If your cat isn’t using the litter box, here’s how to dig deep to discover the solution

Cats come programmed to keep their living area clean. That’s one of the things that make them great house companions. When a cat chooses not to use the litter box, people feel betrayed. It’s no surprise that house-soiling – the technical term for peeing or pooping outside the box – is the No. 1 behavior problem reported in cats.

But cats don’t avoid the litter box out of spite, as owners often believe. One retrospective study – meaning the researchers went back and looked at past cases to figure out possible associations – found that 60 percent of cats who had issues with house soiling had a history of urinary tract disease. Not using the litter box can also be a sign of other health problems common in cats, including hyperthyroidism, diabetes mellitus and liver disease.

There are other reasons cats may avoid the litter box. When other pets bully them in the box or they don’t like the type of litter used or the location, size or cleanliness of their litter box, they vote with their paws: In other words, they don’t use it. These nine tips will help keep your cat thinking inside the box.

▪  Take your cat in for a veterinary exam to rule out a urinary tract infection or other health problem.

▪ Try to figure out if your cat is having relationship issues with another cat or dog in the home, is unnerved by a new baby or person in the family, or is upset by some other change in his environment or schedule.

▪  In multi-cat homes, separate litter boxes so that one cat doesn’t guard access to them. Providing multiple litter boxes is also important if you have an aging cat who may have trouble getting up or down stairs or otherwise trekking long distances to a litter box. A good “rule of paw” is one box per cat, plus one extra.

▪  Make the litter box attractive to your cat. Scoop it once or twice a day so that waste doesn’t sit there and stink it up. At least once or twice a month, empty the box, wash it with warm water and unscented soap, and fill it with fresh litter.

▪  Offer your cat some alternative types of litter. Line up some open litter boxes, one filled with your cat’s regular litter and the others with alternatives. You may be surprised to find that your cat has a distinct preference.

▪  Fill the box with two to four inches of litter. Many cats like to have some depth for digging. Even with a deep bed of litter, you should still scoop it daily.

▪  Place the box in a quiet area where your cat will experience few interruptions. Cats like privacy when they do their business.

▪  Try a different type of litter box. If you’re using a hooded litter box, try an uncovered one. An open litter box gives a cat a feeling of security because he can see people or other animals approaching. An uncovered litter box is also easier for you to scoop and clean.

▪  Discourage your cat from using the areas he soiled. An enzymatic cleanser is the best choice for stamping out odor that could draw your cat back to the area. Other ways to make it unpleasant for him to use that spot are to place his food and water dishes there or to cover the area with double-sided tape or aluminum foil. Remember that these techniques won’t help unless you also uncover and address any health or social problems your cat may have.

Coccidia infection common in dogs

Q: I took in a fecal sample for my 9-year-old dog, and the results showed that she had coccidiosis, even though she didn’t have any symptoms. What can you tell me about that?

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A: Coccidia are single-celled protozoa. (Interestingly, the word protozoa means “first animals.”) Four different species can infect dogs: Cystoisospora canis, Cystoisospora ohioensis, Cystoisospora neorivolta and Cystoisospora burrowsi.

Dogs can become infected with coccidia by swallowing soil or eating feces that contain the parasites. Dogs can also acquire coccidia by eating infected animals. Once inside the dog’s body, coccidia inhabit the intestinal wall. Statistically, anywhere from 3 percent to 38 percent of dogs are harboring coccidia.

Infection with coccidia is common in dogs (and cats). Veterinarians usually see coccidia in puppies, but older dogs like yours can also become infected. In puppies, infections can be severe, causing appetite loss, lethargy, bloody diarrhea and vomiting. It can even be fatal. Older dogs may not show any signs at all.

Medication is available to treat coccidia. Your senior dog doesn’t have signs, which is great, but she is probably shedding oocysts, which are how protozoa multiply.

The best way to prevent coccidia is to clean feces from your yard as soon as your dog deposits them, and to prevent your dog from eating the poop of other animals. Lots of dogs love eating poop from other dogs, cats, deer, bunnies and poultry.

People with new puppies should take them in right away with a stool sample to make sure they aren’t infected and to get treatment for them if they are.

By the way, you don’t have to worry about getting coccidia from your dog or cat. Dogs and cats can’t transmit their coccidia to each other or to humans.

Dr. Marty Becker

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with