Solving Litterbox Problems

Leading cat behaviorists agree that litter box avoidance is one of the most frequent and frustrating issues facing many guardians. There are many “whys” that can lead to improper elimination, but here are some basic tips that might help if you are dealing with this issue.

Always take the cat to the vet first. Many medical conditions, such as urinary tract infections, hyperthyroidism, and inflammatory bowel disease can cause a cat to eliminate outside the box. If a medical cause is ruled out, then the problem might be triggered by environmental factors.

The litter box. The box should be big enough for the cat to turn around; generally it should be 1 ½ times the length of the cat. While we humans might prefer covered boxes, many cats do not; they make some cats feel trapped and vulnerable to attack. Self-cleaning boxes are noisy and might scare some cats away. The box should be easy to step into—older cats and kittens might have trouble clambering into a high-sided box.

The litter. Different cats prefer different types of litter. Scented litter is a turnoff for many cats. Scoopable litter best approximates the sandy soil cats seek out in nature. If your cat is avoiding the box, try placing another box containing another type of litter nearby. If various litters are rejected, try Cat Attract, which contains herbs that entice cats to the box.

Don’t under- or over-fill the box; about 1 inch of litter is appealing to most cats.

Placement of the box. While you might think that the far corner of the basement is an ideal place for kitty’s toilet, kitty might not agree. Particularly if the cat is fearful or has mobility issues, it might pick a more convenient location to let loose. Litter boxes also should not be wedged into tight corners leaving only one-sided access.

Cleanliness or lack thereof. This is the root of many litter box issues. As a rule, cats are more fastidious than we are about the condition of the box. Litter boxes should be scooped twice a day, and emptied and cleaned once a week (every two weeks if scoopable litter is used). You should have one more box than your number of cats, and place the boxes in different locations. Lining them up = one big litter box in many cats’ eyes. Some cats even prefer to urinate and defecate in separate boxes.

Experiment and be patient. If your cat is not using the box, experiment with different boxes, litter, locations, etc. Most importantly, remember that the cat is not trying to be bad or annoy you; it just finds something upsetting about the current arrangement. As a conscientious cat guardian, you will want to find a solution that both of you will find satisfactory.


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