Kitty Litter Blues
How to Solve Cat Litterbox Problems
Anyone who has ever had the displeasure of litter box lapses in their home has probably asked the question "WHY!". "Why would my cat do such a disgusting thing in my home!" For the beginnings of an answer to this question, let's go back to how we train our cats to use the litter box.
Think about it, how did you train your cat to use a litter box? If you are like most people, you probably put the cat in or near the litter box a few times and then counted on the cat's good sense to use the box later. Amazingly enough this method often works (try THAT with a dog), and the reason it works is because what we are counting on is not the cat's good sense but rather the cat's preference for a particular litter box material. Problems arise when your cat doesn't like or develops an aversion to the litter box that you have provided. Let's be fair here. There is absolutely no reason to expect every cat to like the same material, or even for one cat to prefer the same material over an entire life span.
Ok, first lesson learned: You did not train your cat to use a litter box. At best, you offered the cat something recognizable as litter material. If your cat is having litter box problems then you will need to figure out how to make the litter box appealing to the cat. Here are a few options:
1) Pain or illness can cause a cat to stop using the litter box. Cats are very adept at hiding illness, so if your cat is having litter box problems then the first thing you need to do is take the cat to a vet for a medical exam.
2) If you aren't scooping the waste out of the litter every day then you need to start and start now.
3) Perfumes or other odors can drive your cat away from the litter box. Scented litters are unacceptable to many cats, and the leftover scent from a cleaning product could also be a problem. Get rid of the perfumes, and scrub those cleaners away before giving the box back to the cat. Remember that cats have an acute sense of smell.
4) Your cat may feel vulnerable when in the litter box. Is it in a noisy location (such as next to the washing machine)? Is it secure from little marauders like dogs and children, or even other cats? If the box is not semi-private, move it to a better location.
5) Remember those preferences that we talked about earlier. You may need to offer several different types of litter before finding the right one. Strange but true, some cats will not use the same box for urine and feces, in which case you'll have to provide two boxes. The type of box could also be a problem. If the box has a cover, try removing it.
6) Anxiety can lead to litter box lapses. Did some event scare your cat? This could be anything from a new couch to a new cat or even a new person in the house. If you suspect anxiety, confine the cat to a safe and secure place (maybe a bed room) until the anxiety has passed. Cats seem to hang on to their emotions, so the anxiety could last much longer than the actual event. No need to rush, leave that safe haven available to the cat for as long as possible.
7) If you have multiple cats, chances are you'll need multiple boxes, maybe even with different materials in them.
There is one more important distinction that you'll need to make. Is the cat refusing to use the litter box, or is the cat spraying? Spraying is a territorial behavior and has nothing to do with disliking the box. For more information on litter box problems or spraying, consult with a trained behaviorist.