Most people take litter box use for granted. Our domestic cat’s ancestors would have never chosen to use small plastic boxes filled with a perfumed substrate located in a dark basement behind the furnace. Cats do not use litter boxes because they are trained to do so. A cat uses a litter box as an extension of their instinct to dig, potty, and bury. By providing an appropriate litter box owners can encourage this natural behavior and prevent litterbox problems. If your cat could speak, he would want you know the following recommendations.
Have your cat spayed or neutered before six months of age. Intact cats will frequently began to use urine and feces to mark their territory as they become sexually mature. Neutering and spaying can prevent 90% of elimination problems in cats.
Provide an adequate number of litter boxes. The rule of thumb for the number of litterboxes is one per cat in the household, plus one. If you have one cat you should have two litter boxes, a two cat household should have three litter boxes, etc…. Extra litterboxes are necessary because some cats defecate in one box and urinate in another. In multi-cat households, some cats will not share a box with other cats.
Select litterbox locations carefully. Place litter boxes in a variety of different areas to prevent location-avoidance problems. Litterboxes boxes should be placed in quiet private places that are easily accessible to the cat. Litter boxes should not be located in high traffic areas where the cat may be disturbed by children or ambushed by other pets. If your home has multiple levels, at least one litter box should be placed on each level of the house. Noisy areas near washing machines or furnaces are not appropriate for litterboxes because it may frighten the cat away from the box. Never place litterboxes near food and water dishes. Once you have decided on the placement for the litter boxes in your house, do not sporadically move them because this will confuse the cat.
Use litter boxes that are appropriate in size and shape. The litter box should be at least one and half times the length of the cat from nose to tail base. Many commercial litter boxes are too small for adult cats. The litter box should be at least 22″ x 16″ for adult cats. Larger litter boxes can be
made out of shallow plastic or rubber storage containers. Kittens and disabled cats may prefer a litter box with lower sides or an entrance door cut into the side.
Use appropriate litter that appeals to the cat. Most cats prefer the texture of the sand-like scooping litters. Be sure to select a brand that clumps into a firm ball, making scooping easier and cleaner. Not all cats like the newer litters such as crystal or recycled newspaper. Litter preference can be tested by offering multiple types of litter simultaneously in identical boxes side by side. Owners may find that a cat prefers one type of litter for urination and another for defecation. In multi-cat households, individual cats may also have unique preferences.
Clean the litterboxes daily. The single most common reason for a cat’s refusal to use a litterbox is because the box is dirty. Non-clumping litter should have the feces scooped out daily and the litterbox should be completely emptied and washed twice weekly. Clumping litter should also be scooped daily and the litterbox should be completely emptied and washed every other week.
Never use litter that has a strong scent. Perfume and chemical scents can repel some cats. Scented litters were developed for human preference, not feline preference. The Scoop Away Unscented litter or Cat Attract litter can be an excellent choice for a cat with a sensitive nose. Use hot water and a mild dishwashing liquid to wash litterboxes. Do not use harsh cleaning chemicals that will leave a lingering odor.
Avoid covered litterboxes. Covered or hooded litterboxes can be offensive to cats. At cat may feel claustrophobic and trapped in a covered box. These boxes also trap the odor inside creating an outhouse like environment. Also be careful using litterbox liners. The texture and noise of a litterbox liner can be irritating to some cats.
Introduce new cats into the home gradually. When introducing a new cat or kitten into the home, confine them to one room for a couple days. The newcomer should have its own litterbox, bed, food and water available. Help your new cat feel comfortable by providing frequent positive and affectionate attention. Do not allow the cat to explore the rest of the house until they have used the litterbox several times and appear relaxed in their new surroundings. Gradually allow you new cat supervised time to explore their new home. You should limit kitten’s territory until they learn that the litterbox is the only acceptable place to eliminate. A gradual introduction also helps the existing cats in the household time to adjust.
Litterbox problems may be a symptom of a medical problem. Always remember that a cat’s refusal to use their litter box may be a symptom of discomfort or even pain. A cat that has a bladder infection or intestinal worms may be experiencing discomfort or urgency that leads to poor litterbox habits. If your new cat is not using the litter box consistently contact your veterinarian to rule out medical problems.