Unlike their canine cousins, cats are not pack animals. Although a cat will often tolerate the presence of other cats -- and dogs -- in their household, all this company can be stressful. And this stress can lead to litter box problems.
When grouped together, cats will establish a social hierarchy that includes multiple territories. For example, while one cat may be dominant in the area where food and water are served, another may be dominant in litter box territory. These complicated relationships require cats to create routes that don't cross the path of the dominant cat. So when the cat who rules the litter box area decides to take a lengthy nap smack-dab in the path to the litter box, it can cause subordinate cats to relieve themselves on other surfaces throughout the home.
You can help keep the peace by placing multiple litter boxes for easy access. Put a bell on the collar of the cat who dominates the litter box area so other cats can hear her coming, and consider installing some vertical resting spots to ease tensions. Elevated shelves, cat "trees" and cat walkways can reduce testy interactions between cats [source: Litter Box Guru].
Author's Note: 5 Causes of Litter Box Problems in Cats
When I was pregnant with my third child, I made a new best friend. She lived next door and when I planted myself on the front porch every evening -- ankles swollen, feet aching -- she would come over for a leisurely visit. The best part? She would wind herself in-between my ankles, an infinity loop of soft fur. It was the best part of my day. Smokey, as we came to call her, was a one-in-a-million cat. Confident, persnickety and exceedingly loving to the people she chose as her own. Luckily, we became those people. When her humans next door moved away, Smokey was adopted into our family and remained there in the years that followed. She kept watch over sleeping children, cuddled with me at night and entertained us all until her death two years ago. She is missed.
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "Litter Box Problems." (March 28, 2014) http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/cat-behavior/litter-box-problems
- Dodman, Nicholas. "Stop Feline Inappropriate Elimination." Veterinary Practice News. May 29, 2012. (March 28, 2014) http://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/vet-practice-news-columns/pet-projects/stop-feline-inappropriate-elimination.aspx
- Fenichel, Janice. "Urinating Outside the Litterbox." Petfinder. 1998. (March 28, 2014) http://www.petfinder.com/cats/cat-problems/urinating-outside-litterbox/
- Humane Society of the United States. "Preventing Litter Box Problems." Sept. 12, 2013. (March 28, 2014) http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/cats/tips/preventing_litter_box_problems.html
- Johnson-Bennett, Pam. "Does Your Cat Have a Litter Aversion?" Cat Behavior Associates. (March 28, 2014) http://www.catbehaviorassociates.com/does-your-cat-have-a-litter-aversion/
- Litter Box Gurus. "Multiple Cat Households." (March 28, 2014) http://litterboxguru.com/multiple_cat_households
If your cat's pawing food out of its bowl to eat, it might be more than an annoying habit. Learn how cats can have whisker fatigue at HowStuffWorks.