Litter Box Tips

If your cat is urinating or defecating outside the litter box, we certainly understand your frustration. Luckily, this is a treatable condition in most cases. A medical exam, as well as a few simple changes can help to re-establish proper litter box use.

The first step is to take your cat to your veterinarian to get a physical exam, a urine analysis and in some cases, blood work. This is to rule out any illness or injury that may be causing the behavior. Once a medical reason for the lapse in litter box use has been ruled out, behavioral reasons can be considered.

There are two main behavioral reasons for failure to eliminate in an established litter box. One is marking, which is a form of communication. The second one is inappropriate elimination, which is a toileting behavior. Both behaviors may occur for a variety of reasons. See handout for these litter box problems.

No matter the reason, there are a few litter box tips that are universally important to all cats.

  • Always keep the litter box clean. Scoop the litter box at least once daily and completely empty and clean it with mild dishwashing liquid weekly.
  • The magic number is one litter box per cat in the household, plus one extra. These litter boxes should be in different rooms to count as separate litter boxes. Two litter boxes right next to each other count as one.
  • If you have a multi-story house, have litter boxes on each level.
  • Make previously marked areas unavailable (close doors to certain rooms).
  • Keep litter boxes away from food and water bowls, as well as the washer and dryer.
  • Clean all soiled areas with an enzymatic cleanser.
  • Use a blacklight to help you locate all the spots in your house; urine will glow yellow-green in the dark.
  • Offer different types of litter to find your cat’s preferred litter: Clumping, non-clumping, sand, clay. Use a fine granulated type of litter so the surface is soft and deep.
  • Type of litter box: most cats dislike covered litter boxes, especially in multi-cat households. Also, many commercially available litter boxes are simply too small even for an average-sized cat. The litter box should be at least 1.5 times the length and width of your cat. If your cat is too large for “jumbo” litter boxes available at pet stores (and many, if not most, are), try using a large plastic storage bin with a “door” cut into it or under-the-bed storage bins, which have lower sides and may not need to be cut.
  • Do not use litter box liners, harsh detergents, or scented litters.
  • Depth of litter: Most cats prefer to have several inches of litter to dig around. Experiment to find your cat’s preference.

Answer the following 4 questions:

Is your cat depositing urine on vertical or horizontal surfaces?

Are you finding large or small amounts of urine?

Is your cat still using the litter box, or has litter box use decreased?

Does your cat stand or squat when she is urinating outside the litter box?

 

Your cat might be inappropriate eliminating if you answered: larger amounts of urine or feces on horizontal surfaces, while squatting, and reduced or no litter box use.

It is important to keep your cat’s litter box tidy and appealing. Cats are picky and if the litter box is not just as your cat likes it, or where your cat likes it to be, then they will seek out a litter box alternative.

Once medical reasons have been ruled out, review the following guidelines to help identify the issue:

  • Are there enough litter boxes? The magic number is one litter box per cat in the household, plus one extra. These litter boxes should be in different rooms to count as separate litter boxes. Two litter boxes are important in one-cat households because many cats prefer to urinate in one location and defecate in another.
  • Offer different types of litter to find your cat’s preferred litter: Clumping, non-clumping, sand, clay, etc. If your cat is using soft surfaces such as laundry, chances are your litter is too coarse or too shallow. Use a fine granulated type of litter so the surface is soft and deep, similar to laundry.
  • Type of litter box: Many cats dislike covered litter boxes, especially in multi-cat households. The cover on the litter box limits the cat’s ability to protect themselves from being ambushed by other cats. Also, many commercially available litter boxes are too small even for an average-sized cat. The litter box should be at least 1.5 times the length and width of your cat. If your cat is too large for “jumbo” litter boxes available at pet stores (and many, if not most, are), try using a large plastic storage bin with a “door” cut into it or under-the-bed storage bins, which have lower sides and may not need to be cut.
  • Use of litter box liners, harsh detergents, and scented litters: Cats tend to avoid plastic liners, which catch their claws when they scratch and make unpleasant crinkling sounds. The use of harsh or strong smelling cleaners to clean the litter box may repel your cat, whose nose is much more sensitive than yours.
  • Depth of litter: Most cats prefer to have several inches of litter to dig around in. Experiment to find your cat’s preference.
  • Trauma associated with the litter box: Has your cat ever experienced painful urination or defecation or other traumatic event associated with the litter box? Do you have dogs or children in your home who might bother the cat when she is trying to use the litter box?
  • Always keep the litter box clean—the litter box might be dirty, and, for example, the laundry basket may be the only “clean alternative,” so be sure to scoop daily.
  • Use mild dishwashing liquid to wash the litter box weekly.
  • Location: Place the litter box in the same room your cat is eliminating outside the litter box.
  • Keep litter boxes away from food and water bowls, as well as the washer and dryer.
  • If you have a multi-story house, have litter boxes on each level.
  • The lingering scent of previous accidents: Once your cat has had an accident, it’s important to clean the soiled area thoroughly with an enzymatic cleaner meant for urine. Strong citrus scents tend to repel cats, so scented detergent may be helpful as a deterrent. 
  • You might also try ‘Cat Attract’, a litter additive available in many pet stores.

 

Tips

  • Always begin by consulting your veterinarian to rule out medical causes.
  • Check all the above guidelines as every cat and situation is different.
  • VERY IMPORTANT: Do not punish your cat for marking as this will not solve the problem; this can make your cat even more anxious.    

 

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