One of the most common cat problems seen by veterinarians is inappropriate elimination or urinating and/or defecating outside of the litter box. Oftentimes, this behavior leads to cats being relinquished to a shelter or being abused by the owner. Sadly, in most cases it is the fault of the human in charge of the litter box duties. Cats can sometimes eliminate inappropriately because of a medical problem so it is very important to have a cat examined by a veterinarian when its behavior changes. Regardless, following the below steps will help keep your cat healthy and happy to use the litter box appropriately.
- Provide a type of litter that your cat likes. Research has shown that most cats prefer fine-grained, unscented litters. Litter that clumps usually has finer grains than typical clay litter and has the added advantage of being easy to keep clean on a daily basis. Many cats are put off by the odor of scented or deodorant litters. To figure out your cat’s litter preference, offer different options in various litter boxes and retain the one that gets used the most.
- Scoop at least once a day — twice is better. Cats are fastidiously clean and don’t appreciate dirty boxes. Imagine using an unflushed toilet for days on end. Most cats will avoid using a dirty litter box in favor of a cleaner place. That “cleaner place” may turn out to be your carpet, bed, or sofa. To prevent house-soiling (1) scoop once a day (2) wash the box weekly with mild detergent and (3) refill with fresh litter. If a litter box is cleaned regularly, it should not have an offensive odor.
- Number of litter boxes. The Golden Rule is “one litter box per cat, plus one.” Problems such as urine spraying can be prevented or reduced by providing multiple litter boxes. Even if you have just one cat, you need two boxes. Litter boxes placed side by side are viewed by cats as one litter box with a divider. Boxes need to be in different locations or rooms.
- Lose the cover. While some cats prefer covered litter boxes, most do not. Hooded litter boxes trap and concentrate odors inside which can smell like a ‘porta-pottie’ to your cat. Also, covered litter boxes limit a cat’s view of their surroundings which can increase anxiety. Many cats hate being enclosed when they are at their most vulnerable. They often like to see what is going on around them while eliminating.
- Location matters. Litter boxes downstairs might be a problem for older arthritic cats. Litter boxes near a loud appliance or furnace might be scary. Ideally, litter boxes should offer cats a view of what is going on as they do their business, yet still provide some seclusion. Put the litter box in a quiet low-traffic area, such as in a spare bathroom. Litter boxes should not be placed where children play, as there can be too much commotion for some cats. And when possible, keeping dogs away from the box is a good idea. Having boxes on all floors of your home will reduce the chance of cats missing/not using the litter box. Never put your cat’s litter box next to her food bowl or bed. Cats do not like to eliminate where they eat or rest. If you place a litter box too close to a cat’s sleeping location, she may well pick a more comfortable spot, such as behind the couch, far away from her resting and dining area.