Some Tips On Solving Litter Box Issues
by Sonia Meadows, Kit-n-Kaboodle Pet Sitting Service.
Inappropriate elimination is a tough problem to deal with and it can be a long process discovering what works for your kitty. He’s trying to communicate with you in one of the only ways he knows how, so please be patient with your feline friend.
First and most importantly, if your cat suddenly stops using the box, it could very well signal a health problem. See your Vet and explain what’s happening. Common symptoms include frequent trips to the litter box, vocalizing while in the litter box, and using areas outside the litter box. With male cats, they may check for blockage of the urethra, which if left untreated is a very dangerous and possibly fatal condition. With all cats, they may do a urinalysis to make sure there is no bladder or urinary tract infection or kidney issues. Often times the inappropriate elimination problem is solved with treatment.
If health issues have been ruled out, the cause is likely behavioral. There are two basic types of motivation for inappropriate elimination: territorial marking and issues with the litter box. If your cat is not spayed or neutered, this is another very good reason to do so. Territorial marking is reduced or eliminated in cats that are fixed. Occasionally if the cat hasn’t been neutered until after sexual maturity, the habit of territorial marking has already developed. Stress can also trigger territorial behaviors. Territorial marking is often recognizable by urination on vertical surfaces like walls or furniture. The cat will back up to the surface and perform the deed with a tell-tale twitching of the tail. While this article focuses on litter box issues, some of the suggestions may help with territorial behaviors.
It’s very important to remove all traces of odor from the accident spots. A product called Zero Odor (www.zeroodorpet.com) or the enzymatic Nature’s Miracle is recommended for this. Be sure to follow the label’s directions.
Assuming there are no health issues, here is a list of things to try, arranged in order of their ease of implementation.
• Does your litter box have a hood ? If so, try removing it. Don’t have a hood? Try a box with a hood.
• Try scooping the box more often.
• Do you feed/water your cat near the litter box ? Try moving the food and water bowls to a different room. Some cats don’t like to eat/drink near their bathroom.
• Is your litter box big enough for your cat? If your kitty is generously proportioned, try using a larger litter box or even a plastic storage container if you can’t find a litter box large enough. If you do use one of those, provide a step or cut down a “doorway” to make it easy for the cat to enter.
• Is your kitty getting older and having trouble entering the litter box? This can happen with some of the deeper litter boxes. Provide a step for your kitty, or cut down the entrance a bit (make sure to sand any sharp edges).
• If you’re using traditional clay litter, try switching to a scoopable litter.
• Is it time to clean or replace the litter box ? You should totally replace scoopable litter every 4 to 6 weeks. Plastic can retain odors, too. A mixture of vinegar and hot water can be left to soak in the emptied box for a while before scrubbing. Whatever cleaner you use, be sure it is non-toxic and mildly or unscented. Avoid citrus scented cleaners and litters.
• Do you have enough litter boxes ? There should be one box for each cat in the household. Sometimes even if you only have one cat, adding another box can solve the problem. Some cats just prefer to pee in one and poop in another. Don’t place them right next to each other, as the cat registers that as one giant litter box. You can also try placing a litter box near where the “accidents” most often occur.
• If you have multiple cats, is there tension between the kitties ? If so, try placing litter boxes in different rooms. If one cat (or the family dog) is threatening the other while it is using the litter box it can lead to problems. You can also try a calming diffuser, described below.
• Try using a cat pheromone diffuser or spray . The best known brand is called “Feliway Comfort Zone”. You’ll probably find the best price online. The diffusers are like the plug in air fresheners. They release pheromones that signal the calm and content part of the kitty’s brain. You may need more than one diffuser as they have a limited range. Place one near the litter box and another in an area where the kitty spends a good deal of time. The spray form is useful if you find an accident. Use it after you have removed all urine odors from the spot. It is very important to follow the label’s directions consistently with the use of these products.
• What kind of litter are you using? There are a couple factors to consider when it comes to litter: scent and texture.
Scent – Cats tend to dislike many strong odors, which can be tricky for us humans, as we like to mask the litter box odor. Many odor issues can be mitigated by scooping the box daily. Try switching to an unscented litter. There is a cat litter on the market called “Cat Attract” which does exactly what the name implies. It is available at most pet supply stores and online retailers. If the issue is resolved, you may try slowly switching back, adding regular litter to the Cat Attract over a few weeks. In general, avoid citrus scented litters.
Texture – Cat’s paws are very sensitive. Studies have shown that they prefer the soft scoopable litter. Try switching to a litter with a larger or smaller grain size. Even among scoopable litters, there is a difference in grain size. Some of the “low tracking” brands have a larger grain and honestly, in 20 years of cat care I’ve yet to meet a litter that didn’t track.
• Try “retraining” your cat . This method requires a lot of patience and consistency, as your kitty will be confined for a while. Begin with confining the kitty in a very small room, such as a bathroom or even a large dog crate. Wait until your kitty has consistently used the box exclusively for at least a week, then move up to a larger room and so on, gradually working up to total access (with supervision at first). Again, patience is the challenge with this method, as it takes a few weeks.
If none of these ideas work, consult with your Veterinarian about possible medications that may help. With the advent of Pill Pockets treats and transdermal drug formulas which deliver the drug through a paste that you apply to the ear, medicating your kitty is a lot easier now. Most cats will acclimate to a daily pill or other form of medication.
Hopefully this list will help you resolve what is sometimes a tricky, frustrating issue. Best of luck to you and your feline friend!