The Cat’s Litter Box

cat litterboxSome of you know this scenario all too well. You walk into a room… you stop… you sniff…. there is cat pee in here somewhere … in a room with no litter box. You find yourself down on your hands and knees smelling the floor trying to find the spot where this atrocity has taken place, all the while cursing your cat and wondering why?

nancychairFirst of all, bring your cat in to either our Chaska or Chanhassen clinic locations. He or she might be ill – suffering from a bladder infection, stones, or cystitis. But if he gets the “all clear”, you’re left with the frustrating problem of behavior. Often this can mean there’s something about the litter box that your cat doesn’t like.

1. Cleanliness. This is  the #1 problem. Everyone likes a clean toilet. Remember the last time you walked into a public restroom where someone hadn’t flushed? Did you flush? Or did you pick another stall? I bet you didn’t use it as-is! Some cats are more forgiving than others in this department, but as a general rule I recommend scooping boxes daily and cleaning them out entirely once a week. If you have a particularly finicky cat I’d scoop twice daily.

Here’s the set up I like to make cleaning more convenient. I keep an empty bucket next to the litter box to scoop the daily waste into it. Then once a week I can remove that bag.

litterbox22. The box itself. Covered boxes are nice for humans – you don’t have to look at the poop, the smell doesn’t escape as much, litter stays in, the dogs can’t get in as easily. But imagine sticking your head in there (right now, before you’ve cleaned it). Did you cringe a little? Not the restroom experience you want, is it? Not what your cat wants either. Size is also important – give your cat room to turn around, to scratch/dig a little, to find the right spot without their butt hanging over the edge. Most cat boxes at the pet stores are tiny. I prefer storage boxes. You can either get ones for under the bed with low sides. Or ones with higher sides (helps keep the litter in) and cut a door for easier access. I like clear ones so they can see who’s coming (nice if you have multiple pets).

litterbox13. Location. This is always a point of contention. Everyone likes their litter boxes in the basement. Litter boxes are gross, no one wants litter and poop anywhere else in the house. But if your cat is peeing outside of the box, you’re gonna have to get over that (which is worse: 1 litter box upstairs, or pee all over your house?). The general rule is you should have as many litter boxes as you have cats, plus 1. So, 1 cat needs 2 boxes, 2 cats = 3 boxes, etc. The catch here is that those boxes can’t be in the same place. 2 boxes next to each other in the basement doesn’t count. You can have one in the basement, but the other needs to be upstairs. Try to put these boxes in places that are quiet (not next to a noisy appliance that might startle them why they’re trying to do their business), and where they can’t get cornered by other pets (esp if you have cats who are fighting or a dog who is bully, etc).

A lot of people struggle finding a location for a open topped litter box when you also have dogs in the house (who will happily help clean those boxes!). Me too!! the best solution I have come with for this so far is a baby gate, or a ” kitty door” to the room to keep big dogs from accessing the room with the box. It’s not convenient, it’s not ideal, it doesn’t always work for small dogs. I welcome more suggestions.

babygate4. Litter. On rare occasion a litter box aversion will start because a well meaning human switched a cat’s brand of litter. If that’s the case – switch it back! If not, it still doesn’t hurt to evaluate your litter choice. Most cats seem to do well on your basic clay clumping litter, they like it’s fine texture, and it’s easy to scoop and keep clean. Make sure it’s non-scented.

So those are some things to tackle if you’re having trouble getting your cat to use the litter box consistently. If your still having trouble, the problem may be more anxiety related, or territorial, in which case other interventions may be needed ( please give us a call). Another great resource for litter box issues as well as all sorts of cat behavior questions is the book “Starting From Scratch” by Pam Johnson Bennet (available in our clinic!)


-Dr. Erika

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