Stressed cat not using litter box

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Stressed cat not using litter box

Updated Apr 21, 2022

Dear Cathy,
I have four indoor-only cats. They range in age from two- to six-years-old. Our problem child is a five-year-old female cat named Trinity. Before we adopted her at four months old, Trinity lost a leg before from a dog bite. When we brought her home, she didn’t use the litter box. She used the couch instead. After three days, we took her to the vet who said she had ringworm. Trinity was put into isolation and given sulfur baths for the ringworm for almost two months. We visited her regularly to keep her familiar with us. When we brought her home, we noticed that loud noises sent her running. She began to use the litter box regularly, and we had no more issues. We had a rescue cat that lived with us for six months, and a second cat that was injured. We moved almost two years ago, and everything was fine.

Recently, we had workers in the house, and shortly after, we caught Trinity urinating on the rugs in the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room. Some of these rugs were right next to the litterboxes she had been using for over a year. She was put on antibiotics for a possible UTI, and Prozac for stress. We love to be able to put the rugs back down without having to wash them daily. Any suggestions?

– Jeannetta, Abingdon, Virginia

Dear Jeannetta,

I am glad you ruled out health issues first. Trinity’s early traumatic life, however, may have shaped her poor litter box habits.

When cats are sick or stressed, they often avoid the litter box.

Stress, like the temporary cats coming in and out of the home or the strangers working in your home, can all be triggers for her urinating outside the box.

If you need to foster other cats, just know this is a likely trigger for her.

Steps to help improve litter box habits:

  • Leave the rugs off the floor for now and sprinkle a litter box attractant (available online or at a pet store) to entice her back to the box.
  • When the litter box habit is fully restored, put the carpets out again one at a time to see how she reacts, keeping the carpets away from the litterbox area for now.
  • Also, put several boxes throughout the home and in places where she can’t be startled.

With cats, it often takes a combination of strategies to bring them back to the box.

Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to cathy@petpundit.com. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal

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Cathy Rosenthal, CHES, CFE
Animal Welfare Communications Specialist

Cathy brings more than 25 years' experience in the animal welfare field. She is a sought-after speaker, Certified Humane Education Specialist, a syndicated pet advice columnist, an author, a publisher, and of course - a loving pet parent.

Read more about Cathy here or check out her Non-Profit's page to see more ways she can help you and your organization.

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