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

A cat with inappropriate elimination issues is a frustrating problem. Sometimes there is a medical reason for eliminating outside the box and of course, if your cat is sick, these tips are less likely to help. If your cat is already urinating outside the box, seek medical help first. In a normal, healthy cat, these tips will help reinforce good choices and keep everyone happy.

  1. Make sure you have more than enough litter boxes. Behaviorists and veterinarians say that you should provide one litterbox per cat in the home, plus an extra. This allows lots of options for the cats and if there is a territorial dispute that deters one cat from a certain box, you want to provide easy alternatives. Even if you only have one cat, you can double your chances that she is going to choose to eliminate in the box if there are two.
  1. Make sure that you have a litter type that your cat prefers: I tell people to set up a litter trial for cats, confining them to an area where litter box use is the only option, like a bathroom or small tiled area. Give cats different choices of litter types and see which they choose. Many of my people like the fragranced clumping litters, but some of my actual patients (the cats) do not. Choose a variety of litters-clumping, sandy, clay, pine, etc. and make them available for a long enough time to tell what the cat chooses. While you are performing the litter trial, try to use similar open litter boxes so as not to confuse your cat.
  1. Make certain the litter box type is preferred and accessible. I had a patient that developed an inappropriate urination issue when his mom 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. Many times our cats will not conform to what we want and we are better off finding a compromise that we can all 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. Choose easy to clean litter boxes, some covered and some not. Some should have low sides and some high sides and some should be large and others small (but all large enough for your cat to easily turn around in).
  1. Cleaning the litter boxes is very important. Cats are fastidious creatures. They can develop aversions to an area that is not kept clean and odor free. Clean boxes by scooping at least once daily and empty completely and clean boxes each week. Use a mild soap and rinse thoroughly. If the boxes still smell after cleaning, replace them.
  1. Keep litter area away from the food area. Since cats are so sensitive to signals in their environment that we cannot even perceive, it is best to separate the dining area from the “potty” area. Excrement is more than just poop to your cat and he knows that he does not want to eat in a marking area and vice versa.

These simple strategies can help keep your cat from “thinking outside the box” and make elimination choices that you can live with and let you both live happily Fur-ever After.

Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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