Ask A Vet: 5 Tips To Keep Your Cat Faithfully Using The Litter Box

| Published on June 23, 2023

A cat with inappropriate elimination issues can be frustrating. Sometimes there’s a medical reason for urinating outside the box, so visit your vet first to rule out health concerns.

If your cat is in good shape, the following tips can prevent your furry friend from having accidents. In a normal, healthy cat, these tips can help reinforce good behaviors and keep everyone happy.

Cat with paw in litter box

1. Set up more than enough litter boxes

Behaviorists and veterinarians say that you should provide one litter box per cat in the home, plus an extra. This gives your cat plenty of options, and it can help avoid territorial disputes between several cats in one household. Even if you only have one cat, having several litter boxes reduces the risk of them having an accident because they’ll never be too far from a bathroom spot.

Related: The 11 Best Cat Litter Boxes

2. Make sure you use a litter type that your cat likes

A great way to discover your cat’s favorite litter type is to set up a litter trial. To do this, confine them to an area where litter box use is the only option, like a bathroom or a small tiled area. Give your cats different choices of litter types and see which they choose. Many people like the fragranced clumping litters, but that doesn’t mean all cats favor them.

For the litter trial, choose a variety of litters – clumping, crystal, sandy, clay, pine, etc. and make them available for a long enough time to tell which one your cat likes best. Try to use similar-looking boxes for all litters so the litter box type doesn’t affect your cat’s decision.

Cat litter box in bathroom

3. Use a litter box type that’s preferred and accessible

I had a patient that developed an inappropriate urination issue when his human switched him to a self-cleaning litter box. She thought the expensive gadget would make his life better by keeping his box ultra-fresh, but he seemed to be afraid of the noise it made. Self-cleaning litter boxes, like Litter Robot, work well for many cat parents, but every cat has different preferences.

Oftentimes, our cats won’t conform to what we want. So, it’s better to find a compromise that you can both live with. Once you have established a litter type that your cat likes, you can make sure you choose the best box type too. Give your cat options, like how you did with litter. Choose easy-to-clean litter boxes, some covered and some not. Use some with low sides and high sides, and use some large ones and some small ones. For best results, use the same type of litter in all the boxes.

4. Regularly clean the litter box

Cats are fastidious creatures. They can develop aversions to an area that isn’t kept clean and odor free. Clean your cat’s litter boxes by scooping at least once daily. Once per week, you should completely empty the litter box and use mild soap to clean it. Thoroughly rinse and dry the box before adding new litter. If the boxes still smell after cleaning, you may need to replace them.

If your cat’s litter box isn’t clean enough, they may not want to do their business there, which is why they might be using the floor instead.

Kitten in covered litter box

5. Keep the litter area away from the food area

Since cats are often sensitive to signals in their environment that we cannot always perceive, it’s best to separate the dining area from the “potty” area. Excrement is more than just poop to your cat and they know that they don’t want to eat in a marking area and vice versa.

These five simple strategies can help keep your cat from “thinking outside the box,” making your home environment more pleasant for both of you. When in doubt, ask your vet about more ways to stop your cat from peeing outside their bathroom space.

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