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Answers from vets about your cat:

The Cat That Feared the Couch

Posted November 15, 2013 in Cat Behavior

Dr. Ernie Ward reminds us all  why cats sometimes misbehave due to environmental changes. Visit Dr. Ernie at or on Facebook.

Cat on couch

This appointment was going to take a while.

Mrs. Smith (not her real name) calmly stroked her purring feline as she continued raising her voice toward me.

“I don’t care what you think, Dr. Ward. I change her litter box quite enough! Frieda tells me when it’s time to clean the poo-poo pail and I empty it promptly.”

Frieda was having, as Mrs. Smith put it, “bathroom problems.” Veterinarians refer to urinating outside the litter box as “elimination disorders” or “inappropriate elimination.” It was going to be challenging to find anything Mrs. Smith would agree with me about during this visit.

“I haven’t changed her food, her litter, or her bowls. Frieda’s routine has remained the same. I haven’t traveled recently, had houseguests, or entertained friends for the past month because of the smell and stains. Either fix Frieda’s problem or I’ll find someone who can.” She smiled a smile that said she meant it.

Elimination disorders typically fall into two broad categories: physiological and psychological causes. Physiological disorders include conditions such as bladder infections, kidney disease, pain, hormonal disease, or bladder stones. Psychological or behavioral problems can be much more complicated. Cats can suddenly develop an aversion to the texture, smell, or even color of their litter. They may begin to dislike the location of the box or become frightened and avoid the room altogether. It can take a considerable amount of sleuthing to reveal the root of many behavioral causes of inappropriate elimination. Because Frieda’s diagnostic tests had come back normal, I needed to pull out my best Sherlock Holmes if I was going to solve this case.

A thought struck me. “How often do you entertain friends?” I asked.

“I’ve hosted a weekly bridge game for over ten years. That’s why I bought the new den furniture. It’s a shame I haven’t been able to show it off to the ladies.”

“Tell me more about this new furniture and where the den is located relative to Frieda’s litter box.”

“I bought the most beautiful couch you’ve ever seen. When Jim was alive he would’ve never approved. I replaced the couch we’d had for almost twenty years. I must admit I was sad to see it go because it was where Jim and Frieda would

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Ernie has more than 20 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a well-known veterinarian, media personality and author. He is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.