T.E.A.M. = Together Every Animal Matters

Litter Box Problems

One of the most common complaints is that a cat suddenly stops using his litter box. If your cat is peeing or pooping outside the box, there is rarely a single cause. Most of the time, it’s a game of trial and error before you hit on the “aha!” of why your cat is avoiding the litter box.
There are plenty of common reasons for litter box aversion and many that you might not expect.
Such as:

Not being fixed.

Most common problem of a cat spraying is not being fixed.

New litter.

Cats need time to adjust to a change in brand or type of litter. If you are planning to change litter, have one box with the new litter and one box with the old litter. As well, you can try mixing the two types together gradually over a period of time increasing the new type until that is all that you use.
Not thoroughly cleaning previous peed on spots.
If a cat does pee on a spot, make sure that you clean it with cleansers that are specific to cat stains. It will use a special enzyme that will clean the area thoroughly. Cats’ sense of smell is 100x greater than ours so just because we can’t smell it, doesn’t mean that the cat can’t smell it. And if kitty smells it, he will think that it is an approved peeing spot. In some cases such as some carpets or towels, if the cat has repeatedly peed on it, you may have to discard it altogether to resolve the problem.

Messy house:

If your kids leave towels piled on the floor or clothing piled on their beds, cats can sometimes mistake those piles as areas that can be used as a litter box. Make sure your house is relatively tidy to avoid these accidents.

Negative litter box association:

One common reason is that something happened to upset her while she was using the litter box. If this is the case with your cat, you might notice that she seems hesitant to return to the box. She may enter the box, but then leave very quickly—sometimes before even using the box. Sometimes other cats will playfully ambush one cat while she is in the box or maybe something will make a large crash or fall nearby just while she is in the box.

Household Stress

Stress can cause litter-box problems. Cats can be stressed by events that their owners may not think of as traumatic. Changes in things that even indirectly affect the cat, like moving, adding new animals or family members to your household—even changing your daily routine—can make your cat feel anxious.

Multi-Cat Household Conflict

Sometimes one or more cats in a household control access to litter boxes and prevent the other cats from using them. Even if one of the cats isn’t actually confronting the other cats in the litter box, any conflict between cats in a household can create enough stress to cause litter-box problems.

Location Preference or Aversion

Like people and dogs, cats develop preferences for where they like to eliminate and may avoid locations they don’t like. This means they might avoid their litter box if it’s in a location they dislike.

Wait, there’s more!!!

However, here are five surprising reasons your cat might looking elsewhere to do his business. (www.catster.com)

  1. Medical Issues

    If your cat starts peeing and pooping outside the box, it’s important to take him to the vet to determine whether there's a medical issue causing the new, unpleasant behavior.
    Cats act funny when they are in pain or uncomfortable. If your cat is constipated and it hurts when he tries to poop, he might associate ouchy poops with the litter box and try another location. The same applies if your cat has a urinary tract infection, for example. If it hurts to go pee, your cat may logically deduce that the litter box equals painful peeing.
    The medical issues might not be related to peeing or pooping, however. Fleas or dental pain can cause stress that might make a cat avoid the litter box.

  2. Furry Bottoms

    Some cats with long hair don’t like the feel of poop remnants sticking to their fur so they might blame the litter box for their uncomfortable situation and poop elsewhere. A simple fix is to trim the fur around your kitty’s bottom and keep it nice and clean.
    Still other cats don’t seem to like the feel of their long fur dragging in the litter when they’re squatting. Try reducing the amount of litter in the box to see if that solves your floofy kitty’s litter box avoidance.

  3. Litter Box Liners

    Cats generally aren’t big fans of walking on crinkly, plastic things, so if you are using any sort of plastic lining in the box, this could contribute to litter box avoidance.
    Jackson Galaxy, star of My Cat From Hell, has an interesting theory about litter box liners. He believes long-haired cats accumulate static electricity in their fluffy fur, and if they brush up against a plastic liner –- zap! Static electric shock! And who wants to go into a box that zaps?
    Also, if you are trying to keep the box fastidiously clean, liners can add to the smell problem. Plastic sheets used as liners will inevitably get torn by your cat’s claws and guess what? Pee and bacteria will easily get trapped underneath, creating a bigger mess and smell than you were trying to avoid.

  4. Arthritis

    It’s hard to accept that our cats are growing older and might be suffering from arthritis. If your older cat begins going outside the box, first get him checked out by the vet and then consider whether it might be painful for him to use the box. Jumping in and out of the box might hurt. Also, crouching in the box can also be painful for a cat with arthritis.
    Sometimes the litter level can even play into it. If it’s super deep, a cat might have to grasp the bottom of the box, which could be painful, so experiment with the level of litter. Even if he goes pee in the box but not poop, it still might be arthritis because the stance a cat takes to go No. 2 is different than for No. 1. Litter boxes he won't have to jump into -- one with low sides or a side entrance -- are best for a cat with sore, stiff joints.

  5. Outside Cats

    If your cat starts marking in the house, which is typically characterized by a stream of concentrated urine “sprayed” on a vertical surface like a wall or curtains, it can be frustrating. Most cat owners look around the house to see what is bothering their cat. Are the other cats behaving themselves? Have there been houseguests? Are the kids bothering the cats? Why is the cat suddenly behaving this way?
    Remember to look outside the house for possible causes. Roaming neighborhood cats in the yard can set off your cat and make him feel like he needs to claim his territory. If you think the spraying problem might be caused by something (or someone) outside, you can block your cat’s view of the outside by closing the blinds. You can also take measures to keep the invader off your lawn by using motion activated sprinklers or unpleasant sounds.

First of all, go to the vet.

Get your cat checked out to make sure nothing is medically wrong. Don't sit there driving yourself, and your cat crazy, trying to figure out what the behavioral peeing problem is, when your cat is raising the red flag, and saying in their own way, "Ouch, it hurts when I pee." So you have to rule that out first.

Once you do that, you need to get it out of your head that the peeing is random. Random locations–it's a mindset. 'He's peeing everywhere,' is what you're telling yourself, and whoever will listen. But your cat isn't peeing everywhere, he's speaking to you. In the absence of language, a cat's urine, or where they pee, is speaking to you about their insecurity in their territory. So get it out of your mind that it's jealousy, that it's a grudge your cat has against you, and it's not spite, you know, those are traps that we fall into. Because we don't understand the behavior, we go to that easy place, which is to humanize the cat's behavior. So once you realize it's not spite, you realize it's anxiety. One of the most important things you can do is to journal your experiences. I don't care what kind of behavior problem you're dealing with, when you're journaling; you get out of the mindset of the random, and move towards your work as a cat detective.

And it's also not just the where, it's the when, (that's very important) and it's the "who"–meaning is it somebody's belongings? You're journaling and then doing what I call the "Anti-Treasure Map". The Anti-Treasure Map: use painter's tape, I think the brand name is Blue, and put X-marks-the-spot, wherever your cat pees. The tape doesn't stick to the carpet; you don't have to worry about any of that. Put those X's around the house and for each X, you journal. And I promise you, at the end of a week, I promise, you'll look at it and go 'Oh my god, right,' you'll see that your cat was making a circle around a certain area. Your cat was saying, "There's something in this particular area that's making me insecure."

Then your detective work is–what is it? For instance, here's an easy for instance: Is it another animal in the house, or something outdoors? If your cat is peeing by the front door and underneath the window, now that is perimeter marking. It's your cat's way of almost offensively saying, "This is my castle, this is my moat. Keep away barbarian, away from the gate." So who is your cat talking to? Is it a threat in the house? No, it's a threat from without, because obviously there are cats in your neighborhood that are threatening your cat inside. That's why he's peeing on that window, and peeing on that door, to send a message to the outsiders: "This belongs to me."

Those are the things you discover when you get your mind away from, 'Oh my god, the drapes, he peed on the drapes.' Instead you're asking questions. As you've seen in my show, half the work is cat behavior, half the work is human psychology. And this empowers you to emotionally divest, and I think that's really an important thing.

litterbox 1
Other questions to ask: (by Jackson Galaxy)
Is It the Litterbox?

The litterbox itself is one of the main reasons cats avoid using it. Let’s concentrate on the physical properties of the litterbox.

Consider the size of your cat(s)

A cat needs to feel a sense of space in his place; that is, room to turn around, to cover what they’ve eliminated, to choose one corner over another. Often, if they feel their bodies hitting the sides of the box (especially bigger or long haired cats), they will simply choose a place that affords them more “elbow room,” and that usually means a place that we deem inappropriate. Think outside the box when looking for bigger boxes, large Rubbermaid containers make excellent litterboxes.

To hood or not to hood?

A hooded litterbox is nice for people. It contains the smell and hides the business that takes place there. It has the opposite effect for many cats. That hood that contains the smell makes the interior of the box a stinky place to be. It smells in there and your fastidious cat may not want to enter that space. Secondly, when in the litterbox your cat can’t see anything approaching from the peripherals. It makes the litterbox an excellent place for an ambush, if you have multiple cats and there is hierarchical problems in the house, a hooded litterbox is a no-no. It will only exasperate the inter-cat relations. Finally a hooded litterbox adds to the enclosed feeling, making a cat that needs elbow room feel extra confined.

Silver liners?

Cat pan liners are a convenience for the guardian. Some cats hate them. If you are using them and your cat is avoiding the box, ditch the liners.

Is It the Litter?

Although surface preferences usually develop early in life, cats can change suddenly later for reasons we don’t always fully understand. We can only try to cater to these preferences, often by trial and error. If you’re changing things with the litterbox, do it slowly and over the course of many weeks (if it’s a new litter, mix it in, bit by bit).

Kinds of litter

The choices seem limitless: Clay, scoopable, newspaper, corn-based, wheat-based, granules, pearls, crystals, scented, non-scented….Cats themselves evidently prefer soft, since the majority of substrate preference problems we see are for soft surfaces like bath mats, bedding, and clothing. This may mean that a change from regular clay litter, pellets, or ‘crystals’ to a sandier, scoopable litter is in order. Cats who are used to eliminating outdoors and are in the process of being retrained to an indoor litterbox might even prefer garden dirt or potting soil. One caution: clay and scoopable litters are dusty, and may contribute to asthma or other respiratory problems. Corn and wheat-based litters, or pelleted types, are the least dusty. Of the scoopable clay litters, Dr. Elsie’s Precious Cat Litter and Tidy Cats are the least dusty. Adding Cat Attract additive to your litter can also help encourage your kitty to choose the litterbox for elimination.

Depth of litter

From experience and the expertise of other behaviorists and knowledgeable guardians who have been down the path of trial and error, cats prefer the “less is more” philosophy when filling their box. Add enough so that they can cover and dig, but not enough so that their paws actually sink in into the substrate—about 1-1/2 to 2 inches. There is also the human misconception that the

more litter, the less stinky. If you live with multiple cats especially, you know what a large fallacy that one is. The ammonia odor in cat urine, despite the best marketing campaign of the litter manufacturer, is strong!

Older cats may have issues with pain that impact their use of the litterbox. A recent study found that 90% of cats over 12 years of age had signs of arthritis that were visible on radiographs (x-rays), many of them severe. Less litter provides a more stable surface that may be more comfortable for those creaky old joints.

Frequency of scooping and cleaning

If you’ve chosen a scoopable litter, it is important to remove waste daily, as the primary clumping agent, sodium bentonite, absorbs moisture and greatly enhances the size of the waste, decreasing the availability of free space in the box. Even with non-clumping litter, cats like the feeling of picking their own spot, circling it, digging a shallow space for it, and burying it—we want to leave plenty of room.

Strange as it may seem, we can actually overdo cleaning the box. We often claim in the name of fastidiousness, that boxes need to be spotless daily. That may not be true. For some cats, the comforting presence of their own scent is important in maintaining good litterbox habits. However, if your cat is having box problems and you’re not cleaning the box regularly, a thorough cleaning is the first order of business.

There is also a difference between necessary removing of waste daily, and cleaning the box. In general, litterboxes do not need a deep cleaning (dumping all the litter and washing the box) more than once every three or four weeks. Hot water and soap are adequate for cleaning. Stay away from heavy-duty cleansers like Pine-Sol, Lysol, or ammonia as their strong odors may actually cause aversion.

Scented/Non-scented litter

Non-scented is best, especially if there is a lid on the box. Remember what the cat has to deal with in those close confines, and don’t add another complication! Many cats seem to dislike the strong perfume of some litters.

The Declaw Factor

Declawed cats may choose softer surfaces over the coarse feel of litter. Newly declawed kittens or cats may instantly make an association between the pain in their paws and the litter. But pain in declawed paws can develop after years of walking around with improper foot structure, leading to litterbox avoidance years after being declawed. If your declawed cat is avoiding the litterbox and none of the suggestions above are working, some additional things to try are: empty litterboxes, litterboxes with puppy pads in them, litterboxes with just newspaper, half litter/half empty litterbox (take a litterbox, put a thin layer of litter on the bottom, then tip the box so that all the litter goes to one half of the box and set the box back down flat). Also be sure to minimize the stress in your kitty’s life.

Is It a Social Issue?

If there are multiple cats in the home, litterbox issues can be a result of a turf war. Step 1, add more litterboxes. Step 2, add more litterboxes. Make sure the litterboxes are in accessible locations with multiple avenues of escape. The area around the litterbox is an excellent place for ambush and you want to give your stressed out kitties as many options as possible. Put the litterboxes on top of the places where the inappropriate elimination has been occurring. They can be slowly moved to a better place once your cat is reliably using the box. Make sure all your cats are fixed. All those hormones can drive marking behaviors.

Stress Relief

No matter what the issue is, when the litterbox is avoided, there is always stress being felt. In addition to the steps above, steps should be taken to relieve some of the stress your kitty is clearly feeling. Ways to relieve stress: Play Therapy: Get them moving, get them tired, burn off some of that stressful energy. We love Go Cat products (Da Bird and Cat Catcher are favorites) for stimulating energetic play. Elevate your cat, literally: Make a place for your kitty to go that is up high (cat trees, shelves, etc) and encourage them to explore those spaces (treats, toys, etc). Not using the cat tree, make sure it’s a solid structure in an attractive location. Smaller space: Sometimes a big house can be overwhelming. Try confining kitty to a single floor or room until the litterbox problems are resolved. Be sure they get plenty of time to hang out with their people. Confining kitty alone will only add stress and make the situation worse. Some excellent stress relieving products include: Feliway Plug-In, NurtureCalm or Lavender Collars, Rescue Remedy.

It is also important to make sure you are cleaning up with an enzymatic cleaner (such as Fizzion, Anti-Icky Poo, Natures Miracle) or the cat will be drawn to the same places again and again.

And remember, yelling or punishing your cat will only make matters worse. He isn’t doing this because he has an evil plan. He is distressed and a negative reaction will only compound his anxiety.

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