Solving Litter Box Problems

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Cats tend to have surface and location preferences for where, and on what, they like to eliminate. Most cats prefer a loose, sandy substance, which is why they will use a litter box. It’s only when their preferences include the laundry basket, the bed, or the Persian rug, that normal elimination behavior becomes a problem. With careful analysis of your cat’s environment, specific factors that have contributed to the litter box problem can usually be identified and changed, so that your cat will again use the litter box for elimination.

Some common reasons why cats don’t use the litter box are: medical, anxiety, an aversion to the box, a preference for a particular surface not provided by the box, a preference for a location where there is no box or a combination of them. You’ll need to do some detective work to determine the reason your cat is house soiling. Sometimes, the reason the litter box problem initially started may not be the same reason it’s continuing. For example, your cat may have stopped using the litter box because of a urinary tract infection, and has now developed a surface preference for carpet and a location preference for the bedroom closet. You would need to address all the factors in order to resolve the problem.

Cats don’t stop using their litter boxes because they’re mad or upset and are trying to get revenge for something that “offended” or “angered” them. Because humans act for these reasons, it’s easy for us to assume that our pets do as well. Animals don’t act out of spite or revenge so it won’t help to give your cat special privileges in the hope that she’ll start using the litter box again.

Medical Problems

It’s common for cats to begin eliminating outside of their litter box when they have a medical problem. For example, a urinary tract infection or crystals in the urine can make urination very painful. Cats often associate this pain with the litter box and begin to avoid it. If your cat has a house-soiling problem, check with your veterinarian first to rule out any medical problems for the behavior. Cats don’t always act sick, even when they are, and only a trip to the veterinarian for a thorough physical examination can rule out a medical problem.

Anxiety

It’s also common for cats to begin eliminating outside of their litter box when there are stressed or feeling anxious. Many things can cause anxiety, like a new baby, a new pet, moving, conflict between animals in the home, or a roaming cat sitting outside the window.

What You Can Do

Aversion to the Litter box

What You Can Do

Surface Preferences

All animals develop preferences for particular surface on which they like to eliminate. These preferences may be established early in life, but they may also change overnight for reasons that we don’t understand. Your cat may have a surface preference if:

What You Can Do

Location Preferences

Your cat may have a location preference if:

What You Can Do

Cleaning Soiled Areas

Because animals are highly motivated to continue soiling an area that smells like urine or feces, it’s imperative that you thoroughly clean the soiled areas (see out handout: “Successful Cleaning to Remove Pet Odors and Stains”).

What not to do

Don’t ever punish your cat for eliminating outside the litter box. If you find a soiled area, it’s too late to administer a correction. Do nothing but clean it up. Rubbing your cat’s nose in it, taking her to the spot and scolding her, or any other type of punishment, will only make her afraid of you or afraid to eliminate in your presence. Animals don’t understand punishment after the fact, even if it’s only seconds later. Punishment will do more harm than good.

Other Types of House Soiling Problems