Cats are, by nature, very clean and require adequate unsoiled locations to eliminate. This is especially true in a multi-cat household. If your cat is not using the litter box appropriately, it could be for any one of these reasons listed below.
Some cats may avoid using a litter box in a high-traffic area. Too often, we think about hiding the litter box in an out-of-the-way place so no one can see it, like the laundry room or basement. How does this placement affect your cat? Is the litter box next to the noisy dryer? Is the spot difficult to get to for a young kitten or elderly cat?
In homes with more than one cat, if the more dominant cat is near the litter box, the less confident cat may go elsewhere to eliminate.
If your cat has a negative experience in or near the box, such as being startled by a sudden noise or painful urination/defecation, he may become afraid of the litter box.
Urine spraying is a normal part of feline behavior. Unneutered male cats and most unspayed female cats will mark as part of their sexual behavior. Spaying/Neutering dramatically reduces this behavior.
Marking at windows or doors usually suggests that there is a perceived threat outside – possibly a roaming cat or a wild animal. Marking in hallways, doorways, or centers of rooms usually indicates stress or perceived threats from inside the home such as new people, active children, remodeling, etc.
There may be a medical reason why your cat is urinating or defecating inappropriately. Schedule a physical exam and urinalysis so your veterinarian can check for issues such as a urinary tract infection. Your vet may need to run some other tests like a urine culture, an abdominal radiograph, or a blood chemistry profile in order to best help your feline friend.
Designing the Optimal Litter Box
The general rule is to provide 1 more litter box than the total number of cats in the household. This offers plenty of available options for everyone. Cats who get along well together may be willing to share litter boxes.
Avoid putting food and water next to the litter box. Cats will generally prefer, quiet private places. Avoid areas where your cat could be cornered, blocked, or unable to flee. Additionally, keep litter boxes apart in different locations. If all the litter boxes are close together, your cat considers them one large litter box!
In a multi-level home, place a litter box on each level. If you have a young kitten or a senior cat, put a box in an easily-accessible place. It may not be easy for these cats to go up and down the stairs to eliminate.
Bigger is better! The box should be a minimum of 1 ½ times the length of your cat from nose to tip of the tail. A large tote or storage container makes an excellent choice with some minor modifications. You can place the lid behind the box to protect the wall and cut down one side to create a lower entry. Be sure to smooth/protect any rough edges.
Litter and general management
If your cat is not using the litter box appropriately, you may want to try different types of litter. Provide multiple boxes with different litters and varying litter depths. Most cats prefer soft, unscented clumping litter. Remove waste daily and add litter as needed. Wash the litter box every 1-2 weeks using soap and hot water. Avoid using strong smelling cleaners.
With these tips and tricks, your cat should have plenty of accessible litter box options. If your cat is still urinating or defecating inappropriately, call our office at (920) 863-3220 to schedule an exam. We can make sure your cat doesn’t have a medical issue that is the underlying cause of his problems.
Becky is the Patient Care Coordinator at Countrycare Animal Complex and has been serving pets and their people here for over 17 years. She is a Certified Fear Free Veterinary Professional who educates our staff on making our patients as comfortable as possible while they are here. Becky practices what she preaches with her 16 pets (not including fish) at home.