Litter Box Troubles: Part 4: Interpersonal Problems

Your Cat is Pissy Because He is Not Getting Along with Someone

Lotus appears courtesy of her friend, Liz Scherer

When a cat pees or poops in an unauthorized location, owners immediately assume it’s because their cat doesn’t like someone.

In truth, a cat is much more likely to use his teeth and claws to solve his interpersonal problem, unless the target of their anger poses a physical threat to him.

Interpersonal problem-related peeing and pooping is easy to spot. If your cat could rent a billboard or at least trick that poop out in Christmas lights, they would.  This is when your cat just leaves their business right in the open.

You walk out of your bedroom and step on something fresh, hello, your cat has your attention (unless your cat is of the long-haired variety and has had, what we call in our family, a ‘ride-along’).

Spraying is also interpersonal. This is marking behavior. All marking behavior designates ownership. If I spray something, it is mine.

Interpersonal issues are some of the hardest to change.

Taj appears courtesy of his friend, Liz Scherer

Remember when your mother (father, sister, teacher, the TV) said that you can’t make someone like you? This goes double for cats. Many cats, due to lack of socialization as kittens, are predisposed to NOT like new people and pets.

Sometimes we need to help them to like a new friend.

Interpersonal issues most commonly occur when a new family member is added to the household.

Don’t dump your new love interest. Don’t ditch the dog. And please don’t re-home your cat. 

Instead, try to integrate the new person and the current cat more carefully.

Here are six steps that change the dynamic, helping to ease the frustration of your cat, and soothe the out-sized ego that so many cats have.

1. Keep your cat safe
Make introductions that do not cause frightening chasing or catching activities, and that enable your cat to have the agency to finish the conversation early. keep your cat safe. Never allow the new family member to hurt or scare the cat.

2. Limit your cat’s world.
If your cat pees on a carpet, your cat doesn’t get to be alone with that carpet. If your cat is showing ownership of things in your house, your cat doesn’t get access to those things unless you are present. If they do this in front of you, you use the key phrase “WE DON’T DO THAT HERE.” And give them a free trip to the bathroom or the laundry room.

3. Show public demonstrations of love to your cat
Put your cat on your lap and say, This is Leo, king of cats, and I love him in front of the person or pet that they do not care for. This can do wonders. A cat can be flattered. Give your cat ample affection. Also, give affection to the one that your cat does not care for, in front of the cat. I love you and I also love you. Let’s all get along.

4. Don’t reject the cat
Do not reject the cat in front of or in favor of the new family member. The only time this rule does not apply is if the cat needs a time-out for unprovoked violent behavior or for peeing/pooping right in front of you. Then you say, “We do not behave that way in this house.” And they get a free trip to the laundry room.

5. Give your cat an out
Your cat needs to be able to get away from the person or pet that they do not care for. Most cats like to go up. Take books off your bookcase. Let the cat up on the back of the couch. Make sure, if they are with this person or pet, that they have a way to get away. This helps your cat feel safe, and also to feel like he is in control of his life.

6. If social hierarchy is important to your cat, reinforce it.
Social hierarchy, the stuff of royalty and junior high queen bees, can also be important to your cat. It all comes down to first pick of locations and goods.
If a cat considers social hierarchy important, (for example, he always seeks out the highest spot in the room, doesn’t let the other pets eat his food, tries to take the other pets’ food or move them from their seat, etc.), and the other animal doesn’t care, then teach the other pets to respect the social hierarchy. Feed the cat first. Get a cat tree with a very high perch. Pet the cat first.
Does this make the other pet feel bad? Not usually. Usually the other pet does not care, especially if the pet has a place to sleep and safe access to their food. Sometimes you will get two pets that are equally invested in social hierarchy. In that case, do not take sides. Be Switzerland. Do not harm and take no shit.

ONE IMPORTANT CAVEAT TO SOCIAL HIERARCHY: You are at the top of the social hierarchy. Your cat(s), pets and other family members need you to be there. You control the resources. They need you to be in charge and enforce the rules.

Some people let their cats rule their houses. If the cat is not paying the rent, the cat does not get to call the shots.

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