How does a 14-year-old cat go back to using his litter box?

March 30, 2010 08:02 PM

Dear Ethel,

My cat, Junior, has been so well-behaved all of his 14 years – until now.

In the past few weeks, he’s taken to doing naughty things, like pooing right outside his litter box and peeing on newspaper piles. He’s not even shy about it; he’ll look me right in the eye when he does it. He still uses the litter box … when he feels like it, and I’ve started using Cat Attract (an herbal attractant in the litter), but it doesn’t seem to be the magnet I’d hoped it would be.

Our vet says Junior doesn’t have a urinary infection or anything wrong with his colon or intestinal system, and while he is hyperthyroid, he’s doing well on the pills. This leads me to think that this is a behavioral problem, brought about by changes that only make sense to him.

Ethel, I know you’re a dog, but I wonder if any of your kitty friends might have any advice for Junior and/or me. Is there any way to stop this insanity – to teach this old cat, well, old tricks?

–Cat Needs Old Tricks Back


And here I thought dogs were the only ones with potty issues.

Having to suddenly clean up after Junior’s random acts of bowel movement must come as a shock to you. You did the right thing by seeing your vet, and I’m glad to hear nothing’s physically wrong with Junior.

We checked in with Dr. Annie Harvilicz, chief medical officer and founder of the Animal Wellness Centers in California. She practices a comprehensive approach to veterinary medicine, incorporating Chinese medicine into her use of state-of-the-art technology.

Dr. Annie suggests first getting a new litter box and using new litter.

“Sometimes, as cats get older, they get a little more sensitive about things,” she says. “It may be that there’s some smell in that litter box that he doesn’t like that much.”

It could be something else that’s bothering Junior – did you put a new chair in his favorite sunny spot? Did you just get a new ficus plant?

“Sometimes, cats can get stressed or upset about something and that can cause them to pee outside the litter box,” Dr. Annie says. “Sometimes, it’s the first sign that a cat is having trouble. Her cat may be trying to tell her something.”

But you know, Junior is getting up there in age, and just like what happens with humans as we age, his body isn’t going to be working as well as it was 10 years ago. His kidneys aren’t going to be functioning at 100 percent – he’s going to need to pee more, he’s going to get constipated more often.

Junior probably needs some more fluids. Aging cats tend to get more dehydrated, especially with a change in diet, so Dr. Annie suggests getting a pet fountain with a continuous flow of water – that’ll make sure Junior has plenty of fresh water, which will help manage the constipation.

The takeaway for you, CNOTB, is that Junior’s litter box mystery may or may not be easy to solve. You might have to try lots of different tactics to get him back to his old ways, but don’t give up! You and Junior will be seeing eye-to-eye again soon.


Got a thorny pet (any pet!) problem that you can’t figure out? Try Ethel – she’ll do her best to help. Send your questions to or send us a message on Twitter or Facebook.

Previously in Ask Ethel:
Ask Ethel: My Brat Is Out of Control!
Ask Ethel: Dog Chases After Cars!

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