Litter Box Intimidation. Help Please

This is today’s cat behavior problem. It is quite a tricky one:

Miss A has two cats: Freddie and Freda – one male and one female. They have been with each other since birth and are 5 years old (amended due to Ruth’s comment – see below!). Each has their own litter box. The boxes are a good distance apart. When Freddie is in his litter box doing his thing, Freda likes to intimidate him by pawing at him. This puts Freddie off and upsets him. As a result, he poops on the carpet sometimes….

Female Cat Wants New Male Cat Friend

This is just a bit of fun. I don’t think it is the reason for the problem described. Collage by Michael. The image was bought from iStockphoto.

Response

Non-Bullying Behavior

The first “issue” is whether “pawing at him” is a form of intimidation. It is disturbing Freddie but it might not be hostile, deliberate intimidation. What would cause a cat to paw at another cat while he is in a litter tray? It may be that Freda is trying to get Freddie’s attention. Cats often paw at humans to get their attention. The point I am making is that it might not be litter box intimidation. That is a point worth making I believe. However…..

Bullying Behavior?

There seems to be two main areas where a dominant cat can intimidate a more submissive cat: the food area and the litter area. I think this is a case of one cat, the female, Freda, dominating the male, Freddie. The reason why it is happening at the litter box is probably because of scent marking.

Pooping is not only eliminating waste but a form of scent marking. Both urine and feces are scent markers for cats. Incidentally, scratching the ground or trees (visual marker) and rubbing scent from glands in the body against objects also scent marks.

It seems that Freda is telling Freddie that the house where she lives is her territory and Freddie should not be there. Freddie is indirectly marking territory. This upsets Freda as it is her territory. If that is the underlying reason behind this cat behavior problem, what is the solution?

One strange thing is that the problem has just happened whereas before there was no problem. As I understand that appears to be the case.

Possible Solutions

Make Environment More Friendly

I think we have to try and make Freda more relaxed about her territory. Make her more accepting. Feliway, the commercial cat pheromone, comes to mind. It makes places feel more friendly to cats, apparently. I am not sure how effective it is.

Change in Environment?

Something may have occurred that is suddenly making Freda anxious or unsettled. It may be something that is not obvious. Perhaps the cats’ owner has a new live-in boyfriend or something like that and he is inadvertently making Freda nervous. She in turn is trying to make her territory more friendly by trying to turf out Freddie. If there is a human problem it should be removed 😉 get rid of him…..

Falling Out?

Do cats fall out of friendship? Cats make friends. We know that. It is well established. If a cat can make friends perhaps they can become less friendly and start to dislike each other. This may lead to the sort of behavior described.

Physically Separate Litter Trays

A physical and rather crude solution would be to put Freddie’s cat litter in the garage or an unused room. Place an automated receiver type cat flap (cat door) in the door to that room or garage. Put a collar on Freddie that activates the cat flap. Train Freddie to go through the cat flap and to her litter box. Freda would be barred from getting to Freddie’s litter box as she has no collar which opens the cat flap. That would be a physical barrier to stop Freda intimidating Freddie while on the toilet.

Covered Litter Box

A very simple solution that does not deal with the underlying problem but which would possibly stop Freda pawing at Freddie would be a covered litter box/tray.

Space

The problem with this cat behavior problem is that these are apparently two adult cat well settled in their ways. It may be difficult to find a long term solution. I feel that Freda needs her own space as does Freddie. It would be nice to create two zones in the house: one for Freda and one for Freddie. This is probably impractical.

Re-home?

I don’t think separating them and re-homing one is the answer as they have been together all their lives. This implies they have got on in the past. It also implies that something has changed to upset the relationship between the two. It may have been a slightly frosty relationship from the word go, which has surfaced due a change in the environment or a change in character of Freda (due to getting older). If that is the case separation may in fact be the answer.

I find this a tricky cat behavior problem. Anyone with a good idea? It’s a real problem.

Facebook Discussion

Comments

Litter Box Intimidation. Help Please — 16 Comments

  1. This is a strange one! Miss A says that Freddie and Freda have been together since birth and yet one is 5 years old and one is 6 years old?
    So they can’t have been.
    For some reason Freda is warning Freddie off the tray, maybe she found out by accident it scares him when she paws at him and it does sound like Freda is the dominant cat, as females mostly seem to be and the only thing I can think of is that this is a case of redirected aggression. Maybe there’s a strange cat around outside, Freda can’t get at it to chase it away, so she takes it out on Freddie instead.
    They do need litter trays in seperate rooms and for a while need to be kept apart until Freda calms down and leaves Freddie alone when he’s using his tray or he might start holding it in and cause bladder/bowel problems for himself.
    I hope someone can come up with some better ideas, this situation is a new one on me.

  2. Maybe Freddy is dominating Freda by pooping in her territory outside the box and so she is having a go at him when he’s doing it regardless of where. We assume that he is pooping outside the box because of Freda but I believe a cat poops outside the box because he wants to or is saying something. It wouldn’t suprise me if he pooped outside the box before she pawed at him pooping. Something the human cant possibly know for sure unless she has watched every poop made 🙂 The explanation is too simple and the problem too weird. I think we must think outside the box 🙂 – literally. Maybe Freddy is infact asserting dominance on Freda and she is reacting.

    • A very intelligent response, Marc. I like it. It may be the case that Freda is reacting to Freddie and Freddie is stressed for some other reason. I think you are saying that and it is a very subtle and neat idea. Perhaps the moral in your comment is to look further at something beyond Freda that might be stressing Freddie. If so, I like that. Good advice.

      The problem is real and actual. It may the case that it is a bit weird because we don’t have the entire story.

  3. Yes good thought Marc
    Miss A maybe needs to put a few more trays around the house for now as the golden rule is one for each cat and at least another to spare.
    If there were say 4 litter trays spread out, Freda would have a full time job then catching Freddie in which one he was using lol.
    We could always do with a bit more information though couldn’t we!

  4. BTW, Merry Christmas Elisa, Ruth, Ruth, Dorothy, Dan, Rudolph, Hairless Cat Girl, Mayen, … all the commenters on POC and Michael (that was off the top of my head, hope I didn’t miss anyone). I hope you and all of your cats have a lovely time together over the holidays whatever it is you are celebrating. I’m celebrating time off at home with my cats and hoping for a bit of snow 🙂

    • …or I could say Merry Christmas to Monty, Walter, Josef, Charlie, Marvin, Bigfoot, Yellow Cat, Shadow, Daisy(the big dog), Sealy, Furby, Matahari, Matata, Hairless Cat Girl’s cats, …Dan, you don’t have a cat right now? Mayen’s cats? Elisa, if I could remember all your cat’s names off the top of my head I’d have very good memory.

      • And to you Marc. And to Lilli, Gigi and Red’s little sister Molly. Thank you for the sweet sentiment.

        I look forward to your posts next year. Cheers to a good year for cats the world over.

  5. Thanks Marc, Merry Christmas to you and your cats too and to everyone you’ve named and everyone else who comes to PoC (the nice people anyway lol lol) 😉

  6. This is a real life problem. It is taken from the Catster website and there were no answers. I have no more information unfortunately.

    It is well known that cats can exercise dominant behavior with respect to litter box use. This is why it is sensible to have one litter box per cat.

    This problem appears to be an extension of the kind of problems you can get over the use of a single litter box.

    It would appear, as inferred, that Freda is treating both litter boxes as her own. Even though they are apart they can’t be far enough apart to constitute being part of a different home area.

    Ultimately it is about a “home range” which is the area that a cat calls her own. Domestic cats normally adapt to multi-cat environments but perhaps Freda hasn’t really done that.

  7. Many, many thanks to Ruth (Kattaddorra), Ruth (Monty’s mom), Babz, Eliza, Marc, Dan, Rudolph, Dorothy, Liz (Hairless Cat), keenpetite, Gail, Zach, Maggie, Finn and all the other great contributors. Sorry if I have not mentioned your name.

    I would like to wish a Happy Christmas to you and your feline companions.

    Let’s hope we can make the lives of cats a little better next year.

  8. Thanks Michael, Merry Christmas to you too and to everyone on POC who tries to help other people and their cats and of course Merry Christmas to cats all over the world. I’m keeping out of today’s problem as I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t already been said.

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