Solving Litter Box Issues

Elimination problems can develop as a result of conflict between multiple cats in a home, as a result of a dislike for the litter-box type or the litter itself, as a result of a past medical condition, or as a result of the cat deciding she doesn’t like the location or placement of the litter box. Unfortunately, once a cat avoids her litter box for whatever reason, her avoidance can become a chronic problem.

The best approach to dealing with these problems is to prevent them before they happen by making your cat’s litter boxes as cat-friendly as possible.

Litter-Box Management – Do’s and Don’ts

If your cat isn’t comfortable with her litter box or can’t easily access it, she probably won’t use it. To avoid problems, make sure you do the following:
– Ensure that your cat’s litter box is cleaned often and thoroughly. You should change it at least once a day.
– Have enough litter boxes for the household. You should have at least one box for each of your cats, as well as an extra.
– Make sure the litter box itself is a proper size and isn’t too small.
– Ensure that your cat can easily get into the litter box at all times. Be aware that sometimes hoods or liners can make a cat uncomfortable.
– There should always be enough litter in the box, but not too much. Cats usually prefer one to two inches of litter.

Regardless of what you do to solve your cat’s elimination problems, make sure to avoid the following:

– Do NOT rub your cat’s nose in urine or feces.
– Do NOT scold your cat and carry or drag her to the litter box. Punishment will only increases a cat’s stress and can lead to more elimination problems.
– Do NOT confine your cat to a small room with the litter box, for days to weeks, without doing anything else listed below to resolve the problem.
– Do NOT clean accidents with an ammonia-based cleanser. Urine contains ammonia, and therefore cleaning with ammonia could attract your cat to the same spot to urinate again.

Resolving a Litter-Box Problem

The first step in resolving elimination outside the litter box is to rule out urine marking or medical problems. Urine marking is a problem that most pet owners consider to be a litter box problem but the cause and treatment are entirely different. For more information, see our article Spraying and Marking.

Veterinary problems can be anything from a Urinary Tract Infection to some sort of blockage. If your cat has litterbox problems, may sure she is checked thoroughly by a veterinarian. Once your veterinarian determines that your cat doesn’t have a medical condition or issue, try following these guidelines:
– Provide enough litter boxes. Make sure you have one for each cat in your household, plus one extra. For example, if you have three cats, you’ll need a minimum of four litter boxes.

– Place litter boxes in accessible locations, away from high-traffic areas and away from areas where the cat might feel trapped. If you live in a multistory residence, you may need to provide a litter box on each level. Keep boxes away from busy, loud or intimidating places, like next to your washer and dryer or next to your dog’s food and water bowls, or in areas where there’s a lot of foot traffic.

– Put your cat’s food bowls somewhere other than right next to her litter box.

– Remove covers and liners from all litter boxes.

– Give your cat a choice of litter types. Cats generally prefer unscented clumping litter with a medium to fine texture. Offer different types of litter in boxes placed side-by-side to allow your cat to show you her preference.

– Scoop at least once a day. Once a week, clean all litter boxes with warm water and unscented soap, baking soda or no soap, and completely replace the litter. The problem with scented cleaners is that your cat could develop an aversion to the scent.
– Clean accidents thoroughly with an enzymatic cleanser designed to neutralize pet odors. You can find this kind of cleaner at most pet stores.

– If your cat soils in just a few spots, place litter boxes there. If it’s not possible to put a box in a spot where your cat has eliminated, place her food bowl, water bowl, bed or toys in that area to discourage further elimination.

– Make inappropriate elimination areas less appealing. Try putting regular or motion activated lights in dark areas. You can also make surfaces less pleasant to stand on by placing upside-down carpet runners, tin foil or double-sided sticky tape in the area where your cat has eliminated in the past.

In multi-cat households, sometimes an elimination problem can develop as a result of conflict between the cats. If you have multiple cats and aren’t sure which one is soiling, you can temporarily confine one of your cats to determine which one is eliminating outside the litter box.

If there is a conflict between your cats and one seems stressed, provide additional litter box locations where the anxious cat spends the majority of her time. Make sure to provide adequate resting areas for each cat. It may also be helpful to distribute resources (food, water, cat posts, and litter boxes) in places where the cats would not come into contact with each other.