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
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
• 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
• removing items such as clothing or rugs which are being used
• blocking access to the area by closing a door or imposing another barrier
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.