Litter Box Issues

Here are the Top Five Tips to ensure positive litter box habits.

  1. The rule is one litter box per cat, plus one. The litter box is where cats leave their scent marker as territorial creatures, so the box provides a sense of comfort and belonging.
  2. Keep the litter box in a quiet, low traffic area, away from doors and make sure that it is easily accessible. Ensure it is away from food and water dishes to avoid contamination. Even the perception of contamination can put off some cats.
  3. Use an uncovered litter box to start with and make sure that it is the appropriate size. As your kitten or cat grows, they may need or prefer more space.
  4. Always use unscented litter as cats are sensitive to scents and perfumes. Do not use clumping litter for young kittens as it can stick to their fur and they may ingest it. Wait until four months of age before introducing clumping litter to your kitten.
  5. Scoop your box daily (more frequently for young kittens to teach them good habits). Wash the litter box with warm soapy once a month, replacing all the litter.

Inappropriate Elimination: Going Outside the Box

Cats are clean and fastidious creatures. They prefer to use a box where they can cover their eliminations, so if they stop using the box, it’s time to go through this list.

  1. Medical issues: if inappropriate elimination is a change in normal behaviour for your cat, see the vet immediately to rule out any medical issues.
    • Monitor for any signs of diarrhea, constipation, straining to urinate or excessive urination. These can also include ‘crying’ or other vocal/obvious signs of discomfort. Running away from the box or eliminating just outside the box, can be signs that your cat needs a check-up.
  2. Cleanliness: the most common reason a cat does not use a litter box is cleanliness. A litter box should be scooped once a day generally, and more frequently for kittens.
  3. Wrong location: make sure that the box is in a quiet, low traffic area, away from its food and any heavy scents. If the cat or kitten is eliminating in a specific spot, move the box to that location.
  4. Too much, or not enough, litter in the box: kittens in particular need to be able to scratch the bottom without going through layers of litter, but they still need to be able to comfortably cover their elimination. The amount of litter will depend on the size and need of the cat.
  5. Scents and perfumes: the lingering scent from the use of deodorizers, cleaners, or scented litter can be off putting. Always use an unscented litter and clean the litter box with mild soap.
  6. Type of litter: some cats and kittens are sensitive to or have a preference for different textures. For example, long-haired cats (with “toe tufts” of fur) are extra sensitive on their paws.
    • Try a separate box with a new type/texture of litter. With a second box, transition to the new type of litter over the course of a week by slowly adding the new type of litter to the old type.
  7. Size or type of box: some larger cats need and prefer more space so ensure you have an appropriate-sized box as your kitten or cat grows. Some cats feel trapped in covered boxes; if you have a covered box, try removing the lid.
  8. Anxiety or stress: change is often a source of anxiety for cats, so make note if there have been changes like new people moving in (or out), new animals in the home, if you have moved to a new home that is unfamiliar, or other changes to the cat’s normal routine.
  9. Territorial behaviour: if you are reusing a litter box, make sure that it has been thoroughly cleaned with a water/bleach solution. Make sure there is at least one box per cat; add an additional box to see if that eliminates the problem (for example, some cats prefer to urinate in one box and defecate in a second box since they have a natural drive to do these in separate places).