The Social Cat: Litterbox Forum

Find out why cats abandon their litterbox, and how you can better understand this feline behavior.

By Karen L. Overall, MA, VMD, Ph.D

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CatLitterbox rejection is a life-threatening problem. The most common reason why owners euthanize, relinquish or abandon their cats is failure to use the litterbox. It's ironic that cats often pay the ultimate price because people do not understand their behavior.

Cats actually learn to relieve themselves in certain areas and substances, (be it sand, dirt, clay or wood chips) as long as it is clean. Including an older cat, preferably a female cat, in the household allows young cats to easily learn what's done where.

Cats have an incredible sense of smell, and the litterbox you think is clean may be revolting to them. If you have ever lived with someone who is messier than you are, you can understand the problem.

Try following these general guidelines:

1. Get one more litterbox than you have cats. This allows a fussy cat to defecate in one box and urinate in another. Because cats naturally use their waste to communicate in different ways and excrete at different times, two boxes can better meet fussy cats' needs.

2. Scoop the litter two to three times daily. Dump the litter and wash the box at least once a week. If the box is scratched, throw it out; old litter and boxes that look clean to you can stink to the cat.

3. Provide appropriate-size litterboxes. The box needs enough depth for your cat to dig, with sides that are low enough for even your tiny, young or arthritic cat to step over. Select a box that measures at least 1 1/2 times the length of your cat.

4. Find a litter that your cat likes and use it. Cats dig where they like; if your cat digs into your bathmat but not in its litter, look for a litter that feels similar to the bathmat. Your cat will let you know if it approves.

5. Avoid frequently changing the types of litter used.

6. Ventilate covered litterboxes and clean them daily. Think of a public toilet without fans or windows to understand your cat's perspective

7. Keep cat food away from the litter and put the litterbox in a place where the cat is comfy and likely to be undisturbed.

8. Restrict the cat to a smaller space, like a bathroom, and provide plenty of attention until it uses the box regularly.

9. Finally, use a good stain and odor eliminator on the inappropriately soiled areas. Use a product that both enzymatically breaks down the urine and binds its compounds so that they are too heavy for the cat to inhale. First, rinse with club soda. Then blot. Repeat as many times as you can. Then use the stain and odor eliminator.

If you address toileting issues when they first arise and do not assume that (a) the cat will catch on by itself, (b) the cat is just being spiteful or (c) that the cat isn't "trainable" the trifecta of incorrect myths you'll be on your way to meeting your cat's needs and communicating well with it. And communication is really what urine and feces are all about in a cat's world. 

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Reader Comments

Pam    Gilbert, AZ

2/15/2014 3:09:42 PM

I would also like to add, that many cats love to roll around in a sunny spot inside or outside, it also makes them happy.

Pam    Gilbert, AZ

2/15/2014 2:36:55 PM

This is what I have found that works in my 25 yrs of feline experience... ( In the case that your cats have no found medical issues ) Cats that are allowed outside & that are kept inside during the cold or extremely hot months, still need things to keep them happy while they are kept indoors. I have always had a Cat Tower placed with a window view to the outdoors & set-up bird feeders so they have nature to occupy them indoors as well as favorite cat toys. The same toys get boring after awhile as they do for kids so you will want to keep a box for them so you can trade them out every so often. Ankle socks with catnip in them are also great for your cat, mine love them, it's like a comfort for them, & they will need them replaced every few months as well. Also a fairly consistent home routine helps in a cats behavior. Low music when your not home or the natural sound of outdoors is good too. To start a cat whom is not using the litter box correctly you will want to invest in the comfort zone/ Feliway product as you add these other things to help get your cat happy with their surroundings in your home. I've had many behavioral issues with just one cat & she is just tough but I have been able to fix pretty much each problem. She is much older now so who knows what's next. For those of you dealing with the urine just outside the litter box. ( i have 2 cats ) I have always had an open larger cardboard box to place my litter boxes in but I line them real good with shelf liner. If my cats had an issue, they would just make their mess in there, it rarely happened. I always clean the boxes more than twice a day & sanitize them well before I replace the litter. I also would suggest a white shower curtain liner under the boxes if your cat is peeing outside it's box, at least this would protect your carpet. I have been through a lot with my one cat, she gets stressed out when I'm stressed out which has been unfortunate in my past. I hope this information helps, I love cats!

ROBERT    Marble hill, MO

2/9/2014 11:02:36 PM

Need some help here got three cats and have a spotting problem, I have used FELIWAY no luck I
don't know if it's a vet problem they are used to going out on the sunporch and it's been to cold is there anything stronger than FELIWAY. I love THEM and I'm pretty sure they are doing it out of meanness!!! You can e-mail me back!!!!

nancy    bemus point, NY

3/21/2011 2:01:56 PM

my cat bootsie stoped using her litter box I don't know why I have to keep putting papers down for her she is 14 years old what should i do please help me

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