Litterbox Lessons

Has your cat stopped using the litterbox? Learn the 10 most common reasons and how you can prevent them from happening in your home.

By Peggy Scott

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CatWhen it comes to figuring out why your normally fastidious feline starts doing its business in your Boston fern or on your Berber carpeting, it's essential to think inside and outside the box the litterbox, that is. There are many reasons a cat may develop an aversion to its facilities, but spite is not among them.

"Cats don't stop using their box for no reason," says Char Bebiak, feline behaviorist and animal trainer for Ralston Purina. "It's instinctive behavior for them from the time they're 4 weeks old. It's up to you to find out what's wrong."

What's "wrong" could be physical, and it should be your first consideration if something is amiss at the box. While a medical condition may not be the most common reason for bad litterbox behavior, its potentially dangerous nature puts it at the top of our list.

1. Medical Problem
If your cat starts displaying poor litterbox habits, you should take it immediately to your veterinarian and have it checked for a urinary tract problem, says Pam Johnson-Bennett, a feline behaviorist of 20 years and author of several animal-behavior books. "It may be associating the box with the pain it feels when it eliminates."

Wayne Hunthausen, DVM, director of Animal Behavior Consultations at the Westwood Animal Hospital in Westwood, Kan., stresses that while lower urinary tract problems are more common, diabetes or renal failure can cause excess urination, resulting in a particularly wet box a cat may wish to avoid.

2. Poor Location
After ruling out health issues, ask yourself the following questions: Is the box in a high-traffic area where your cat might be disturbed during its potty break? Is the box easy to access, or does kitty have to hunt for it? "You can't expect a cat to travel two or three stories into a dark basement to find its box," says John Prange, DVM, a veterinary consultant for LitterMaid, a self-cleaning litterbox manufacturer.

Pam Johnson-Bennett follows a few simple rules with regard to box placement. "Make sure the box isn't wedged in a corner where the cat feels trapped. Don't play 'musical litterboxes' [moving it too much]. And finally, don't make it hard to find or unpleasant to use," she says.

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Reader Comments

Janet    Bethlehem, PA

11/7/2012 2:45:08 AM

good information, thank you very much

Jo    St. Lucie West, FL

12/20/2011 1:27:48 PM

My Maine Coon cat has developed a strange habit, for me that is, not for him, I have watched this very carefully. If he has to urinate and poop at the same time, he will (thank god) urinate in his litter box and defecate outside it. However if his needs are at different tim es, he will do both in the litter box.

Stephanie    San Juan, PR

12/25/2010 4:24:23 PM

I found this article very interesting. I would like some help with my cat behavior. I have two cats (mother & her 8 months kitty)during the past weeks the kitty is been urinating next to the water pot. She spilled the water on the floor and then urinates on it. Even if I move it to other place she does the same.At first it was weekly now is every day. Still she is using the litter for her other "need". I dont understand why she is now use the litter for one thing and not for other.Also she does the same on the bathtub. Please help!

Janeen    fair have, MI

2/1/2010 3:10:31 PM

I have a spayed female about 8 months old she recently started peeing on my couch, I have 4 other cats and all their litter boxes are in the same area. should I move one of the boxes to a different part of my home will that make her stop???? I don't want to get rid of her but I can't live this way.

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