Litter Box 101

Brought to you by Peterborough West Animal Hospital:

Litter Box 101

Ensuring your kitty has perfect litter box manners

Many cat owners will have a feline friend decide that the litter box is actually not the best place to do business.  All too often a cat will decide that it’s actually far better to use a discreet corner in your house, or perhaps your favorite shoe, the clean laundry, or even the bathroom sink. It might seem like this is a random and meaningless change in behavior, but generally, you’ll probably be able to figure out the cause and get your cat back on track in no time.

Why is my cat not using his or her box?

Here’s the big question: why do cats, who usually like to be neat and clean about their elimination habits, decide to change?

First things first: make sure it’s not medical.  There are a number of medical issues that can cause your otherwise well-mannered kitty to boycott his/her litter box.  The first thing you should do is see your veterinarian.  At Peterborough West Animal Hospital we will want to run some tests (urine, blood) to ensure that there is nothing wrong with your cat’s kidneys, bladder and digestive system.

Marking and Spraying

A common cause is the instinct to spray or mark.  This is most common among unneutered males, although it is also something that can happen in females and neutered males.  Cats usually mark to lay claim to their territory — especially if there is a female in heat in the area — or as a reaction to stress.

In the case of marking, if your cat isn’t neutered, be sure to have him neutered.  Dr. Sargent, Dr. Giffen or any member of the team at Peterborough West Animal Hospital would be happy to discuss this with you!   It will often quickly stop inappropriate urination, but also it leads to a healthier and longer-lived cat.  Neutered cats have lower risk of cancer, are less likely to stray, and are often just calmer and easy to live with.

If your cat is neutered or spayed and starts to mark, look around and see if there might be something causing your cat to feel stressed or uncomfortable:

  • New furniture or other large objects introduced into their environment
  • Cats coming into your yard or “visiting” your cat at windows in your house
  • Frequent or long-term guests or visitors in your house (human or otherwise)

You can use non-toxic anti-cat sprays to discourage marking or even use essential oils like peppermint, citrus, and eucalyptus to repel your cat and discourage marking in a particular area.

There are also a synthetic pheromone spray or diffuser product called Feliway® that you can use that will help reduce your kitty’s stress. Relieving your kitty’s stress can potentially eliminate some types of inappropriate elimination occasionally medications are required.  Again, the doctors and staff at Peterborough West Animal Hospital will discuss this with you.

Random Inappropriate Urination and Defecation

Cats will choose to stop using a litter box for a variety of other reasons, some obvious and some not. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Dirty Litter Boxes – Cats hate a dirty bathroom as much as we do. You should scoop the box every day, at least once a day, removing any solid waste. If you use clumping litter, remove those clumps of urine every day, as well.  Change the box as often as required to keep it clean and to ensure that cat litter can do its job of absorbing moisture and bad odours.  Make sure to only wash the litter box with mild soap and water so there are no harsh smells that will deter them from using their box.
  • Litter Box Over-Crowding – Cats don’t like to share their boxes with too many other cats. Ideally, each cat in your house should have his own litter box and then add one more for good measure.  While they may not exclusively use their personal litter box, it’s a good rule to follow to ensure that every cat feels like he has ample space to do their business.
  • Bad Litter Box Feng Shui – Yes, believe it or not, cats do care about where their litter boxes are located. Because the act of using the litter box leaves a cat temporarily vulnerable, they don’t like to feel as though they can be cornered or snuck up on when their relieving themselves.  Also, cats like a little privacy, so having their box in the middle of a busy place in your house isn’t a good idea.
  • Litter Type – Cats can be picky about what kind of litter they like. Unscented litter is the best for the fussy cats. They might think one kind is too rough on their feet or not like the smell of another. Experiment with different types of litter if you think that might be the problem.  When a particular kind of litter works, don’t switch! If you have to switch, do it gradually. Cats are generally wary of anything new and might boycott the box just because of that.
  • Litter Box Types – Some cats are OK using the closed litter boxes while others like to use the open type – experiment with these but remember; the covered ones are made more for the owner (for odour control) than for the cat.


Cleaning Up Messes

Cats have incredibly strong powers of smell (not as strong as a dog, but many times more powerful than humans). Normal household cleaners will not remove the smell of urine or feces. You will need to use special enzymatic cleaners to get the (awful) odour out of carpet, upholstery, wood floors, and anything else that your cat’s waste might touch. The odour from the urine of an unneutered male is particularly difficult to get out of many materials (another reason to get your kitty neutered!). Talk to us at Peterborough West Animal Hospital for our recommendations.


Stay Calm and Patient and Show Lots of Love

While it’s easy to let a problem like this get you really frustrated with your kitty, don’t let it get to you.  If you get stressed or angry, it will cause your cat to feel the same way.  Cats don’t do this to be bad, they just react to something that makes them break rules that they are normally happy to follow.


At Peterborough West Animal Hospital, we are

“Pawsitively devoted to your best friend…”

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