Why does my cat toilet on the lawn?

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Deterring your cat from using his preferred toilet could end up causing an even bigger problem.

(Q) My nine-month-old kitten insists on toileting on the lawn. I have tried a few products that are meant to deter cats from using the lawn, but none of them have worked. Help!

(A) Behaviourist Jon Bowen says: My experience is that none of the supposedly deterrent products will deter toileting on a lawn, and even if this approach did work it could cause problems. What if your cat's first preference is to toilet on the lawn, but his second preference is to use the carpet in your bedroom? Deterring him from using his preferred toilet could cause an even bigger problem.

There is also a possibility that your kitten is not simply pooing or peeing on the lawn, he may be scent marking. 'Middening' is when cats poo to leave a scent mark, and usually a midden mark is left in an open space where it is on view to other cats. Generally, this kind of marking is more likely if cats feel that their territory is under imminent threat, so if you live in an area with a high cat population density this may be a factor. Usually middening will decrease as a cat carves out a territory and keeps other cats away from his garden.

However, it is more likely that your cat simply prefers to use your lawn as a toilet. The best way to deal with this is to provide him with an outdoor toilet that is more attractive than the lawn, so that his habits change. This is just a 30 to 60cm-deep hole about the size of a litter tray that you fi ll with soft playground sand (not orange building sand). Cats love to toilet on sand, so this will probably become a favourite place. It may take a couple of weeks for your cat to find this spot, and you can help with this by choosing a location in a flower bed that you have seen your cat exploring in the past.

I would advise that you give up using deterrents before you cause a bigger problem.