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Litter Box Training and Issues with Cats

Litter Box Training and Issues with Cats

Litter box Training

Cute tabby cat sitting on a top-entry litter box and looking up to the camera.

Since most cats prefer to eliminate in private, put the litter box someplace that's easily accessible, but away from heavy foot traffic. Position the litter box away from your cat's feeding or bedding area as most cats do not like to eliminate in the same vicinity as their feeding or resting areas. Show your kitten a litter box, demonstrate how to scratch in the litter, and they'll get the picture quickly. Sand textured scoopable litters are preferred by most cats. Both urine and feces should be scooped from the litter box daily and the entire litter box contents should be changed weekly. If you have multiple cats, keep one suitably sized box for each cat, plus an extra litter box (n+1). If your kitten is still very small or you share your home with an elderly cat, make sure that the litter box is not too deep so that he or she can easily climb in and out. If the litter box is too small, your cat might be reluctant to use it or may urinate over the edge, missing the box completely. Some cats will not use covered litter pans, or even open pans that sit beneath closely hanging objects such as brooms or mops.

Inappropriate Elimination

The most common feline behavior problem presented to The Behavior Service is inappropriate urination. A full medical examination is necessary to help determine the cause of this. If a clean bill of health is confirmed, you may wish to consult a professional animal behaviorist to help you identify the cause of your cat's change in elimination habits and develop a treatment plan to retrain your cat to the litterbox. Inappropriate elimination typically falls into two motivational categories: 1) litterbox aversion or substrate preference or 2) territorial urine marking.

House soiling or a lapse in litterbox usage can be caused by a urinary tract infection, urethral or bladder stones or crystals. Conditions that increase water consumption lead to increased frequency of urination so that the cat may not be able to find a convenient litter box in time. Older cats with arthritis problems may find it difficult to step into the litter box. In these cases, treating the underlying medical condition frequently resolves inappropriate urination.

When medical conditions aren't the cause of a lapse in litterbox training, we begin to look for behavioral explanations. Some cats may become averse to their litter box when something about the box becomes disagreeable. Typical causes include a dirty litter box, a preference for a certain kind of litter or a litterbox that is placed in an inconvenient or noisy area of the home. In multiple cat households, an insufficient number of litter boxes may trigger a cat to find a more suitable location of cleaner substrate for elimination. No one likes to stand in line for a public restroom only to find a filthy toilet! A good rule of thumb is to have one more box than the number of cats in your household. Making the litterbox very attractive and the inappropriately soiled areas unattractive will help to lure your cat back to his or her litterbox.

Territorial marking is generally but not always directed onto a vertical surface and you may observe your cat twitching his or her erect tail while spraying a small amount of urine. Most frequently, spraying is associated with unneutered male cats during mating season. If the cat is not spayed or neutered and physical examination findings are normal, neutering or spaying usually resolves the problem. Male or female cats who are neutered or spayed may spray as a result of anxiety. In this case, removing the stressful stimulus is important and may involve deterring wandering cats from entering your property or addressing social conflict amongst your own indoor cats.

For both house soiling and territorial marking, it is important to remove the odor from the soiled area with an appropriate enzymatic cleanser. If the plush carpet in the quiet corner of your living room smells like a latrine, how is your cat supposed to know it's unacceptable to you? If your cat is leaving "pee-mails" to mark its territory, you can bet that they will be upgrading on a regular basis as soon as his or her odoriferous message begins to wane!

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Dr. Borns-Weil says...

Dr. Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, DACVB

Dr. Borns-Weil, DVM, DACVB

Board-Certified Animal Behaviorist

Since most cats prefer to eliminate in private, put the litter box someplace that's easily accessible, but away from heavy foot traffic.