By: Natalia Macrynikola
Countless cat owners find themselves challenged by their pets’ sudden mishaps. Perhaps even your own feline falls into that bathroom hit-or-miss group. Despite your feline’s mysterious nature, there are ways to discover why kitty is giving you grief, as well as steps you can take to solve common litter box problems.
Several owners are concerned because their feline friend urinates all over expensive rugs and precious furniture. We asked animal behaviourist Suzanne Hetts, of Animal Behaviour Associates Inc. in Littleton, Colo., to shed some light on the confusion.
“Medical problems must always be ruled out first,” says Hetts, who explains that health issues are the most common causes for changes in elimination habits.
If your cat has a painful medical condition, such as a urinary tract infection, it may associate the litter box with pain. Other conditions, such as diabetes, can increase urination. Because cats don’t always act sick when they are feeling unwell, litter box avoidance may be your best sign of a health concern. Therefore, a good first step is to take your pet to your local veterinarian.
Cats are finicky about many things, including litter. Research shows that most cats enjoy the soft texture of fine-grained litter and hesitate to go near scented litter. The answer to your pet’s elimination problem could therefore be as simple as trying out various types of litter. Buying the cheapest litter may help your wallet, but if Fluffy doesn’t like it, it won’t think twice before going all over the couch instead. Spread baking soda underneath the litter to help absorb odours without repelling your cat.
Baking soda and unscented litter in the box may work temporarily, but if the box isn't consistently cleaned, the cat won’t use it. Cleaning doesn’t take a long time. Scoop it clean daily and you won’t have to change the actual litter for a couple of weeks. At least once a month, scrub the box with soap and water, avoiding strong-smelling chemicals or cleaning products. Then thoroughly dry the box with a few paper towels before refilling. Simply adding more litter does not equate to less-frequent cleaning. In fact, most cats avoid litter more than 5 centimetres deep.
A new litter box location, a recent move to a different home or any kind of change in your cat’s surroundings may cause your pet to shy away from its litter box. To avoid such problems, gently reteach your cat where to go. Don’t add the unnecessary stress of punishment. Instead, encourage adjustment by gently picking up your cat and putting it in its litter box when you catch it eliminating at the wrong place.
Cats are territorial animals that are sometimes driven to exclude other cats, and even humans, from their turf. To communicate their boundaries to trespassers, they sometimes leave behind an odorous mark. Providing a private toilet area for your cat is one way to solve this problem. For multi-cat households, leave several feet between each cat’s box if possible. That will prevent one cat from ambushing another while the latter is feeling vulnerable and trying to go.
Another possible solution is neutering/spaying. Research shows that 90 per cent of male cats that sprayed urine stopped after being neutered. If your problem cat is male, neutering may be successful, since intact males are usually the marking culprits.
When All Else Fails...
The most effective solutions are the ones based on clues your cat gives you about the issue. For example, if your cat starts peeing next to the litter box instead of inside, it may not like the type of litter. Or if your pet stops using a box located next to a window, it may have felt threatened by a passing stray it saw while using the litter box one day.
Although cats cannot be litter-trained as dogs can be house-trained, “if you build it, they will come,” encourages Hetts. “Meaning, if you provide a cat-friendly litter box that meets the feline’s behavioural needs, she will use it.”
Natalia Macrynikola is a group editor at Studio One Networks, which publishes The Daily Cat.