2017-03-16 / Pet Tales

Litter box woes

If your cat isn’t using the litter box, here’s how to dig deep to discover the solution
Andrews McMeel

Knowing your cat’s potty preferences ensures that you’ll both be happy with the elimination situation in your home. Knowing your cat’s potty preferences ensures that you’ll both be happy with the elimination situation in your home. Cats come programmed to keep their living area clean. That’s one of the things that make them great house companions. When a cat chooses not to use the litter box, people feel betrayed. It’s no surprise that house-soiling — the technical term for peeing or pooping outside the box — is the No. 1 behavior problem reported in cats.

But cats don’t avoid the litter box out of spite, as owners often believe. One retrospective study — meaning the researchers went back and looked at past cases to figure out possible associations — found that 60 percent of cats who had issues with house soiling had a history of urinary tract disease. Not using the litter box can also be a sign of other health problems common in cats, including hyperthyroidism, diabetes mellitus and liver disease.

There are other reasons cats may avoid the litter box. When other pets bully them in the box or they don’t like the type of litter used or the location, size or cleanliness of their litter box, they vote with their paws: In other words, they don’t use it. These nine tips will help keep your cat thinking inside the box.

¦ Take your cat in for a veterinary exam to rule out a urinary tract infection or other health problem.

¦ Try to figure out if your cat is having relationship issues with another cat or dog in the home, is unnerved by a new baby or person in the family, or is upset by some other change in his environment or schedule.

¦ In multi-cat homes, separate litter boxes so that one cat doesn’t guard access to them. Providing multiple litter boxes is also important if you have an aging cat who may have trouble getting up or down stairs or otherwise trekking long distances to a litter box. A good “rule of paw” is one box per cat, plus one extra.

¦ Make the litter box attractive to your cat. Scoop it once or twice a day so that waste doesn’t sit there and stink it up. At least once or twice a month, empty the box, wash it with warm water and unscented soap, and fill it with fresh litter.

¦ Offer your cat some alternative types of litter. Line up some open litter boxes, one filled with your cat’s regular litter and the others with alternatives. You may be surprised to find that your cat has a distinct preference.

¦ Fill the box with two to four inches of litter. Many cats like to have some depth for digging. Even with a deep bed of litter, you should still scoop it daily.

¦ Place the box in a quiet area where your cat will experience few interruptions. Cats like privacy when they do their business.

¦ Try a different type of litter box. If you’re using a hooded litter box, try an uncovered one. An open litter box gives a cat a feeling of security because he can see people or other animals approaching. An uncovered litter box is also easier for you to scoop and clean.

¦ Discourage your cat from using the areas he soiled. An enzymatic cleanser is the best choice for stamping out odor that could draw your cat back to the area. Other ways to make it unpleasant for him to use that spot are to place his food and water dishes there or to cover the area with double-sided tape or aluminum foil. Remember that these techniques won’t help unless you also uncover and address any health or social problems your cat may have. ¦

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