Litter boxes are a fact of life for indoor cats. For the most part, felines and their litter box will live happily together. For a number of reasons, however, cats may stop using the litter box completely or occasionally eliminate outside of the box. How you manage and reverse these behaviors depends on the root cause of the problem. These five tips can help you deal with some of the most common reasons for litter box issues.
1. Make the litter box more appealing
Cats can be pretty particular about where they relieve themselves. The physical location of the litter box makes a big difference — avoid putting it too close to food, check that the temperature is comfortable, and be sure there aren’t off-putting odors. Consider, too, whether you need to choose a special type of box such as one with low sides for an older or arthritic pet.
2. Pay attention to the litter
Felines also have strong preferences about the litter itself. Often, they prefer litter that has a medium to fine texture. Unscented brands are usually more appealing as well. Once you find something your cat likes, don’t change it unless your pet suddenly seems to develop a dislike for it. If you’re having trouble finding a litter your cat likes, consider buying three or four different brands and setting them out in front of your cat so they can choose. It’s a small investment upfront that might save you time and money in the long run.
3. Make other areas less appealing
As you work on making the litter box a comfortable place, look at how you can discourage your cat from wanting to eliminate in other areas of the house. If your cat has a favorite spot to use as a litter box, try placing a carpet runner or other rough fabric there. Using citrus-scented cotton balls can also make the area less enticing. If you can’t seem to stop your cat from using a particular spot, consider meeting the lord of your house halfway and place another litter box in the area, then encourage your cat to use it.
4. Get help for a medical condition
Sudden changes in litter box behavior and more frequent accidents are one of the common signs that your cat is sick. Cats with urinary tract infections (UTIs) may display signs of obvious pain when urinating and male cats may begin to continually lick the genital area. If you notice these signs, take your cat to the vet immediately since UTIs can quickly cause serious damage to your pets’ organs. Kidney disease and bladder stones can also cause pain or blockages that prevent normal urination, resulting in cats urinating outside the litter box because they can’t control normal function or avoiding the litter box because they associate it with the pain. If your cat has not been spayed or neutered you’re also more likely to have a problem with spraying. You can talk to your vet about managing these behaviors.
5. Retrain your cat to know where to “go”
What started out as a reaction to some specific condition or problem can quickly become a habit. If your cat’s occasional accidents have become “normal” behavior, you may need to retrain your pet where to eliminate.
- Cover the areas your cat frequently soils with sheets of plastic or sandpaper. If those materials don’t discourage your cat, you might want to consider using a mat that delivers a very mild electronic shock when your cat enters the “no-pee” zone.
- Continuously watch your cat, and as soon as a paw so much as touches a restricted area use cues that clearly communicate that the area is off limits. Shaking a loud noise maker or spraying your cat with water are often effective and won’t harm your pet.
- Move feeding dishes to areas your cat has been soiling. Cats don’t usually like to eat where they eliminate, so hopefully your cat will return to the litter box. You can also try turning that area into a social spot — play together and store your cat’s toys there.
Keep in mind that efforts to force a cat to enjoy a litter box are not going to work. Making cats sit in a box, for instance, or bribing them with treats is not likely to encourage them to use the litter box. Instead, try to find a way to make the experience comfortable and respect your cat’s privacy since felines usually don’t like attention while they’re eliminating.
More on Cat Training
Litter Box Training for Your Cat
How to Train a Cat
8 Reasons for Cat Incontinence and Out-Of-Litter Box Messes
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.