Scott Hardie | July 20, 2004
This is a plea for advice from other cat owners. When I moved in here two months ago, I started catching my three-year-old cat urinating under the dining table. I yelled at him a couple of times and he seemed to stop, until the day I came home to find he'd defecated under the table as well. I fetched a black light, and sure enough, there were invisible piss stains all over the carpet in that room. By now, the problem has escalated to twice-daily shittings on the carpet, right out in the open (in the same room).

He never does it in front of me, only when I'm at work or asleep. I've paid hundreds of dollars for the vet to run tests, only for her to tell me that he's in perfect health. We even gave him a few weeks' worth of antibiotics anyway. I also bought some Feliway pheromone spray to calm him (he's very timid) and the other cat (who has been growling/hissing at him lately), but it had no effect. I've tried using a shock mat and shock collar to keep him away, but he ignored them. Because of the other cat fighting with him in the past few weeks, I thought maybe he wouldn't share her litter box, but I got him a new one and made certain he knew about it, and still he keeps using the dining room carpet. I've tried yelling at him and smacking him, and alternately being exceedingly nice and affectionate to him; both had no apparent effect. He's not ill; he's just plain got it stuck in his head that the dining room is his litter box, and I can't get the notion unstuck. Every web site I check advises, "take him to the vet."

I can't shut off the dining room because it's open to the rest of the apartment. But I also can't shut the cat up in another room indefinitely because a) it's cruel and b) he screams at the top of his lungs until I let him out, and these walls aren't so thick. Even if moving were financially feasible, there's no guarantee he wouldn't start over again somewhere else. I love my little guy, and the thought of giving him away is tearing me up. The vet and I have exhausted our ideas. Can you help me beat this problem?

Scott Hardie | July 20, 2004
I'm tempted to think it's a territorial issue with the other cat. She growls, hisses, and even bats at him when he's in the vicinity, and maybe she's got him scared away from both litterboxes? But his problem with the carpet started weeks before I ever heard a growl, so I don't know if they're related. (I have separated them long enough to verify that it is indeed him shitting on the carpet, not her.)

Erik Bates | July 20, 2004
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Anna Gregoline | July 20, 2004
I had a reply for you last night, but I still can't reliably post to your site from home without it giving me a Gateway Timeout error.

Since you've been to the vet, I think it must be a behavioral issue with the other cat. Perhaps your vet knows a behaviorist you could call? I wish I knew what to tell you, because usually when these things happen, it IS a medical issue, but if your vet doesn't think so, I'm not sure where that leaves you. Is the litterbox of the pooping cat in the "territory" of the other one?

Kris Weberg | July 20, 2004
I hate to say it, but if this is indeed a territory issue, it may become impossible to resolve -- cats are still pretty instinctual, pretty survival-adapted, and territory is going to prove more important to them than any nasty smell or owner action. Too, outside of constant, carefully distant observation, it's going to be hard to determine where each cat's "territory" is -- they use scent markers we can't detect in most cases, and a lot of their scent-marking behavior appears as pretty normal rubbing and scuffing activity.

With my (now gone) cat, a bit of vinegar or other moderately pungent, non-staining substance applied to the inappropriately-soiled area sometimes helped, but sometimes it didn't. In this case, it sounds
like mild chemical deterrents have already failed. The shock collar's not going to work -- again, your cat's probably reacting to something a lot more hardwired into its kitty brain than any attempt at conditioning you make will reach.

Though I don't know if it would lead to some useful course of action for you, you may want to try an experiment: if you can get a friend to take care of the other cat for, say, three days to a week, you might be able to see if that changes the behavior pattern. You might also be able to get an idea of where the "territories" are by seeing what rooms your older cat remains a little circumspect about entering in the first day or two while the old scent markers wear off.

If the problem really is the other cat's bullying and territorialism, the only real alternative to giving your 3-year-old away might be to try to work on or, worst-case scenario, give away the bullying animal. If it's bullying the three-year old cat to this point, it will likely do the same if you get any other cats; it's learned that it can "win" that way, and again, natural instinct and evolutionary biology pretty well dictate that it will continue its successful behavior pattern for some time to come. In point of fact, removing the older cta will even further reinforce this behavior, just as, in a feral environment, the less-dominant animal leaving the area would likewise reinforce the more strongly territorial animal's aggresion.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you will probably end up losing one of the two cats, or resigning yourself to an unpleasant living room area.

Jackie Mason | July 20, 2004
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Scott Hardie | July 21, 2004
Good ideas, and thanks everybody for the help so far.

After writing this, I got to thinking about how the pheromone spray has all but eliminated the other cat's hostility. Solving one problem gives me hope that the complex can be solved.

Incidentally, I buy a different brand of litter just about every time, since I shop at different groceries and I often grab the store brand. Perhaps this chaos in the litter box is what keeps him away? I'll go back to the brand I was using in Tampa and stick with it; couldn't hurt.

Anna Gregoline | July 21, 2004
Different litter could definitely be creating the chaos - thank goodness people don't freak out and poop in the living room when different toilet tissue is purchased!

Scott Hardie | July 21, 2004
For some reason that reminds me of The Sims.

Jackie Mason | July 21, 2004
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Erik Bates | July 21, 2004
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Melissa Erin | July 21, 2004
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