inappropriate urination

How to Prevent Litter Box Problems

cat using litter box

There is nothing as distressing for a cat owner as having a cat that eliminates outside the litter box. It’s also one of the most common reasons why cats are returned to shelters.

The reasons why cats eliminate outside the litter box vary, and include litter box aversion, urine marking, hormonal problems, and medical issues. When faced with inappropriate elimination (and this can be urine as well as feces), a thorough veterinary exam should always be the first step.

There are quite a few things owners can do to prevent litter box problems from happening in the first place, and the first step is to understand what cats want when it comes to their litter boxes. While some cats may be particularly fussy and need to have their bathroom preferences catered to in special ways, there are common errors that many cat owners, especially those new to cats and their needs, tend to make. These include:

Too few boxes

The rule of thumb is that you should have as many boxes as you have cats, plus one extra. This may mean that even if you only have one cat, you may need to have two litter boxes. This is especially important in multi-level homes.

The wrong location

Humans tend to want litter boxes out of sight, so they often end up in laundry or utility rooms or in dark corners of the basement. This may be fine for many cats, but it can cause problems if the area is not quiet. If the litter box is placed next to a noisy washer or dryer, or a furnace, and if the appliance starts up just as your cat is doing her business, she may never use that box again. Good spots for litter boxes are bathrooms, or a quiet room that isn’t used much.

The wrong type of litter

There have never been as many choices of cat litters as there are now. Unfortunately, many of the litters are designed more with the human in  mind than the cat. There is no perfect litter – each type has its advantages and its drawbacks. Most cats prefer a sandy substrate like clumping clay litter. While some cats readily accept some of the more environmentally friendly litters such as pine, wheat or corn, others will simply refuse to use a box containing those products.

Never use scented litters or scented litter deodorizers. Cats sense of smell is far more sensitive than ours, and the overpowering scent of these litters can be a big turn off for them.

Not enough litter

Keep at least 2-3 inches of litter in the box at all times – add fresh litter after you scoop out waste to maintain this level. Most cats like to scratch and bury what they produce, and they will get frustrated when there’s not enough litter to allow them to do that.

The box is too dirty

Scoop the box at least twice a day and remove all urine and feces waste. This is only possible with clumping litter. If you use a non-clumping litter, you should discard the entire content of the box whenever there is waste in it, and replace with fresh litter. If you use clumping litter, you should replace the entire litter about once a month.

The box is too clean

Don’t use harsh chemical cleaners to clean the litter box. All you really need to use is hot water and some mild, unscented dish soap. Let the box dry thoroughly before you replace litter. If you feel you must “sanitize” your box, use some bleach and hot water, but be sure to rinse thoroughly with hot water to eliminate any remnants of the scent of bleach.

Liners

Most cats don’t like liners. They don’t like the crinkly sound the plastic makes when they walk on it, nor do they like the way it feels under their paws.

Covered or hooded boxes

I don’t like covered or hooded boxes, and most cats don’t like them, either. They’re often too small for the cat to comfortably turn around in and do their business, and they trap odors inside, making it very unpleasant for the cat to use. Dust can also be much more of a problem in a covered box, as it becomes more concentrated. Cats will always breathe in dust when they dig in the litter box, but in a covered box, this becomes a bigger problem. If you must use a covered box, at the very least, remove the filters provided by some manufacturers. They’re designed to trap dust and odors, making it nice for you, but not so nice for kitty inside the box!

Litter mats

These mats are designed to trap litter that’s stuck to your cat’s paw and prevent it from being spread further throughout the house. The trouble with them is that they’re often made with nubs or deep grooves that don’t feel good on sensitive kitty paws, and this might stop a cat from going anywhere near the box.

By approaching the issue of litter boxes from the cat’s point of view, you can prevent many of the problems associated with inappropriate elimination.

Graphic: dreamstime.com

What to Do When Your Cat Is Not Using the Litter Box

Guest Post by Daniela Caride

Your cat may not be using the litter box for many reasons. If you have ruled out diseases by taking your cat to the vet, you should go over this list I came up with. Your cat might be unhappy with one or some of those issues.


Too few boxes

The ideal number of litter boxes in a home is at least the number of cats + 1. If you have two cats, you should have at least 3 litter boxes.

With four cats at home, I keep five litter boxes in the house. I have one in each floor, and two in the basement, the biggest room. It works well for us, even though I would like to have one more. I just can’t seem to find the right place for it (handy for the cats and hidden from visitors).

Box is in the wrong place

The litter box should be in a quiet place — away from the furnace and any other machines that emit noises. Cats don’t like to be surprised while in the bathroom. The box should also be in a place easily accessible for your cat. If it’s too difficult to reach the box, he may not make it there on time, especially if your cat is older and arthritic.

If you have several cats, a lower-ranking cat may have trouble accessing the litter boxes. If he’s trapped by other cats on his way to the loo, he may choose to pee somewhere else, given the circumstances.

Box is hooded

Most cats don’t enjoy hooded litter boxes. They trap the pee and poop odor inside, make it darker and much more difficult or even impossible to escape if another cat blocks the door.

Photo by Daniela Caride

My litter boxes are tall, clear plastic storage containers without the lid. I bought them at Target and drilled a hole in the side of each box (This one might do the trick). This way, my cats can easily access it from a door, see if any other cat approaches and escape from the top if necessary. Since the walls are clear, my cats can see better inside (more light). The fact I don’t cover them help ventilate any scents from a previous visit to the bathroom, so the cats don’t get overwhelmed.

Box is too dirty

If you buy clumping litter, scoop the litter box at least once a day and change the whole content every couple of months. Some people rotate litter boxes every six months so one box can “breathe” (they let the pee scents dissipate) while the cat uses the other one.

If the litter you use does not clump, change to clumping litter. If you can’t, scoop at least once a day and change the litter at least every week.

Box is too clean

If you clean your cat box with harsh-smelling chemicals such as bleach, your cat may avoid the place. Cats are very sensitive to smells.

Unwanted liners

Some cats hate the feel or the crackling sounds of plastic liners — or both.

Wrong litter

Cats can be fussy about litter. Some types of pine litter don’t absorb the smell of pee, which may disgust your cat and make him look for another bathroom. Some clay litters have a strong perfume smell to please humans. But they might displease your cat. I use World’s Best Extra Strength made out of corn, and we’re all very happy (cats and humans).

Litter is not deep enough or too deep

Figure out how much litter your cat wants in the litter box. My cats hate it when I don’t pour enough litter, and they find themselves scratching the bottom of the box to cover their poop. They leave the thing uncovered and vanish. I have to put up with the perfume.

Animosity between cats in the house

If you have cats who don’t like each other, increase the number of litter boxes in your house. Again, make sure they are uncovered and made of clear plastic, so they can see when another cat approaches and can escape safely and quickly. If your cat feels unsafe in the box, he will look for another place to relieve himself.

Daniela Caride is the publisher of The Daily Tail (http://www.TheDailyTail.com), a participatory blog about pets with stories, tips, and reviews. She lives with three cats, Crosby, Gaijin and Phoenix, three dogs, Frieda, Geppetto and Lola, and her husband, Martin, in Cambridge, MA