Home & Leisure

My Pet World: Dog suddenly reacting to signs of affection between owners

By Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

We took in two stray cats, one female and one male. They were inseparable. The female cat died at home during the night. We were devastated, consoled only by the fact she was with us 12 years and we gave her a healthy, wonderful life.

Since her death seven months ago, the male cat will not use the litter box. He will only go next to the box, but never in it. We have tried different boxes, litter and locations, to no avail. We have resorted to putting puppy pads around the litter box, which is where he goes. What can we do to get him to go in the box again? What is he trying to tell us?

- Linda, Bath, Pennsylvania

Dear Linda,

I am sorry for your loss. It's never easy to lose a feline friend you have spent many years loving her.

As for your male cat, he may still be mourning the loss of this feline. Maybe he only used the box when she was around and doesn't feel safe in the litter box anymore. It's hard to know what a cat might be thinking or feeling when they stop using the litter box, but you can use a few different strategies to coax him back that will reassure him.

First, make sure you sift the litter box daily and change the litter weekly. Cats often need exceptionally clean litter boxes in order to use them.


Second, buy some litter box attractant (available online) to sprinkle in the box daily. The scent is designed to draw cats in. When you notice it working, remove the puppy pads from around the box. Use the attractant for at least a month after he starts using the litter box again to reinforce the habit.

If the litter box attractant doesn't work on its own, add plug-in pheromones in the room with the litter box. Or, try a feline pheromone collar if he will wear one. Pheromones are calming and may make him less tense around his litter box, which always helps in these situations.

Finally, I know you have tried different litter and litter box locations, but ensure the box is not in a high-traffic or noisy area and is secluded and private. Cats don't like to be startled. If he was startled while using the box, it could have led to your current litter box issues. For example, if the litter box is in your laundry room, the dryer buzzer may have startled him one day.

Let me know if things don't improve.


(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)




John Branch Marshall Ramsey Diamond Lil Cul de Sac Sarah's Scribbles Tom Stiglich