Cats are the neat freaks of the animal kingdom. They spend hours each day grooming themselves, making sure that every hair is in its proper place. What many cat owners appreciate about their pets is the fact that they eliminate discretely in a box that can be hidden away – out of sight, out of mind. Unfortunately, it is fairly common for cats to develop elimination problems. In fact, as many as 10% of cats will start eliminating outside the litter box on occasion or, in some cases, stop using it at all.
Dealing with litter box problems in cats can be challenging, especially if it isn’t immediately apparent why your cat has stopped using the box. To help you resolve litter box issues, take the time to learn about some of the top reasons why your cat might develop an elimination problem and then take steps to remedy it.
1. The litter box isn’t clean
Each cat develops her own unique preferences when it comes to using the litter box. Some cats will use separate boxes for urine and feces while others use the same box for both. If the litter box isn’t kept clean, however, your cat might go on strike and stop using it altogether. Scoop your litter box daily and make sure you refresh the litter at least once a week.
2. There aren’t enough litter boxes
The general rule of thumb to follow with litter boxes is one box per cat, plus one. For cats who like to urinate and defecate in separate boxes, adding an additional box might solve the problem. If you have multiple cats in your household, however, you might not be able to tell right away which cat has stopped using the box. Try separating your cats into different rooms, each with a litter box, until you identify the culprit.
3. The litter box is the wrong size
Litter boxes come in a wide range of sizes and shapes. If you haven’t upgraded to a larger litter box since your kitten has grown up, that could be the problem. It may also be an issue with the sides of your litter box being too high, making it difficult for your cat to get in and out – this is more likely to be a problem with older cats. Some cats have a preference for covered litter boxes while others prefer them to be open. You might have to do a little experiment with different types of boxes to see if that resolves your cat’s elimination problems.
4. The litter box is in the wrong place
Cats are very private animals, so they may not use the litter box consistently if it is in a location they feel is too public. If you find yourself cleaning one litter box much more frequently than another, it could be that your cat doesn’t like the location of the other box. Try moving it to a more private location to see if that changes your cat’s behaviour. You should try to space your litter boxes throughout the house anyway, instead of keeping them all in one room.
5. The litter is dusty or uncomfortable
Just like litter boxes come in many different forms, so does cat litter. Cats have very sensitive senses of smell and touch, so they can sometimes be picky about the type of litter they prefer. It is fairly common for declawed cats to have an aversion to rough clay litters because their paws might remain sensitive after the surgery. Try using different types of litter to see if your cat likes one better than another – try out clumping and non-clumping litters as well as clay litters and recycled paper litter. You might even try small animal bedding or shredded paper if you need something soft and dust-free.
If your cat starts to avoid the litter box, it is not a problem you want to ignore. Once your cat develops a preference for an alternative location for elimination (like your upholstered couch or the rug in your living room), it might be difficult getting her to switch back. Your best bet is to address the five concerns listed above to make your cat’s litter box as appealing as possible. If your cat continues to eliminate outside the litter box, you may want to schedule a check-up with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical causes for her change in behaviour.
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