Senior Cat Stopped Using Litter Box

Catnip experts address litter box avoidance in a multi-cat household.


[From Tufts March 2011 Issue]

We have two wonderful 14-year-old cats who are sisters. In November, our veterinarian cleaned their teeth and discovered that the one named Julie had a bladder infection that was treated with an oral medication for two weeks.

She lives a comfortable life, napping in a bed buddy located under our dining room table. She regularly uses the litter box located about 12 feet away. We also have a bed buddy in the kitchen.

One day, we discovered Julie defecating in her bed in the kitchen. The next day, she urinated in the bed. We replaced the soiled beds with clean ones. Why is she not using the litter box consistently? Is this an age-related problem? -Betty Harris

A: I don’t think that Julie’s use of her bed buddy as a bathroom has anything to do with old age, although feline cognitive dysfunction is possible in a 14-year-old cat. You would be reporting other behaviors as well, including nocturnal restlessness, howling, disorientation and altered social interactions.

You refer to the litter box, implying there is only one, but there are two cats. You should always have one more litter box than you have cats. I know things have been stable in your home for years, but that is sometimes the way it goes until one fateful day when, say, Julie comes around the corner bursting to use the litter box and finds it occupied by her sister. Whatever the precise cause of the problem, she has now invented another litter box for herself — and that is her bed buddy.

I can almost guarantee you if you put down the correct number of boxes and fill them with unscented, scoopable litter, which you keep fresh by regular scooping, that the problem will not occur again. You do, however, need to dispose of soiled beds and perhaps put a litter box in its place or she’ll be tempted to use it again by what would be undoubtedly lingering odors.

Nicholas Dodman, BVMS
Animal Behavior Clinic Director
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University


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