Litter Box Basics – 101

Cats are fastidious creatures. They instinctively want to cover their waste. Kittens follow their mother’s lead and are litter trained at a very early age. It is us, their owners that often need to learn litter box lessons when our clean cats suddenly go outside their boxes.

There are 3 ways a cat can have a litter box lapse. First, is depositing solid waste outside the pan. If he went right next to the pan, either he doesn’t like the choice of litter or more likely it’s a dirty (full) pan. If he chose to make a deposit on the rug in front of the door or in the middle of your bed, he is mad at you. You may have been away too long or you yelled at him. Don’t yell or punish him, it won’t help. Try confining him to a small room while you are away until he consistently uses his pan. Play with him more when you are home. He wants your attention.

The second lapse is urinating outside the box. There are several reasons: medical problems, old age, dirty litter box, doesn’t like choice of litter, type of litter pan, or the pan’s location. Have your vet check your cat immediately. Urinary problems can be deadly. Old age may inhibit the cat from climbing into a large pan. Use shallow pans and in several locations. If the problem continues, confine him to a small room so his pan is close by. Clean the litter box often. Cat’s sense of smell is much greater than ours. Also having more than one box will help. Changing types of litter bothers some cats. Go back to what he was used to. Most cats like unscented, soft, sand-like clumping litter. Covered pans are convenient for owners but some cats don’t like to be confined. Also, if not kept clean, the odors can be strong. Take the cover off and keep the pan clean to see if the problem stops. The location of the pan is important. Pick a spot that is away from doors, noise, and foot traffic.

The last lapse isn’t a matter of litter box avoidance. Urine marking or spraying is a response to stress. Why do cat’s mark? Several reasons: interest in sexual activity, define territory, response to a new pet or family member, strange cat visiting (inside or outside), problems with another pet in the household, and moving or remodeling of the home. Males and females can both spray, however, neutering your male cat will stop this. The rest of the causes, once identified, are treated similarly.

First, try to eliminate or limit the stressors. Keep the strange cats out of your yard or house. Cats are territorial and there may be too many cats in your home. Confine him to one room with his food, litter, and bed. Usually just having his own space away helps. Some cats require anti-anxiety drugs to calm them. You can try homeopathic herbs designed for cats or contact your vet for stronger drugs. Clean up all spray (usually on vertical surfaces) with an enzyme cleaner. There is a new product that mimics cat marking. It contains feral pheromones and when sprayed on surfaces the cat thinks he has already marked that area. Urine marking is complicated and may require a future 102: Advanced Litter Box.

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