Q: I have two 8-year-old tom cats that have always been healthy and well-behaved. I left the state for the summer and had a relative stay at my house to care for the cats. When I returned, there was an extremely strong smell of urine as soon as I entered the front door. I discovered that my relative had not scooped and cleaned the boxes properly and the cats subsequently started to urinate all over the carpet in the walk-in closet where the litter box is kept as well as in a corner of the living room. I have tried cleaning and deodorizing these areas with various products, but the cats keep returning to the same spots over and over again. What can I do?
A: First off, remember that you only get to pick your friends, not your relatives. Keeping this thought in mind will hopefully keep you from dumping a bowl of potato salad on his head at the next family reunion.
You definitely have a serious problem, as it can be difficult to change a cat’s urination behaviors after only a couple of weeks, let alone an entire summer. Although this seems like a classic behavioral problem, you should have both cats checked at your veterinarian for any medical problems, including having a urinalysis run to rule out urinary tract issues. Also, ask your veterinarian about using a product called Feliway that can help to calm anxious or bad behavior in cats.
It is likely that there are no medical problems, so the key is to change the behavior. First, focus on the litter box. It sounds like you were using one box prior to the problems developing, but most feline behavior experts recommend having two boxes per cat when there are inappropriate urination issues. So buy three more. Also, make sure the boxes are big and deep.
A recent recommendation from feline behaviorists is that the litter boxes should be filled 4 to 6 inches deep. You may think you are putting a lot of litter in, but few people fill their boxes this deeply, so measure it the first time to see how much you need to be using each time. Also, make sure one of the boxes is in the corner of the living room where they have been going. They obviously like that location, so you need to let them have a box there for now. If they are properly using that box over the next couple of months, you can try to slowly move it to a better location.
Try these tips and consult with your veterinarian if you still aren’t having success after a couple of months.
Got a pet-related question? Send it to Dr. Anderson, a veterinarian at Hawthorne Park Animal Care Center in Bloomington, via email at email@example.com.