Litter Box Lapses
The most common behavior problem that cats engage in is eliminating outside of their litter boxes. It is important that you treat this problem early, as the longer the cat continues to do this, the more likely it is that it will become a habit, regardless of why it started.
The first thing you should do when your cat urinates or defecates outside of the litter box is to consult with your veterinarian, because inappropriate elimination could be the result of a medical problem, and some of these problems can escalate quickly and lead to a serious illness that requires emergency care.
If your veterinarian finds no health issues, the next step is to gather details regarding your cat’s behavior. Location and frequency of episodes can help determine the cause and, thereby, the solution. Following are some common situations and their solutions.
- Only urinating/defecating near the box: If your cat consistently uses the litter box for one type of waste, but not the other, chances are that another litter box is required. Most cats actually do prefer to urinate and defecate in different places. The guideline is that you should own one litter box per cat, plus one.
- Both urinating and defecating near the box: This generally indicates an aversion to the litter box. Start by making sure the box is scooped at least once a day. Non-clumping litter should be discarded and the box should be washed and refilled with fresh litter every five-to-seven days. Boxes with clumping litter should be emptied and cleaned at least once a month. If you use litter pan liners, the cat may not like the feel of them –especially if your cat has claws that get snagged on the liners – so try removing the liner. If the box is hooded, the cat may feel too confined; remove the hood and the cat might be more comfortable. Or, perhaps a larger box is needed.
- Regularly eliminating in one place: For some reason, your cat has decided that this is where she wants to relieve herself. First, make sure that the litter box is always accessible and is in a comfortable environment. Consider this from your cat’s point of view. For instance, she may not want to urinate while the washing machine is running, or she may feel intimidated walking past the dog’s food bowl to get to the box. A young kitten or older cat may not be able to make it to the litter box if it is far away from where they spend most of their time. If the place your cat is using is acceptable to you, simply place the litter box there. If not, place a barricade (e.g., a milk crate, stack of books, plastic tarp, etc.) on that spot to prevent accidents and address the issue. For example, you could just move the box away from the washing machine.
- Eliminating on a particular surface: If your cat eliminates in several places with identical surfaces (e.g., carpet, leather, tile, etc.), she probably has a substrate preference. Switching to a different brand or type of litter should prove successful. A penchant for clothing, rugs, and upholstery usually means the cat wants a soft clumping litter. Cats who eliminate on hard flooring often do best with a more shallow depth of litter or even just a puppy training pad or sheets of newspaper in the box instead of litter. Once the cat is again regularly using the box litter can often be gradually reintroduced.
- Eliminating in corners: Cats will often mark their territory by putting waste at the edges of that territory. Cats will use both urine and feces to mark territory. If episodes are occurring in a room that is seldom used, begin to spend time in that room each day to show the cat that the room is part of the living quarters. Feeding in the area where the cat is eliminating may help. Using a Comfort Zone® with Feliway® diffuser should calm the cat and reduce the likelihood of marking. If the cat is allowed outdoors, you must keep it inside; the greater a cat’s territory is, the more likely it is are to mark it.
- Urinating/defecating on personal belongings: This is also a form of marking. The cat may be trying to comingle scents as a form of bonding, or may be trying to repel the owner of the belongings. In the case of the former, be sure that all belongings that the cat targets are put away. Again, Comfort Zone® can be beneficial. For the latter, the cat needs to establish a positive association with that person. The person should feed the cat its favorite treats and play with the cat daily. It may even be necessary for others in the household to withdraw interaction from the cat for a couple of weeks.
Elimination problems can be complex and there may be more than one cause for your cat’s behavior. If none of the above solutions help or apply to your cat, or if you have questions, please contact our free Behavior Helpline at (312) 645-8253 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.