Litter Problems Can Be Fixed!

Cat Litter box Issues? It Might Not Be What You Think.

Sep 8, 2016 | Dewdney Animal Hospital

It happens sometimes- your new kitten gets confused and pees outside the litter box. This is usually just an issue of youth, bladder control, or overall confusion.

But what if your adult cat suddenly starts having litterbox problems? Inappropriate feline elimination is accountable for HALF of all reported cat behavioural problems, and is the main reason cats are abandoned in shelters and ultimately euthanised.

10% to 25% of all cats will have a some form of inappropriate elimination at some point in their lifetime. Get the facts so you know exactly what to do in case this happens in your house! Your cat’s life may depend on it.

Before You Do Anything Else: Get to the Vet

If your cat has a sudden change in behaviour of any kind it is very important to take her to the vet.

A cat who is urinating or defecating outside of her normal bathroom might very well be trying to communicate with you, “I’m in pain!” 

Your vet will perform a physical exam, blood test and urine test to rule out the large number of potential medical conditions that can cause inappropriate elimination. Some of these conditions include; urinary tract disease, urinary tract infection, obstruction of the urethra, feline diabetes, hyperthyroid and cognitive issues. Better to be safe than sorry!

If your cat’s results come back clean, then we are dealing with a case of Litter Box Aversion.

Litter Box Aversion

Litter box aversion is exactly as it sounds: your cat, for whatever reason, has become fussy over their bathroom. Next time your cat goes to the bathroom in her litter box, observe the way she uses it.

  • Does she jump in without hesitating?
  • Does she take her time to find a good spot?
  • Does she dig in the litter?
  • Does she cover up her business after?

Failure to do any of these behaviours, or doing these behaviours in a rushed or panicked state can be a telltale sign of litter box aversion or the beginnings of litter box aversion.

Proper litter box behaviour: notice how this cat is in no rush to leave the litter box. They are happy to dig around, do their business, inspect and cover it, and then leaves without a panic.

Litter Box Theory

There are many potential reasons why your cat may have litterbox aversion. Here are some things you can change right now that may have a positive effect.

  • Have you recently changed litters? If so, change back. If not, it may be time for a change.
  • Choose a litter that is unscented, and make sure it is about 4 inches deep in the litter pan.
  • If you haven’t tried it yet, many people have success with Cat Attract– a litter with natural herbs to attract cats.
  • Have 1 litter box for every cat, plus 1 extra. So if you have 1 cat, that’s 2 litter boxes. For 2 cats, you’ll need 3 litter boxes.
  • Place the litter boxes in different rooms, away from noisy machinery. A lot of cats are spooked by a washing machine suddenly turning on, and will stop using their litter box due to superstition.
  • Litter boxes should be placed in socially important rooms, not sequestered away in places rarely visited (ie. garage, laundry room). This will help with territorial marking. Cats need to feel territorially secure (because they are predators!) but also safe (because they are prey animals). If your litter box is scooped regularly and your cat is healthy the smell will not be an issue.
  • The litter box must be kept clean. This means scooping at least once per day; and for cats with problems, multiple times per day. Dump all used litter every 2 weeks and add fresh litter. If you can smell it, it’s way too dirty.
  • If your cat is declawed, litter may hurt their paws. Try using a puppy pee pad in a litter box with no litter and see if you get results.
  • Covered litter boxes are a no-no if your cat is having any problems. It’s not normal for cats to poop in a cave. It concentrates the smell of urine, and a cat’s sense of smell is far better than ours, so even a clean litter box might smell like the worst outhouse imaginable.

If All Else Fails…

It may be time to go back to the vet. Your vet can prescribe anti-anxiety medications or pheromone diffusers such as Feliway. You can also ask your vet to recommend a feline behaviourist to come and assess the situation in your own home. Remember: all cats are unique and each one will have a special solution to his or her problems.


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Dewdney Diaries is a blog updated every month, recounting the exciting and interesting stories at Dewdney Animal Hospital. There's never a dull day at Dewdney!

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