Dear Ms. Kitty,

I have a 4-year-old male cat who is overweight. My vet recommends I put him on a diet. He currently eats dry kibble whenever he wants.

My concern is that restricting his meals will increase his bad behavior. He already scratches my couch, gets on the counter and knocks things off shelves. He knows I don’t like that but he seems to do it when I am on the phone or doing something important. I want to do the right thing for my cat, but I also must live with him.

Tough Love

Dear Tough Love,

It sounds like you have an active cat who needs an outlet for his energy. All cats are hunters and if he doesn’t get enough opportunities to exercise those skills, they can turn into behaviors you do not want and pounds he doesn’t need.

Fat Cats Are Not Funny

Obesity in cats has many unwanted health risks such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and many forms of cancer. It is estimated that 60% of U.S. cats are overweight, so you are not alone.

Cats 2 pounds above their ideal weight are at risk for health problems. Work with your vet to figure out what they should weigh and develop a safe plan for reducing their weight.

No Free Lunch

Cats’ natural eating routine involves multiple small meals throughout the day. Typically, they would get physical and mental stimulation by stalking and catching their food.

The bowl of kibble that you leave out all day is a boring substitute. Cats will often overeat because they are bored.

Interactive feeders can address both their weight and unwanted behaviors, and they can be lots of fun for both you and your cat!

Behaviors That Get Rewarded Will Increase

Cats may know that they will get your attention when they do the behaviors you described. Even negative attention, like a scolding, is still attention. If your cats are busy with activities that satisfy their natural instincts, they will be calmer and not so insistent on getting your attention. Try not to accidentally reward things you don’t want them to do.

How To Feed A Cat

There are other ways to love your cats beside overfeeding them. To help your cats reduce both their weight and these behaviors, provide food in ways that require them to interact to get it.

You can purchase many devices to do this, or you can make them yourself. These interactive or puzzle feeders can be very satisfying since cats get rewarded for “hunting” their food. It also slows down the eating process and allows them to feel satisfied with smaller portions.

A wide variety of feeders will keep your cats interested and challenged. Try distributing some of their kibble around the house so they can enjoy foraging on the window sill, cat tree, behind the couch, under the bed, etc. This can keep them engaged in natural activities when you are away or busy.

Puzzle Feeders Are Fun!

Puzzle feeders can be stationary objects with openings the cat has to reach into to paw out the food, like a box with small openings. They can be also be movable so the cat can roll the object to get food dispensed, like a tube or ball with holes.

Some cats will immediately take to this fun activity and you can quickly increase the challenge by making openings smaller or putting one device inside another. You don’t want to frustrate your cat by making the initial puzzle feeders too difficult.

Watch your cats interact and assist them until they catch on to the game. Many of the interactive feeders you can buy can be adjusted to your cat’s ability level or to the size of the food you add.

Tap here to find the blue Trixie feeder in the video.

Tap here to find the green Catit feeder in the photo.

Create a System for Success

These interactive feeders can be lots of fun to make and to introduce to your cat. It is very entertaining to watch the feline mind work out the puzzle. I have seen cats ignore a bowl of kibble in favor of working a puzzle to get their food.

You may find that your cat already has several toys that can become puzzle feeders, including ice cube trays or egg cartons, cardboard tubes and plastic drink bottles. Food Puzzles for Cats can give you lots of great ideas.

To save time, you can create several different puzzle feeders to store in a sealed plastic container. The feeders can quickly be loaded with food at the start of the week. Then you can put them out individually during the week to keep the hunting interesting for the cat and easy for you.

I hope you and your cat have fun with this method of food delivery! It can be another great way to show your cat you love him.

Melissa Shandley is one of the founders of Happy Cats Haven and also a Cat Behavior Consultant and Cat Care Provider.
Play & Treat Pet Service

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3 thoughts on “Cats & litter boxes: what’s the big deal?

  • Andy & Shelley Warner

    We have 4 cats and a dog. (2 boys and 2 girls) 3 of our cats are 11 years old (2 boys and 1 girl) and our other one is 8 years old (girl). We have had the 2 boys since they were kittens and we adopted the 2 girls together from the same rescue in 2011.

    (Before you ask, Yes we have had the vet check her out numerous times and she is physically okay)
    Our 8 year old little girl has always had litter box issues. She has no problem/issues doing #2 in the litter boxes, but she continually pees on the carpet or rugs (if available) in the house. She does this at night, never in front of us, and has started going outside our bedroom door. (We keep the door closed and our dog is in with us to allow the cats to have free run of the house without our dog around. Our dog loves the cats and likes to play with them and doesn’t chase them. He LOVES our 8 year old cat and tries to lay by her just to be by her.

    She is very sweet, very timid/shy, loves to play with toys and the “red Dot” light, does not like to be picked up and held but will come to you to snug and cuddle on your chest and neck when she wants to, is easy”ish” to clip nails and comes and waits for her dinner in the cat tree next to where the other cats eat on the floor. The older cats are not very kind to her and do not socialize with her very much, so she stays to herself mostly in her many beds. We just want her to be happy, accepted & feel 100 % loved in the home.

    • Sara

      It sounds like you could benefit from a consultation with a Cat Behavior Consultant. They would probably be able to get to the reasons behind your kitty’s litterbox avoidance and/or marking. With that many animals, the complexities of their relationships increase and are likely leading to the issues you mention, especially with a shy cat who may be being bullied by the other cats. Please see our Partners page for contact info for the CBCs we recommend, Play & Treat Pet Service and Colorado Cats Boarding & Behavior.