One of the top complaints I get as a cat behavior consultant has to do with elimination problems and how to deal with cat potty problems. I’m sharing tips from my book, ComPETability: Solving Behavior Problems in Your Multi-Cat Household, but the suggestions work equally well in a single-cat home.
A sudden loss of litter box allegiance means either the litter box is unacceptable, the cat feels bad, or the other cats make her avoid the bathroom. More than one-third of cats with elimination problems have an underlying health condition and if Sheba refuses to use the box to urinate (or defecate) but not both, look for a medical problem.That’s one reason I now use and recommend Perfect Litter, since it will change color (pink-to-red) when the cat’s urine pH goes too high, which can indicate a urinary health issue. (You can try Perfect Litter free for a month, too!)
When cats won’t use the litter box, punishment won’t work. You must first identify and then remove the cause, re-establish good habits, and prevent a return to the scene of the crime.
HOW TO SOLVE LITTER BOX PROBLEMS
Cats like routine, even in potty duty. Typically, a cat will defecate once or twice a day usually at the same time — and urinate two to six times a day. However, it’s not unusual for some adult cats to urinate only once every 36 hours or so. You can use this information to monitor and manage your cats’ bathroom activities. Here are some tips that may help return your cat to proper potty behavior.
- Keep the toilet clean by scooping waste and discarding it at least twice a day. The more cats you have, the greater the amount of waste and ensuing smell which offends you and the cats.
- Be sure to empty and clean the entire box at least once a week. Use scalding hot water but no harsh-smelling disinfectants, because the detergent smell can be just as off-putting to the cats.
- Many cats don’t want to “go” after another cat. Others demand a separate box for urine and another for feces, and some dominant cats guard the facilities and won’t let the others use it. Use the one-plus-one rule to solve litter box woes: provide one litter box for each cat, plus one (that’s three boxes for two cats, for example).
- Adding an automatic litter box helps enormously, because the litter ALWAYS stays clean. However, it may take some training to teach cats to use this facility. We had a LitterMaid for many years, and Seren loved it!
- Clean soiled areas thoroughly or the scent will draw Sheba (even innocent bystanders!) back to the scene of the crime. Avoid using ammonia-based products, which cats think smells like the ammonia in their own urine.
- To find hidden urine accidents, invest in a quality “black light” and shine it around after you’ve turned off lights in the suspect areas. Cat urine glows under the black light. Here’s a black light kit designed for finding litter-ary mistakes!
- If your cats target plastic or rubber-backed bath mats, toss out the mats. The backing hosts various microorganisms designed to keep the carpet stain-resistant, but it smells like urine to cats, and many felines eliminate on these mats because they already smell like a litter box.
- Cats prefer certain kinds of texture, granularity, and coarseness in the litter. Offer a “smorgasbord” of litter substrates for cats to choose their ideal. Offer sand and potting soil mix for cats used to doing their “duty” outside.
- Change the depth of litter (increase or decrease) or remove the plastic liner to make the box more attractive. Cats that scratch to cover their waste may dislike catching their claws in the plastic liner.
- Once you find a litter your cats like, don’t mess with success. If your cats prefer the linoleum, wood floor, or bathtub, offer an empty litter box, and then gradually add litter. When changing a litter to a new one, always transition gradually with a top-coat dusting of the NEW on top of the OLD and add a bit more of the new litter day by day.
- Buy a new box. Plastic holds odor and smelly old boxes offend cats even when you’ve scrubbed them. Cats that “blame” the old box for a scare or discomfort often eagerly embrace a new facility.
- Covered boxes help contain litter when energetic diggers throw sand everywhere, but they hold odors, and your shy cats may fear being trapped inside and avoid using them. Offer different types of toilets — uncovered or covered — to encourage kitty to choose one. Very large cats may not be able to pose in a standard size box without dropping deposits or urinating over the edge. Offer a much bigger container such as a clear plastic storage bin to accommodate these cats.
- A storage bin type container works well for up to three small to medium cats willing to share, so you can reduce the total numbers of boxes. I use a huge sterilite container for my cats — and it’s clear so they can “see” if someone is coming and aren’t surprised or trapped.
- Very young, elderly, or ill cats have trouble reaching the box in time. Provide a toilet on each floor of multi-story homes, or at each end of single-story floor plans to give these felines a better opportunity for a pit stop. I also offer a low-sided but very large box to accommodate Seren’s arthritis so she can easily climb in and out.
- For tiny kittens, or very arthritic older cats, a regular box may be too large for him to climb in and out, so offer a cookie sheet or cut down the sides of the box.
- If you know or suspect one of your cats guards the toilet from the others, be sure to position litter boxes in more than one location. Sheba can’t guard them all at once, and that way at least one is available to the rest of the cats at all times.
- Be sure boxes are in a low traffic area, and quiet location such as a closet or storeroom. Laundry rooms where a dryer buzzer frightens the cat in mid-squat, may be less than ideal.
- Sometimes placing the new litter box right on top of the soiled area encourages cats to use the box in that location. Once they again use the box, gradually move it to a more appropriate area a foot or so a day.
- Make the illegal location unattractive so they willingly use the proper toilet. Give the soiled area a different connotation by placing favorite cat toys, food bowls, bed or scratching post on top of the soiled area, once it’s been cleaned.
The longer house soiling goes on, the harder it is to correct. To reestablish good habits, temporarily confine the problem cats to a small area with a litter box whenever they can’t be supervised. Usually cats prefer to use a box rather than having to live with the accident. Behaviorists recommend one week’s confinement for every month Sheba has been soiling, but that ratio can be decreased if the problem has been in existence more than six months.
Have your cats ever “missed the mark?” How did you manage the problem? Was it a health issue or something else? Do tell!
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