Solving Litterbox Issues

Solving Litterbox Issues

Has your cat suddenly started using the “bathroom” outside the litterbox? Are you finding puddles and piles throughout the house? Don’t assume that Fluffy is “mad” at you and acting out! Cats frequently demonstrate both physical and emotional distress by eliminating in new and (to us) undesirable places. 

Your first stop should be a visit to your vet if your cat shows a sudden change in elimination behavior. Oftentimes, “accidents” are a cat’s way of expressing physical pain. Be sure to fully describe your cat’s behavior to your vet and ask for both a physical examination and laboratory testing. 

If your vet deems that the litterbox issues are not caused by a medical issue, there are several potential behavioral solutions to the problem. Cats do not deal well with stress, and often will urinate and defecate in new places as a method of expressing emotional distress. Think about changes that have taken place in your household. Have you added a new pet? Brought home a new baby? Has your infant begun crawling, accessing new areas of the home? Any of these things can affect your cat’s stress level.

Follow the tips below to help re-teach litterbox habits.

Think about accessibility. How easy is it for your cat to reach the litterbox? Does he have to go down a flight of stairs? Is it at the end of a hallway where he could potentially feel trapped? Cats prefer some degree of privacy, but oftentimes litterboxes are placed in areas where the cat has no escape route. Ensure that your litterbox is in an area with two exits. That way, if the family dog is blocking one path, the cat still has a way to safely exit the litterbox. Avoid asking the cat to go downstairs whenever possible (particularly with an older cat). The more difficult it is to find the box, the more likely your cat is to create an alternate bathroom. 

How appealing is the litterbox itself? Many litterboxes are not big enough for the average house cat (particularly if Fluffy is on the hefty side). The box should be 1.5 times the length of the cat. If you cannot find a cat box that is large enough, check out the doggy litterbox section in your local pet supply store. You might be able to find a larger litterbox there. Hooded litterboxes can create a problem. Cats can feel trapped, with no escape route. Try a box without a hood to create a greater sense of comfort.

Has your cat developed a new substrate preference? Typically, cats prefer a soft, silky litter over a coarse or pelleted litter. Observe your cats digging habits to determine how satisfied he is with his litter. Cats that dig in the litter for more than 3 seconds before eliminating are less likely to develop elimination disorders. Some commercially manufactured litters are specially scented to entice cats.  Cat Attract litter is a great example.    

If your cat has developed a preference for something else in your home, try using that substance in the litterbox. For example, if your cat has started urinating only on carpet, pick up a scrap piece of carpet and place it in your litterbox. Start gradually adding litter to the box until your cat has resumed urinating on litter instead of the carpet.

Cleanliness is essential! A cat has no desire to use a dirty litterbox! Daily cleaning is a key to healthy litterbox habits. Multiple boxes are also helpful. There should be a minimum of two boxes in the house for a single cat, and at least one more box per additional cat. Spread them out to reduce the concentration of odor. 

If all else fails…reduce your cat’s access to the house. Close him in one room (you could even use a large dog crate) with food and a litterbox. When he is consistently using the box in that room, gradually gives him a little more freedom. If he starts having accidents again, reduce his freedom again.  

Visit the “Cat Resources” page for more tips and information on cat behavior.

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