Litter box avoidance and inappropriate elimination are the most frequent and irritating disagreements humans have with their kitties. Inappropriate urination and defecation may mean that the litter box facilities are sub par, that there's a medical problem or, in the case of marking behavior, that your cat is trying to signal something. Cats use elimination of urine (and sometimes feces) for communication – a kind of pee-mail, if you will. That can be a sign that something is wrong. In the latter situation, your kitty is not being mean or spiteful. She's got a problem and you'll have to figure out what it is if you want it to go away.Punishing your cat for inappropriate elimination will not solve the problem. It will only teach her to fear and avoid you, and eliminate when you're not around. In fact, it can actually make the problem worse, since inappropriate elimination is often caused by stress, and punishment will only add to her stress level.
When your cat eliminates outside the box, you should first schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD), a group of disorders and diseases affecting the urinary tract, and colon disorders, such as irritable bowel disease, can cause inappropriate elimination. Symptoms of FLUTD include frequent voiding, straining at the end of urination, and blood in the urine. If your cat shows any of these signs, schedule an appointment immediately. Both males and females are at risk, but males are more likely to develop life-threatening blockages. If your cat strains to urinate and produces only a tiny amount of urine, rush him to the veterinarian. This is a life-threatening emergency. Once your veterinarian rules out a physical problem, then you should start to unravel the problem by looking at what's going on in your cat's life. Watch carefully and find out when and where she is eliminating inappropriately, and what's happening in the household at the time. Recognizing the reasons for litter box avoidance and addressing the cause will help you find a solution to the problem. With understanding, patience, and persistence, most such problems can be overcome. The top six reasons and solutions are:
1. Dirty Litter Box
A common reason for litter box avoidance is the cat's natural cleanliness. If you think the box smells bad, just imagine how it smells to your cat, since she has 200 million odor-sensitive cells in her nose compared to your 5 million. If she is turning up her nose at the box and eliminating elsewhere, it could be that it's not clean enough and offends her sensitive olfactory apparatus. In the wild, there's a good reason for such fastidiousness. Predators locate prey by scent. This is one good reason why cats are so careful about covering their waste – to keep bigger predators from locating them. A dirty litter box can make your cat feel vulnerable.
Clean the box often. Scoop out the soiled litter and solid wastes daily or twice a day, and change the litter and scrub the box with warm, soapy water weekly if you are using regular clay litter. Don't use harsh cleaners, such as bleach, to clean the box; they may offend your cat's delicate sense of smell further and add to the problem.
Some cats are simply fussier than others, so a weekly scrubbing might not be enough. If so, you might try a clumping litter. With clumping litters, the litter needs changing less frequently, and still remains relatively odor free. By scooping out the clumps and solid wastes once or twice a day, depending upon the number of cats you have, you can make all but the most sensitive cats happy. Ultimately, you and your cat will have to reach an agreement on the cleaning frequency.
Location is also vital. If your cat doesn't like the litter box's location, she may not use it. For example, if you place the litter box too close to her food and water dishes, she may avoid the box since cats don't like to eat and eliminate in the same area. If the box isn't easily accessible – for example, down in the basement or up on the top floor – she may not be able to get there in time, or may think it's too much trouble. If she has to brave some stressor to get to the box, such as a noisy water heater, the washer and dryer, or a dominant cat's territory, she may look for a safer place to eliminate. Cats like quiet, safe, private places to do what they have to do. Follow your cat and observe what's going on.
If location is the problem, move the litter box to an area that allows the cat privacy but is accessible and convenient for cleaning. Some people prefer keeping the box in the bathroom, but in a multi-cat household that can get crowded. Consider using a closet in a spare bedroom or a well-ventilated porch with easy access. Some owners locate litter boxes in a rarely frequented second bathroom or even in the bathtub. Try several locations until you find one she will use consistently.
3. Litter Changes
If a change in litter box behavior occurs after you've switched the type or brand of litter, try changing back. Your cat may not like the new litter. Cats are individuals and what appeals to one cat may not appeal to another. Some are highly perfumed to mask odors from human noses, but perfumes are offensive to some cats; other litters just don't have the right feel. Cats evolved from desert animals and a litter with the texture of sand is usually well accepted.
Experiment with several types to see what he likes best. Buy a small box or bag of each – test clumping and non-clumping clay (try the unscented versions), recycled paper, wood byproducts, plant-based material – the varieties are practically endless. Fill several boxes with different kinds, and see which one your cat prefers. With all these choices you are bound to find one that suits. Choosing a litter should be a team effort. If you find yourself needing to switch litters, try changing the litter gradually. Slowly add more of the new litter into the old to increase the chances of your cat accepting the switch.
If you are bringing a formerly outdoor cat indoors, and he is not using the litter box, it could be that the litter is not what he's used to. Try filling the box with clean dirt or sand – whatever he's been using in the yard. After he's using the box consistently, very gradually, over the next two or three weeks, mix the dirt with increasing amounts of the litter you want him to use.
4. Box Issues
The size, shape, and depth of the litter box can also affect your cat's behavior. She may reject the box if, for some reason, she doesn't like it. Hooded litter boxes are popular with some cats, but most don't like the confining nature of them and feel trapped when using such a box – a particular problem in multicat households with dominance disputes. Large or overweight cats may find the opening to a covered box too small, or may not have enough room to maneuver inside such a box, and longhaired cats may have trouble keeping their fur clean.
Older cats, or cats with health problems, such as arthritis, may have trouble stepping into boxes with high sides, or into boxes with smaller openings. If cats have any health problem that makes movement difficult, provide a sturdy ramp in front of the box, and a step down inside, if needed.
Some cats dislike litter box liners. Remove the liner if you notice your cat pulling it up or leaving claw marks in the plastic.
Providing several boxes of different sizes and types may help resolve the litter box problem.