Helping your cat to use the litter box each and every time  (c)
2010-2017 Frania Shelley-Grielen all rights reserved

Litter box issues are probably one of the main reasons cat owners consult with a
behaviorist.  Should your cat be avoiding the litter box and/or eliminating in
inappropriate locations be aware that any number of health related issues might be
responsible.  Checking in with a vet is always advised.  You want to make sure that a
urinary tract infection or other medical concern does not exist and need to be
addressed.   If the issue is in fact behavioral, know you are not alone and also know that
there is help for you and your cat here.  With a little detective work and a little trial
and error you can figure out how to create a loyal litter box user out of practically any

Key to figuring out any animal behavior is figuring out the natural behavior of the
animal as a species and as an individual.  Cats are both highly territorial and appear
most responsive to clean and comfortable environments.  Individual preferences are an
added clue.

One pretty universal cat litter box law is clean litter. The cleaner the better.  
Scoop your cat's litter box on a routine basis (think every time you walk by it) and do a
complete change of litter at least once a week.  If you are using clumping litter you
definitely want to be vigilant about scooping --those clumps take up valuable litter box
space and are hard to maneuver around.

Types of litter boxes and litter material can also come into play.  Most of the
products on the market are designed to appeal to human animals (cats don't ask for
scented litters, we do) and may not necessarily be the best choice for felines, especially
older ones.  Avoid liners as the plastic may interfere with the natural burying actions
use.  Studies now indicate that cats that have had the misfortune of being declawed are
more prone to not using litter boxes, probably as manipulating litter in the first place,
is painful for these cats. A softer litter as opposed to clumping or gravel type litters are
a kinder choice for these cats.

Is your cat trying to use the box and not being sufficiently contained either by box
design or physical limitations?  (This can be determined with urine by determining if
there is any at the edge of the box and if you can spot a trail spilling over and onto the
floor).  Can your cat get easily into and out of the box or is that swinging door getting in
the way?  Have you recently switched brands or types of litter?  Think of what your cat
has preferred in the past and try and replicate it.  If your litter box has a cover or a
door try removing it and see if that helps.

Litter box location should also be considered.  It may be tempting to hide that box
in a closet or to centralize food and water bowls along with the litter box but these
choices might be worth rethinking.  A cat using a litter box is in a vulnerable position,
avoid placing  the box in a place where the cat might feel trapped and cannot easily
access.  In a natural environment, cats do not eat and drink where they eliminate so
consider relocating these items away from each other.

Is there something else going that your cat is objecting to?  Inappropriate
elimination can also be a signal to communicate stress.  Think of recent changes that
may be troublesome for your cat.  

Multiple cat households can be an other issue for some cats.   A second box
might help and is frequently recommended for this. New York City apartment dwellers
who are already dealing with a space premium may not find this realistic.  And if you
are fortunate enough to reside in one of those huge lofts down on the Bowery it still may
not work.  Because you simply cannot dictate which animal will use which box and
when.  Or whether or not territoriality issues may surface around the box, especially
with new cat integration where the newcomer's use of the box may be prevented by the
resident cat.  If the issue is a dislike of anyone else using the box it is challenging if not
impossible to create an exclusive litter box for one individual.

Resolving the litter issue takes into account many variables:  litter box
location, type of litter, type of box, litter not fresh enough or feces present, multiple cat
use, or other individual preference variable.  To further add to the mix there is often a
latency period when an animal may just keep doing what they were doing even
though you fixed whatever it was that was wrong in the first place.  And then as
individuals react to aging or different environments their triggers may change too.

Keep faith. Once you have determined your cat's litter box preference you can both
breath a little easier.

Getting your cat  
to use the litter
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
"Key to figuring out any animal
behavior is figuring out the natural
behavior of the animal as a species
and as an individual.  Cats are both
highly territorial and appear most
responsive to clean and
comfortable environments.  
Individual preferences are an
added clue."
212-722-2509 / 646-228-7813

Entire website copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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