. Your veterinarian’s suggestion of getting another cat is not a bad idea as it would help divert some of your cat’s attention and energies.

Alternatively, you could try enriching her indoor environment with climbing frames or hidey holes, while at the same time attenuating her visual access to the outdoors by screening off windows. Toys are helpful to occupy her days, food puzzles are especially good, and you should exercise her for at least 30 minutes daily by getting her to chase moving things (such as feathers on a string). While it is definitely safer for cats to be kept indoors, especially these days, indoor cats must be directly or indirectly entertained or they will go stir crazy. I wish you luck in satisfying your cat’s inner cat, restoring peace to your household.
Nicholas Dodman, BVMS
Animal Behavior Clinic Director
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University

Comments (2)

I have an 11 year old neutered male bengal cat. He has recently (in the past year) started spraying constantly. He has in the past sprayed but it seemed as though it was seasonal (spring/fall) and I could get him to stop. Now, he just wants to spray everything including my refrigerator door. He is very talkative and yowls all of the time and he does start to yowl before he sprays. But it's not each time he yowls that he will spray. He will even sometimes spray while he is in the litter box. He will spray the back wall that it is up against. He has been tested for everything and has no medical issues. He has been on anti-depressants, kitty CBD oil, feliway collars, pheromone sprays, kitty rescue and now he is on skylene which he is now only spraying a few times a week. I don't know what else to do, there are 6 litter boxes set up in different spaces and I do have another cat that is a female that isn't at all aggressive with him. My vet doesn't know what else to do..please help. Thank you!

Posted by: Sue Randall | October 23, 2019 2:34 PM    Report this comment

As to your cat's sudden change in her behavior, might there be an intact stray, especially a male, in your vicinity? The call of pheromones can be mighty strong! Keep your eye out and ask your neighbors about this also. If there is, you can hopefully find a local shelter or humane group that has a capture/alter/place or release program. Good luck.

Posted by: Lumom | March 6, 2017 8:44 AM    Report this comment

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