DEAR JOAN: I need some help. I obtained a female kitten last June during one of the Maddie's Pet Adoption days. She was 3 months old, spayed, domestic short-haired, brown and orange tiger. Her name is Ginger and she's quite smart.

At first she was very, very skittish. I already had a feral cat, but they eventually bonded.

My problem with Ginger is she refuses to use the litter boxes. I've changed the boxes and placed them in strategic areas. Unfortunately, this is a real problem as I don't have a yard. I live in a townhouse that has two decks, a box on each deck, and one in the garage -- I also have doggy doors for those areas.

A litter box experience is a private thing to most cats.
A litter box experience is a private thing to most cats. (Archives)

Ginger's sweet, but I'm not sure I can keep her. I've resorted to putting puppy pads down to save my wall-to-wall carpeting.

My daughter moved in with me and we now have four cats and a dog. Except for Ginger, the cats are just fine. They all go out on the deck and use the boxes. She is, however, the only female animal in the house.

If I cannot resolve this issue, I would like to find a home for Ginger where she could go out in a yard, have her own territory and be the only cat in the home. I don't think she'd mind a dog at all.

Thank you for any advice and counsel you can offer.

Eileen Riley

Concord

DEAR EILEEN: There are a few factors to consider. First, has she ever used the litter box? If so, then we need to look at reason why she may have stopped. Was she using it before the other animals arrived? She may be feeling pushed out or uncomfortable, or it may be her way of marking her territory.

Ginger may also have a medical issue. Take her to her vet and have her checked for a urinary tract infection or other problem.

I'm also wondering if this is related to her skittishness. She may not feel comfortable going in a litter box that is exposed on a deck. Try putting a box in a quiet, out-of-the-way place, perhaps in the bathroom or laundry room. If she has privacy and security, that may be what she's looking for.

In trying to find a solution, you may have unwittingly added to the problem. Frequently changing boxes and locations can get cats discombobulated. They prefer routine and order.

If you see Ginger start to go outside the box, quietly scoop her up and take her to the litter box. Don't yell at her or scold. If she uses it, praise her.

Look at the type of litter you're using. Perfumed ones are great for us, but she might not like the scent.

Feed her at regular times so you can judge when she might need the litter box, and take her to it around that time. You may need to restrict her to a single room with food, water, toys, a place to sleep, and, of course, the litter box. When she starts using it regularly, you can trust her to be in the rest of the house.

It will take time, but you say she is a smart cat and well worth the effort.

Meet the authors

Todd Friedman and Megan Andrews of Walnut Creek are donating copies of their book, "My Secret Life as Peanut," for a special fundraiser for Community Concern for Cats. Meet them, and some nice cats, from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Petco, 1301 California Blvd., Walnut Creek. The first people to make a donation to Community Concern for Cats will receive a free copy of the book, signed and personalized by Friedman and Andrews.

Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com or 1700 Cavallo Road, Antioch, CA 94509.