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litter box problems

Litter Box Problems

Lapses in litter box training are frustrating for cat owners and can be difficult to correct.

Inappropriate elimination is one of the most common behavioral issues seen in cats and can lead to a cat being surrendered to a shelter or exiled to an outdoor life if left unresolved.

Reasons cats may not use the litter box

Behavioral issues relating to the litter box may be a result of a litter box aversion, in which case the cat simply prefers another substrate over that of the cat litter or another location rather than that in which the litter box is located. In this case, cats may urinate and defecate outside of the litter box and often choose limited areas to urinate and defecate which may be similar in nature.
Territorial marking is a common cause of urinating outside of the litter box and can occur as a result of inter-cat relationships in multi-cat households or visualization of stray cats outside the house for cats which are housed indoors.

Medical issues can also be responsible for lapses in litter box training for cats. An examination by a veterinarian is advisable for any cat not using the litter box normally.

Inter-cat relationships and their effects on litter box behaviors

Relationships between cats in a household can have a stressful effect on some cats and cause the cat to begin eliminating outside of the litter box. Pet owners may be unaware that this type of aggression is occurring among the cats as the symptoms may be subtle and difficult to interpret.

There are a number of things cat owners can do to decrease the stress and reduce conflicts between cats which may improve litter box performance.

• All cats in the household should be neutered and/or spayed.

• All cats should have ample access to feeding dishes, water bowels, litter boxes, and perches.
There should be more than one of each of these resources located throughout the home.

• Bird feeders, bird bathes and other items which encourage wildlife which may attract stray cats to the yard should be removed. Motion sensors may also be installed to humanely remove stray cats from the yard.

• Visual barriers to the outside which screen visiting animals from sight can also be created simply by closing draperies or blinds.

Dealing with areas outside of the litter box which have been soiled

Any areas outside of the litter box which have been soiled by cat urine or feces should be cleaned with enzymatic cleansers. These cleansers act to remove the odor associated with urine and feces stains which may attact the cat to urinate or defecate in the area again. Cleaners containing ammonia should be avoided when cleaning areas soiled by cats.

Discouraging a cat from using specific areas outside of the cat litter box may be accomplished by:

• placing tin foil, carpet runners laid upside down, or double-sided tape in the area where the cat is soiling

• using strong scents, such as citrus, to discourage the cat from visiting the area

• removing items such as clothing or rugs which are being used

• blocking access to the area by closing a door or imposing another barrier to access

Cat litter box preferences

Many cats have very definite likes and dislikes in their toileting areas.

• Adequate numbers of litters boxes must be provided, especially in multi-cat households. There should be one litter box per cat plus one extra cat litter box and the boxes should be distributed throughout the household, including at least one litter box on each floor of the home. The locations of the litter boxes should be quiet areas of the home free of distractions or loud noises which may frighten or interrupt the cat.

• Litter boxes should be cleaned regularly. Scoopable litter may make this an easier task. Boxes should be scooped at least once daily and thoroughly emptied and cleaned periodically, usually every 1-2 weeks.

• Many cats dislike heavily scented cat litters, though the scents may be pleasant to their human owners. Unscented litters should be supplied in most cases. Cat owners may want to experiment with several different litters to ascertain which type their cat prefers.

• Cat litter boxes should be large enough to allow the cat to stand inside of the box easily. Larger boxes are preferred over smaller ones in most cases. Cats with painful joints or muscles may need litter boxes with lower sides to allow easier access as may young kittens.

Encourage other forms of urine marking to improve cat litter box performance
For cats which are marking their territory by urinating outside of the litter box, providing additional means of marking may help encourage these cats to return to the litter box.

• Cats use scratching posts to mark territory, so provide plenty of them.

• Feliway® is a pheromone which promotes facial marking, another form of territorial marking behavior. It can be purchased as a plug-in diffuser or as a spray.

• Cats which are spraying on vertical surfaces, such as the wall, can be provided with a upright urinal of sorts by leaning an empty plastic box against the wall. Clean the box as necessary to remove cat urine.

Drug therapy using medications such as Reconcile® (fluoxetine) and Clomicalm® (clomipramine) have also been used to treat cats which exhibit urine marking behavior. These drugs are not likely to be effective in situations involving litter box aversions, however.

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