"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 any cat."



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? Make sure that box is long enough - research shows that cats prefer a box at least one and a half times the length of the cat - no doubt makes necessary posturing easier once in the box. Can your cat get easily into and out of the box or is that swinging door getting in the way? Older and arthritic cats may have difficulty accessing boxes with higher walls at the entrance, modifying this can help. If your litter box has a cover or a door (another human preference - cats don't need "privacy" here - they actually want to see who's around when eliminating) removing it adds to better sight lines for kitty when it matters to them, usable space and can help pretty quickly or within days.

Have you recently switched brands or types of litter? Thinking of what your cat has preferred in the past can give clues to preferences and help in replicating it. Research shows cats prefer finer grained litters to larger ones, making pelleted litters a definite no. A number of cat litters have been developed with added attractants to entice cats to use them. Scientists in a 2019 study blind tested a plant (corn) based litter with an added attractant compared to one without an attractant and found the cats preferred using the one with attractant added. Adding a commercial attractant to your current fine grained litter can also help.

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 are 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. Walkways and heavily trafficked areas should also be avoided when given choices to use boxes in the middle of a room or against a wall, cats overwhelming chose the box against the wall. In a natural environment, cats do not eat and drink where they eliminate, relocating litter boxes away from food and water bowls can help.





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 in environment moves, new people, pets, caretakers, schedule that may be troublesome for your cat and how you can address them. Make sure to clean those spots where the litter box has not been used with a good enzymatic cleaner. Cleaning with products to remove odors we may object to are fine for us but do not remove the amino acids left behind that our cats can still identify (and an enzymatic cleaner can remove) and may continue to target. Removing those deposits properly helps. For more on stress and litter boxes please go here.


Multiple cat households can be an other issue for some cats. A second box plus one might help and is frequently recommended for this. Apartment dwellers who are already dealing with a space premium may not find this realistic, and for those fortunate enough to have the space 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. To address these concerns, add the second box in a location far enough from the first one to be and feel separate and consider location just as carefully as with the first box.


Resolving the litter issue takes into account many variables: environmental stresses, litter box location, type of litter, type of box, litter not fresh enough or feces present, multiple cat use, or other individual preferences. 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. Knowing what to look for in determining the factors and your cat's litter box preferences, can help the both of you to breathe a lot easier.


References

Bradshaw, J.W.S., Casey, R.A., Brown, S.L. (2012). Undesired behaviour in the domestic cat. In The Behaviour of the Domestic Cat (pp. 190-205). Oxfordshire, UK: CABI.


Frayne, J., Murray, S. M., Croney, C., Flickinger, E., Edwards, M., & Shoveller, A. K. (2019). The Behavioural Effects of Innovative Litter Developed to Attract Cats. Animals, 9(9), 683.


Ellis, J.J. McGowan, R.T.S. Martin, F. (2017) Does previous use affect litter box appeal in multi-cat households? Behavioural Processes, 141, 284–290

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