When it comes to a litter box problem in a multicat household, the first, and often most difficult, step is to identify the furry little culprit. You may think you know which cat peed on the carpet but if you’re wrong, you could create major setbacks in the behavior modification plan. So how do you go about finding out which cat has turned your living room carpet into a giant litter box or has sprayed against your favorite antique chair?
Don’t automatically assume the problem is behavioral, even if your cats have been throwing hissy fits at one another. There could be an underlying medical cause for the behavior and you certainly wouldn’t want a cat to needlessly suffer. Additionally, stress can actually contribute to the onset of medical issues relating to the litter box, such as idiopathic cystitis. So get out that cat carrier because it’s time to make a vet clinic appointment.
With a multicat household, just how do you decide which cat to take to the veterinarian? If you have just two cats then it’s safest to bring them both. In a more cat-dense household, you may want to start with the most likely suspect.
Cats Under Surveillance
The most accurate way to determine which cat is eliminating outside of the litter box is to set up a video camera. You can use the typical video camera, a motion-activated one, your computer camera or a surveillance cam that connects to your smartphone. The other option, although not as good is to use a “cat cam.” There are a few companies that manufacture little video cameras that attach to your cat’s collar. With the little cat cams you won’t see the cat eliminating or spraying but you’ll see what he’s looking at so by the location you should be able to uncover the soggy truth.
If urination or urine-marking is the problem, as opposed to defecation, you can also try identification through the use of fluorescein dye. This ophthalmic dye is used to detect problems on the surface of the eye but it has also been given orally to help identify which cat is urine-marking in a multicat household. The fluorescein will cause the urine to fluoresce under a woods lamp. You can have your veterinarian put the fluorescein in a capsule for you to administer to your cat. The problem with fluorescein is that it isn’t 100% reliable when it comes to causing urine to fluoresce.
The video camera is your best tool but some veterinarians also suggest that clients add a few shavings of a non-toxic, brightly colored crayon to a cat’s food to see if it shows up in the feces after elimination. Don’t use this method without specific instructions from your veterinarian.
A method many cat parents use is to confine one cat away from the others to see if the problem persists. The problem with separating a cat is it’s unreliable because the confined cat may be causing the stress to the cat who is actually doing the spraying and the behavior may stop if the two cats are no longer sharing space.
What to do After You’ve Identified the Cat
Once you know which cat is engaging in the behavior, then it’s time to begin appropriate behavior modification. Treating a litter box problem is very individualized based on case specifics. Basically though, you’ll be working on two areas: 1) the litter box set-up, and 2) environmental factors. In a multicat household you have to make sure there are enough litter boxes and that they’re located in various areas around the home. They also have to be the right size and type for each individual cat. Some cats will have specific substrate preferences as well. You also need to address any multicat tension and make sure everyone feels as if they have enough security and safety in the environment.
Need More Information?
For more specifics on addressing litter box problems in a multicat household, refer to the book Cat vs. Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett. This book specifically addresses the unique challenges that arise in homes with multiple cats. You can also find the latest information in Pam’s brand new book, CatWise.
We’re sorry but Pam is unable to respond to questions or remarks posted in the comment section. If you have a question about cat behavior, you can find many answers in the articles Pam writes for the website as well as in her best-selling books.