Apr 182012

Most cats will train to use a litter box very easily. It is their nature to bury their waste and a litter box is the best place to go because it has all that wonderful sand to do so. But if you do not keep it cleaned daily, you may find an uncooperative cat. Cats are finicky animals, and nowhere is it more obvious than in their cat litter box behaviors. Statistics say at least 10% of cats will acquire an elimination issue. If your cat will not use their litter box, the cause could be anything from uncleanliness in their box to an illness symptom.

There are a few easy things you can try at home, especially if any of the following apply. Many problems can be resolved with some changes at home. However, if everything at home seems to check out, then definitely have your car looked over by a veterinarian in case there are underlying health issues. One common health reason cats avoid the litter box is a urinary track infection. In this case, the cat will urinate outside of the box, but probably defecate in the box fine.

One important thing to keep in mind is that if you see your cat straining to pee – especially if you have a male cat – get them to a vet right away. While extremely rare in female cats, it is more common for males cats to get urinary crystals that can block their ability to pee. This is a life threatening situation and should be treated within a matter of hours.

“The time from complete obstruction until death may be less than twenty-four to forty-eight hours, so immediate treatment is essential.” – Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Fortunately, most litter box avoidance is a behavior problem, not a medical problem. So, if you have eliminated any underlying medical reason for you cat’s litter box avoidance, then see if any of the following problems might be at fault.

Booda Dome Cat Box
These cat boxes rock!
They are attractive and
my cats love them.

1. If your cat is new to your home, make sure the litter box is as clean and welcoming as possible. This way, they will want to use if from the start. Put the box in an accessible spot and make sure the cat knows where it is.

2. Make sure the box is clean. This may be the biggest reason that cats avoid the box. Think about it – when you go to one of those public restrooms that looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in ages, do you want to use it? You too may leave and wait for the next rest stop. Well, if you only have one box in your home, cats don’t have another rest stop option and will go somewhere else. Daily scooping is preferred; don’t let the box get to the point where you only change it because the smell is too bad – as appealing as that may seem. While out of sight out of mind can be great for avoiding cleaning a stinky box, it’s actually much more pleasant to scoop daily than wait. From experience I know that a very dirty box (I’m guilty of ignoring it occasionally) can make you gag. However, scooping daily is quick, mostly painless, and doesn’t smell that bad. Truly.

3. Is the box too small? If you purchased your box when you cat was a kitten, it may be time to evaluate the size. What seems huge for a kitten is the right size for an adult cat. This is easily fixed – cat boxes come in lots of sizes and most are larger rather than smaller.

4. Do you have more than one cat, or more than one level to your house? While 2 cats can use the same box, it’s really better to have one box per cat. It’s a little more maintenance, but still preferable to the maintenance of cleaning up when they go where they aren’t supposed to. Another problem is if you have more than one level to your house and the cat doesn’t want to go up and down the stairs. This is especially a problem for older cats, who may have arthritis, and find it difficult to get to the box in time, so they don’t bother. Again, the solution here is to get another box. Ideally, you would have a box on each floor.

5. Does the box have a hood or a liner? Many cats don’t like the feel of the liner under their paws. And, while many like the privacy of a hooded litter box, others feel confined and won’t use it.

6. Amount of litter in the box. While each cat may need a different level of litter, if it’s too high, they can feel like they aren’t able to move around, or bury their waste appropriately.

7. The type of litter. Have you changed the litter recently? Many cats have sensitive paws and don’t like rough litter. So, if you recently changed the litter, you may have to change back, or change to a brand that is similar to the first. A litter that is more like sand, wheat litter for instance, may be preferred over a pellet type litter. If you cat has chosen softer places to go, such as carpet, or in the soil of potted plants, this is an indicator that they don’t like the litter. Even if you haven’t changed it recently, consider changing to a softer litter and see if the cat likes the box again.

Ultimately, your cat isn’t avoiding the box because they don’t want to use a box. They may just not like that particular box. So, if your cat not using litter box anymore, you will have to work with your cat, and may need to try several litter boxes before the problem is resolved.

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