Helping your cat to use the litter box each and every time
(c) 2010-2019 Frania Shelley-Grielen all rights reserved
How can you make sure your cat will use the litter box? 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 cat.
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
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, removing it usually
helps pretty quickly or within days.
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 trouble-
some for your cat and how you can address them.
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.
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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
Individual preferences are an
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Copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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