Q: Ollie, our 8-year-old tabby started pooping outside of the litterbox in February. It has gotten progressively worse; now he never uses the box for either pooping or peeing. It’s gotten so serious that Ollie won’t even go near the basement where the boxes are kept. We have taken him to his veterinarian three times but he has not found anything wrong with him.
We have tried everything we can think of, with no success. There are four litterboxes in the basement; three are covered for privacy and one is a large, uncovered sweater box. The litterboxes are cleaned every day, the litter dumped and refilled every few months. We even installed a little cat door down into the basement for the cats. Despite all of our efforts, Ollie still will go to the bathroom upstairs in the sinks, on the living room rug, on the couch and in the hallway. He never goes near the litterboxes in the basement.
We have one other cat, Andy, and they seem to get along most of the time.
A: Locating Ollie’s litter boxes together in the basement is most likely the trigger for his litterbox aversion. Ollie, like all cats, needs to have a choice of litterboxes located in different areas of the house. If Ollie doesn’t feel secure using the litterbox in the basement, he will then have the choice of using another elsewhere in the house.
Something may have initially startled Ollie near or in the basement, causing him to avoid the basement entirely. Another possible trigger is that Andy might be resource guarding, hanging out in front of the cat door to the basement. Ollie, instead of risking an uncomfortable encounter with Andy, might be choosing other places to go to the bathroom that feel safer. Cats also don’t like situations where they could potentially be trapped. Basements and rooms with cat doors are perfect setups for ambushes.
Locating boxes throughout the house should solve the problem. The two cats should have large uncovered litterboxes on all of the levels in your house. Place them in areas where the cats won’t feel trapped. Avoid putting the boxes in closets and small bathrooms since those areas are setups for potential ambushes. Place the litterboxes in areas where Ollie and Andy will have excellent views of the rooms, out the door and down the halls. Because of the litterbox challenges, place two boxes on each level of the house, in different locations.
Fill each new box with about 3 inches of fresh, unscented cat litter. After putting approximately 1 cup of litter from the cat boxes in the basement into the new boxes, show both Ollie and Andy where they are located.
Leave the boxes you currently have in the basement. After the problem is resolved, see which of the boxes aren’t being used and gradually remove them. The eventual goal is to have three litterboxes, located in different areas of the house and on the different floor levels.