Dear Doctor: Litter Box Avoidance


Litter box

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

She lives a comfortable life, napping in a bed located under our dining room table. She regularly uses the litter box located about 12 feet away. We also have a cat bed 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 Dear Betty: Actually, I don’t think that Julie’s use of her bed 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.

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

Nicholas Dodman, BVMS

Professor Emeritus

Cummings School of

Veterinary Medicine at

Tufts University


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