Dear Tabby...

Cat Shuns Box, Targets Rug

Dear Tabby,

My cat, Lennie, has always been good about using the litter box. But lately, he's been peeing on our living room rug. I don't know what to do. I keep his litter box spotless and I always use his favorite litter. Please help!

Losing Patience in Whittier

Dear Patience,

Thinking outside the box is one thing, but peeing outside of it just won't do! I'm glad to see you already know the litter box attributes important to the feline set - cleanliness and consistency. Let's start by making sure Lennie isn't suffering from any medical causes of pain (like a bladder infection, which can be deadly to boy cats) or anxiety (like hearing or vision loss). Loathe though I am to admit it, we cats have a tendency to blame the litter box for discomfort experienced while - ahem - eliminating.

If the doc gives Lennie a clean bill of health, then let's take another whiff of that litter box. Sure it smells clean to you. But let's face it: you humans are olfactorily challenged. To Lennie, the box probably smells like an outhouse. Try replacing the litter box with not one but two new ones: (1) the same type of box, with the same litter, in the same location, and (2) a different type of box, with a different litter, in a new location. Restrict him to certain rooms (that include the boxes) until he's back to normal.

If that doesn't solve the problem, it could be anxiety. Consider any recent changes, such as new pets, human guests, or the possibility of a stray cat outside. Offer Lennie more control by giving him new perches and hiding places, or by moving him to an area of the house from which other pets are restricted. Try calming him with synthetic cat pheromones. Or find time every day to sit quietly with him while you read - when you relax, he'll relax.

I'm glad you're asking for help. I can't tell you how many people relinquish their cats to the shelter with "litter box problem" listed as the reason. With that on your record, it's hard to convince a new family to give you a second chance. So, purrs to you! I just know you and Lennie can lick this problem.

Tabby Cat van Purrin is ready to pounce on your pet behavior problems! If you need help, contact the shelter's humane educator (and my translator), Didi Culp (dculp@frederickcountymd.gov, 301-600-1735).