Litter Box Problems

by Dr. Karyn L. Collier 

Karyn L. Collier, D.V.M. can be reached at Swedesboro Animal Hospital, Box 284-A Kings Highway, Swedesboro, NJ 08085 . 856-467-0004.

Did you know? 

Urinating outside of the littler box (inappropriate elimination) is the most common complaint of cat guardians and one of the major reasons for cats being surrendered. Inappropriate elimination also includes defecating outside of the litter box.

When you find that your cat has been urinating outside of the litter box, some detective work needs to be done. Is the cat squatting to urinate or is s/he spraying? Spraying is the act of backing up to an upright surface and directing a stream of urine toward that surface. Another question to ask is whether or not the cat is defecating outside the box as well.

Some potential causes of inappropriate elimination can be medical problems (e.g. urinary tract infection), litter box location aversion, surface or location preferences, and anxiety or marking behavior. If your cat starts eliminating outside the litter box, have him or her examined by your veterinarian to rule out a medical problem. Take a urine sample if possible and stool sample to be tested at your visit.

Once a medical problem has been ruled out, we turn our attention to the litter box. Keep the litter cleaned regularly. Find a litter that your cat finds appealing and stick with it. A litter that has more perfumes, dust or a different texture than your cat likes may cause him to seek other places for elimination. Sandy clumping litter is easier to keep clean and is often preferred by cats over clay litter. Make the litter box as appealing as possible. Allow privacy, but easy access. Some cats like hoods or covers; others do not. In multicat households, often times providing enough litter boxes can fix the problem. The number of litter boxes should be equal to or one more than the number of cats in the home. If you have four cats and only one litter box, you cannot avoid having a dirty litter box at some point in the day. One of those cats may then seek an inappropriate place to eliminate.

After we have made the litter box as appealing as possible, and your cat is still wreaking havoc on an area of the house, confinement and retraining to the litter box may be necessary. There are also behavior modifying medications available for use in certain cases. Consult your veterinarian at the first sign that your cat is having accidents. Together you can devise a plan that will eliminate your elimination problem.