There is no arguing against the fact that cats make great pets. They are self-sufficient, affectionate and generally very clean critters. But what if Frisky stops using the litter box? That cuddly ball of fur is suddenly not so cute when your carpet and furniture are being used as a toilet! Inappropriate litter box behavior is one of the most common reasons for families to relinquish or re-home their cats.
Any cat that suddenly changes its litter box habits and starts to inappropriately urinate should always be evaluated by a veterinarian to ensure there isn’t an underlying medical problem. Once a medical issue has been ruled out and the problem is deemed behavioral, you might consider some tips and tricks to help with litter box aversion.
Cats can become averse to their litter box for an amazing variety of reasons. Occasionally it takes some trial and error to figure out exactly how the cat best likes his or her box. For example, switching brands or types of litter can make a cat ignore the box. Or perhaps the size or number of litter boxes isn’t quite right. Here are some things to consider when try to tackle frustrating litter box behavior.
1. Keep the box scrupulously clean. Many cats do not like a dirty or smelly box any more than you do. Some cats require twice daily scooping!
2. Always have at least one litter box per cat, plus one additional one. Especially if you add a new cat into the household, always provide a new litter box. The old one will have been previously ‘claimed’ by the original kitty. The newcomer might not want to violate his or her territory.
3. Is the box private enough? Some cats can be shy or even nervous, especially in multi-cat households. Try putting the box in a closet, or small bathroom.
4. Is the litter scented? Clumping? Crystals? Experiment with different litter types to determine which is most preferred. Or if you recently switched, go back to the previous brand.
5. Is the box covered with a lid? Some cats don’t like this and prefer it open.
6. Did the cat have a bad experience in the box? For example, a cat that had a urinary tract infection that was painful might associate the box with the painful condition. They will need to be ‘retrained’ that the box won’t hurt. It seems silly, but sometimes just purchasing a new one and putting it in a new spot will ‘trick’ the kitty into thinking the new box is less scary.
7. Make sure the box is in a quiet area away from heavy foot traffic. A noisy clothes dryer, for example might be making your kitty nervous.
8. Is the box too small? A litter box should be at least one and a half times the length of the cat (not including the tail) so that the cat will have adequate space to maneuver and cover his or her excrement.
9. Is the box too shallow? Or too deep? You can purchase plastic rectangular boxes (like the kind to put wrapping paper in) in a variety of different lengths, heights and widths that can work nicely as a litter box.
10. Consider a litter additive designed to attract cats to the box, such as CatAttract.
11. Some cats need to be retrained to use the box. One way to do this is to confine the cat to a small area, like a large dog crate that has enough room for the litter box and a place to comfortably sleep, then allow access to a slightly larger area, such as a small room, and gradually allow more freedom after he/she has proven trustworthy in using the box.
12. Has there been a change in the cat’s normal routine, or a change in the household, such as the birth of a child, or a new pet? Stress and anxiety can cause litter box changes in cats. A product such as Feliway, a pheromone diffuser, can occasionally calm a nervous kitty.
If these tips are ineffective at restoring your cat’s proper toilet behaviors, a veterinary behavior specialist should be consulted.