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Normally kittens are relatively easy to “potty train”. However, if litter box issues arise it is best to address them quickly in order to minimize the possibility of an occasional “accident” outside the box from becoming a habit. In this second installment of the “Keeping Your Cat Content” blog series, we will discuss how to set your cat up for success by providing the best “cat bathroom” environment we can.

Litter boxes come in a variety of sizes and shapes, often with added details and embellishments. Most cats prefer a large uncovered box with easy access and room to move around. As a rule the litter box should be large enough for your cat to stand up and turn around in. Boxes with high sides work well for cats who like to scatter litter, whereas low sides are best for kittens or elderly cats who may have issues climbing in and out. Some cats do prefer a covered litter box for the privacy aspect, but remember smells are much more concentrated in a covered box. Cats may be deterred from using a covered litter box if it is not kept clean and odors become overwhelming.  Automatic cleaning litter boxes are handy, but care should be taken to ensure they will not run when the pet is attempting to use the box. This clearly would be considered a frightening experience for even the most stoic of felines.

Litter box substrate is also something of a personal preference. Research has shown that most cats prefer fine-grained, unscented litters. Scoopable litters usually have finer grains than clay, and have the added advantage of being easy to keep clean. Many cats are put off by added fragrances used to mask the smell of urine/feces.

Just as we appreciate a clean bathroom, your cat will appreciate a clean litter box.  Litter boxes should be scooped at least once daily and washed weekly with mild dish detergent. Once you find a litter your cat likes, it is not recommended to change types or brands of litter as this may cause your cat to refuse to use the box.  Remember to fill the box with enough litter for them to scratch and bury waste- normally 2 inches deep.

Now you have the perfect box and the perfect litter. You should put it in a low traffic area that is difficult to get to, maybe even the basement, right?….WRONG! Litter boxes must be easily accessible. Consider the path the cat will take to reach the litter box. Do not locate the box in an area that requires your pet to navigate over furniture or other animals to use it. Cats do need a quiet area to use the potty, but it should be in the areas they can get to easily and are routinely near. If your home has multiple stories, a litter box must be available on each level of the home. Do not place the box next to any appliance or vent that could unexpectedly turn on, potentially startling your pet.

Do you have more than one cat? Each cat requires a place to eliminate and mark their own territory. Sharing a box may be a source of social strife between feline housemates and may lead to urine spraying or marking in unwanted areas. The Golden Rule to follow is: “one litter box per cat, plus one”.

If you are struggling with a cat who is urinating or defecating outside of the box,  a medical cause for this behavior should first be ruled out. One of the most common signs of feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is urinating outside of the box. If not addressed, untreated signs may lead to kidney infection, chronic and refractory cystitis (inflammation of the bladder lining), or complete urinary obstruction- which is a life threatening emergency!

If your Longwood Veterinary Center veterinarian determines there are no obvious health issues contributing to abnormal litter box etiquette, they will discuss behavioral or environmental causes. Changing the size, number, or type of boxes in the house, switching the type of litter, or increasing the frequency of litter box cleaning may miraculously solve your cat’s elimination problems. The use of the product, “Cat Attract” may also be helpful. “Cat Attract” is a mixture of catnip and proprietary herbs and is sprinkled directly on the litter in your cat’s box. The pleasing aroma of the herbs often encourages a cat to visit the box and begin using it as intended again.

If your cat should happen to eliminate in an inappropriate location it is very important to use an enzymatic cleaner when cleaning the mess. These products enzymatically degrade urine into molecules that do not possess the odor of urea.  The lack of obvious urine smell does little to encourage your cat to use the area to void in the future.  If these suggestions should fail, a more in depth assessment of your cat’s overall mental welfare is in order. Environmental stressors are an often overlooked but frequent cause of altered litter box habits. Anxiety, fear and stress are managed with a combination of medications, herbal supplements and behavioral modification.

One of the number one reasons cats are re-homed or given to a shelter is failure to reliably use a litter box. If your pet has issues in this area, the ordeal is frustrating for all involved.  Knowing this, we want to do everything in our power to help remedy litter box issues or better yet, prevent them in the first place. Please call if you are struggling and need more advice!

Written By: Tara Corridori, LVT