Cats and Litter boxes

Nov 19, 2018   Tracey Aston   Training

“Litter box trained.” We've all seen those words and one of the big differences between our pets is cats don't have to be house trained. This makes many people believe they won't have any issues to worry about with cat elimination, as long as they have a litter box set out somewhere. This is not the truth. While, yes, cats are relatively easy to litter box train as it appeals to their instincts to cover their waste, and therefore scent, it doesn't mean there won't be any issues arising.  According to the ASPCA, “at least 10% of all cats develop elimination problems. Some stop using the box altogether. Some only use their boxes for urination or defecation but not for both. Still others eliminate both in and out of their boxes. 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 medical condition, or as a result of the cat deciding it doesn't like the location or placement of the litter box.” 

The first consideration is the number of litter boxes in your home.  There should always be 1 litter box per cat plus 1 extra, per floor, meaning if there are 3 cats in the home, there should be 4 litter boxes, per floor. There's nothing worse than having to wait in line for the bathroom when you have to go and cats aren't nearly as patient with the situation! Having a clean, extra litter box available ensures the cat always has a place to go if one box is occupied. Litter boxes should be in an easily accessible, out of the way spot but not next to a loud appliance, furnace, or washing machine or shoved into a tight space. Never put a litter box within close proximity to their food or water bowls, as cats won't eliminate near where they eat. Next, make sure the litter box is the proper size for the cat to easily move around to eliminate and cover their waste. A well placed rug outside of the litter box will keep your pet from tracking litter out of the box all through your house. Avoid using heavily-perfumed air fresheners as the smell may be off-putting to your pet. Instead use a thin layer of baking soda placed in the bottom of the box to assistance with odor.

Some cats like the privacy of a hood on their litter box, while others find it makes the area too confining. To find out your pet's preference, place both types in an easily accessible area and take notice of which one is being used. In multiple cat households, one cat may prefer one type over the other, or if you're lucky, they will prefer the same type. If you notice your pet is not using a hooded box, first try providing a non-hooded box and see if they will use it.  If your pet does like the privacy of a hood, but finds the normal space of a hooded litter box too confining, a large plastic tote, with a hole cut into the side can be used as a large alternative to a hooded litter box


As mentioned, some cats will refuse to use a hooded litter box, and the same thing goes for self-cleaning boxes. While you may think a self-cleaning box will ensure your pet always has a clean place to eliminate, some of the features on these boxes may scare your pet away from using it.  

There are numerous types of cat litters to choose from including clumping clay, non-clumping clay, silica gel crystals, recycled paper, and natural litters such as pine, corn, walnut shells and wheat.  Which one you choose depends on the preference of you and your cat.  It's possible you many have to try a few different types of litter to find out which one your pet prefers. Litter should be no more than two inches deep.

Senior cats, overweight cats, cats with joints issues or partially paralyzed cats may find the standard height of a regular litter box too high.  If this is the case, an under-the-bed storage container or even a shoe tray lined with a pee-pee pad and topped with litter can be used as a substitute. 

If you have enough, easily accessible, properly sized litter boxes and your pet is still having issues there are few things to consider.  One of the main reasons cats eliminate outside of their litter box is the cleanliness is the box. None of us want to use a dirty restroom and cats are no different!  If your pet is stepping in their waste, this increases the chances of spreading bacteria around the home, getting an infected paw from the bacteria or even getting hardened clay clumps matted into their paws. Some cats will flat out refuse to use a full litter box and will attempt to avoid eliminating altogether. Doing this can cause serious health issues for your cat, as the urine will become more concentrated and could cause crystals to build up leading to a potentially life-threatening condition called feline urethral obstruction (FUO).  Litter boxes should be scooped daily to avoid the chance of your pet not using the litter box due to its cleanliness.  As an added bonus to having a clean litter box, if your cat is experiencing health issues, such as not urinating or being constipated or have diarrhea, it's easier to notice with a clean box. 

Cats are known to be finicky and you may need to spend a lot of time in trial and error to find out why your pet is refusing to use the litter box.  The issue may come down to your pet's preferences, which can easily be remedied by adding another litter box, changing the box type, location or litter. If you have taken the above steps and your pet is still not using their litter box, schedule a wellness check with your veterinarian.  Health issues can cause a change in your pet's elimination habits and should be addressed first.

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