Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tips for Solving Litter Box Problems

By Julia Williams

In the “bathroom habits” category of the Cats Versus Dogs debate, fastidious kitties win paws down over canines. House training a puppy can be a lengthy process fraught with accidents; house training a kitten, on the other hand, usually involves placing them gently in a litter box once or twice and calling it a day.

A cat’s natural instinct to bury their waste typically means that litter box problems are few and far between. However, there are exceptions, and solving litter box problems requires being a bit of a “pet detective.” There’s always a reason why a cat stops using its litter box, and to get them back on track (or in the box), you have to figure out what it is. Litter box problems can be the result of a medical issue, or they can occur when your cat develops an aversion to the litter box for many different reasons.

Possible Causes of Litter Box Problems

1. Medical problems should be ruled out first. A urinary tract infection, blockage, or crystals in their urine can make elimination painful. It’s assumed that cats associate the litter box with the pain, and begin to avoid it. You may also see them spending a long time in the box but producing very little or no urine, and/or frequently licking their genitals. Urinary tract problems occur more often in male cats, although females have them too. It can be life threatening, so take your cat to the vet immediately if you suspect this to be the cause of your litter box problem.

2. The box isn’t kept clean enough. Imagine how you’d feel if you lifted your toilet lid to see multiple “offerings” in the bowl. Not a pretty visual, is it? Since cats can’t scoop the poop, it’s your job as a responsible pet owner to make sure their box is as inviting as possible. How often it needs cleaning will vary with how many cats and litter boxes you have, and the type of litter you’re using.

3. The location of the litter box isn’t acceptable.Your cat’s bathroom facilities should be located in an easily accessible area that’s relatively quiet and offers some privacy. Be sure it’s not near washing machines, refrigerators and other appliances that make startling or loud noises. If you have toddlers or dogs, put the litter box in an area that you can make off limits to them, such as with a baby gate. This ensures kitty doesn’t get ambushed while doing his business, and also keeps curious mouths and hands out of the cat litter. If you have kittens, elderly or ill cats, or a multi-level home, provide several litter boxes in different locations to make using the box as convenient for them as possible. Having more than one box will also make it easier to keep them clean.

4. The litter box is not to their liking. If you offer your cat a particular type of litter or container they don’t like, they may decide to use your rug or houseplant instead. The box may be too small, too high and hard to get into, or your cat may not like the smell, texture or depth of the litter. Some cats prefer the seclusion of a covered cat box, while others object to the lack of head room, fresh air and maneuverability. Some cats don’t seem to care one iota about any of these things (I feel blessed that this describes my three to a tee) while other felines are quite finicky about their box. For the latter, you’ll need to use detective skills and trial-and-error to figure out your cat box conundrum.

Switching to a different type of litter suddenly can also lead to box avoidance. If the litters are compatible, try mixing a small amount of the new with the old and gradually increasing the percentage of new over several weeks. If you’re switching from clay-based litter to something like pine pellets that can’t really be mixed together, place two boxes in the same location to see if your cat will use the new litter. 

Be aware that sometimes, what caused a litter box aversion may not be why it continues. For example, your cat may stop using the litter box because of a urinary tract issue but subsequently develops a preference for a particular surface or location. If that's the case, you'll need to address these factors to solve your litter box problem.

Keep in mind that it’s much better to head off potential litter box problems before they occur, rather than trying to fix them once they do. Just keep the cat box clean, situate it in a good location, and provide the type of kitty litter your cat prefers.

Read more articles by Julia Williams


  1. Fantastic post, Julia! I've had people ask me questions when their cats have litterbox issues, and your article really sums up so much great and helpful information. Thanks!

  2. That is a bunch of great information. Sorry I haven't been around, just been really busy. If you want, I could do a post with a giveaway for your food. I would probably do the felidae and just let you send it to whoever wins.
    By the way, that is one cute kitten in that picture. Take care and have a great Sunday.


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