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Litter box Problems

The number one problem for cats inside the home

 

MetPet.com Staff Writer

The purpose of this extensive discussion of litter boxes is to keep both you and your cat happy.  Cats that can't or won't use litter boxes each and every time are not very popular.  We believe that every cat can be a "clean" cat and that every litter box problem can be solved with sufficient time, knowledge, trial-and-error and patience.

We find it easier, and much more interesting, to treat these problems as a mystery.  What would Sherlock Holmes do?  He would gather all the facts, consider all the options and arrive at a logical solution. (A less useful alternative is to be annoyed and irritated with your cat which could simply aggravate the situation)

Anecdote: a cat wouldn't use the litter box because it was placed between the kennels of snarling dogs

Anecdote: a cat couldn't use the litter box because it was placed in complete darkness in the basement and it couldn't find it or anything else

Anecdote: a cat couldn't consistently use the litter box because it was placed in the basement of a 4 story house and was sometimes too far away to complete the trip in time.

Find the Problem Cat (or other pet)

If you have multiple cats and dogs and can't figure out who's using the new carpet for a toilette, try placing tiny shavings of nontoxic colored crayons into their food.  You may think it's your cat using the bathroom carpet but what if it's your dog?

Ruling Out Medical Problems
A sick cat can have trouble getting to the litter box on time.  Sometimes "accidents" are just that and beyond your cat's control.  If your formerly "clean" cat is having trouble with the litter box, you need to rule out physical problems.  These can include, but are not limited to kidney disease, diabetes or urinary tract infection.  Cats that are obese, aged or suffering from pain can also have problems.

Sometimes a major flea or allergy problem can cause litter box problems.  An itchy, irritated cat may use the nearest (like your nice clean carpet or duvet cover) spot because he can't think of anything aside from how uncomfortable he is. 

When you know that your cat is having physical problems severe enough to cause litter box problems, then you can feel more forgiving about the accidents.  In fact, litter box problems may be the first sign that your cat is ill.  This will make it much easier to find a reasonable (and immediate) solution.

Litter Box Maintenance and Placement
Litter boxes need to be cleaned every day and filled with a litter acceptable to your cat.  In extreme situations, the litter box may need to be emptied after each use.  Once the situation is under control, you should be able to empty it once a day. 

There need to be enough litter boxes to keep a multiple cat household happy.  litter boxes need to be placed where your cat can reach it and will use it. 
Click here for more detailed information. 

Psychological Problems
Once you have ruled out both medical and litter box maintenance and placement problems, there are some fairly common psychological and behavioral factors that could be causing the problem. Cats are sensitive, highly focused creatures of habit.  Changes in the environment that are ignored by us could be highly disturbing to your cat.

Marking and Spraying
Scent marking is done most often by adult male cats but female cats can do it also.  This is different from elimination because it is done to mark territory.  Scent markings are generally done on vertical surfaces such as walls.  They can, however, also occur on horizontal surfaces like rugs and clothing left on the floor.  Popular areas to mark outside include bushes and fences especially near well-used paths and sidewalks.  

Several cats can traverse the same territory at different times marking the same areas over and over again.   Marking appears to be time related.  As the scent wears off, the cat comes back to mark it again. 

An indoor cat that sees another cat outside the patio door, may mark inside.  Bringing the scent of another cat in on your shoes or clothing can have a similar effect.  Your cat smells the strange cat and marks the entry rug or door frame. 

Marking can be a sign of stress.  In multiple cat households, overcrowding can lead to urination problems.   Cats are not pack animals and need their own space.  Once an area is marked, it is important to clean it thoroughly with an ammonia-less, enzymatic cleanser or your cat will refresh his scent again and again.

Bad Incident
A cat that is frightened while in the litter box could be too scared to use it.  He could have been scared by a loud noise, a person or another pet coming upon him suddenly.   A cat that is sick and experiences pain while using the litter box can associate that feeling with the box and refuse to use it. 

Stress
Cats need a relatively calm, predictable life.  A significant negative change, from your cat's perspective, can cause litter box problems.  Some cats have great coping abilities while others turn tail and run (or pee) at the first sign of trouble.  Here are some possibilities.

Changes in your cat:
Illness or disease (as above)

Changes in your cat's routine:
New food
New eating schedule
New litter box (adding a cover or moving it for example) or litter
New medication, flea powder, etc.

Environmental changes:
A new member of the household either human or animal
A change in the routine such as a new job or more time away from the house
A new cat in the neighborhood
A significant illness in the house
Changes to the house such as new paint, carpets, furniture, etc.
Lots of visitors

Look for Change
A change in litter box habits is a signal from your cat to you that something has changed either in him or in his environment.  It helps to sit down and write out a list of significant changes (from your cat's perspective) to help you pinpoint and deal with the problem. 

Cats are not malicious creatures and a litter box problem is often a cry for help.  Here is an interesting anecdote.  A cat started peeing on the bathroom rug.  The irritated owner removed the rug thinking it was the texture that the cat preferred over his litter box.   The cat then began peeing directly on the floor and the astonished owner noticed the pee was pink.  The cat was sick and the urine was tinged with blood.

Related Articles:
litter boxes
litter box for Kittens
litter box Placement and Maintenance
litter boxes and strays

Plants as litter boxes
Cats Marking Your Vents

 

 
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