Cats make wonderful companions. We tend to see these relationships between owners and cats start to deteriorate if the cat begins having accidents outside of the litter box. Anytime you notice your cat going to the bathroom outside of the litterbox the first step should be to have them seen by your veterinarian. There are several medical reasons that could be the cause such as cystitis, urinary tract infections or bladder stones. These conditions can easily be treated by your veterinarian and solve the urinary indiscretion. If all medical conditions have been ruled out as the underlying cause then it is typically considered a behavior problem. Going outside the box is often the most disappointing and frustrating complaint amongst cat owners.  Now that you know you are not alone keep reading as we highlight several ways to encourage successful litterbox habits right from the beginning and set our feline friends up for success. Note, if your cat (especially male) shows urinary symptoms and then is unable to pass urine suddenly, this is a medical emergency and should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

1) Cats prefer having more than one choice when using the litterbox. This is especially true in multiple cat households. The rule of thumb is to have one extra litterbox than the number of cats in your home. For example, if you have three cats you should have a total of four litterboxes. It is best if these litterboxes are spread out throughout the home. If you have multiple litterboxes side by side this equals one giant litterbox to a cat. Having options gives them freedom to choose one that is nearby, cleaned to their liking and one with privacy from other pets and people. Multiple options can help in households that have any sort of cat to cat aggression, even if subtle. If one cat guards the litterbox (or room the litterbox is in) then this can make the fearful cat move to a different location. One cat can only protect one box/room at a time therefore having many options can help reduce these occurrences.

2) Be sure to get in the habit of cleaning litterboxes routinely. Cleaning litterboxes once to twice a day and completely changing the litter frequently can help encourage pets to stay inside the litterbox. Just like us they desire a clean space.

3) Often time’s owners have a habit of sticking litterboxes in a dark, scary, lonely corner near loud appliances. While boxes need to be out of high traffic areas they also do not like to be cornered. Washers, dryers, hot water tanks can rattle while running and make noises which can frighten a cat and therefore the cat will forever avoid using that litterbox. Strategically place boxes in wiser areas of the house and away from these appliances.  It is important to remember, senior cats can have a hard time climbing stairs multiple times a day to use the bathroom. Therefore giving options on every level of the house is encouraged. Placing one nearby where pets spend the majority of their time is a great idea.

4) There are many varieties of litter on the market. Not all cats prefer the same type of litter. We encourage owners to pick one that does not have a strong deodorizer. Sometimes owners need to try a few different types to find the one that their cat prefers. Be cognizant of the depth of litter in the box. Some cats are deep diggers and some are shallow. In a multiple cat household we’d recommend to offer both options. Once you find a litter your feline friends love, stick with it, abruptly changing to a new litter can discourage pets from using the box.

5)  There are many types of litterboxes available. Often times we see owners who bought small boxes for their kitten and never upgraded and therefore the cat does not even fit inside the box to use the bathroom appropriately. A rule of thumb is the box should be at least one and a half times the length of the cat’s body. We recommend no hooded boxes. Do not use plastic liners in litter boxes, cats can catch their nails on them when digging and be deterred from using the box again. Do not forget to consider the height of the litterbox. Tiny kittens or geriatric patients may struggle with high sides. If patients are too small or too arthritic to jump in and out of the box then they may choose an easier location. If you need a larger option or an option with lower sides consider looking into different types of storage containers that meet your cat’s needs. Avoid boxes that automatically clean themselves, many cats get startled by the sound and the movement, especially if they are not fully away from the box when it cleans itself and therefore will be too fearful to visit the box again in the future.

6) Any stress, anxiety or changes in the household can lead to pets urinating or defecating outside of the box. Cats are creatures of habit and if they are unhappy due to changes then they may begin having accidents outside of the box. These changes may include moving to a new home, new family members, a stray cat hanging around outside, construction work inside or outside the house. There are many ways we can help reduce pets anxiety during stressful situations so be sure to contact your veterinarian for guidance. Using Feliway sprays, collars or diffusers can help pets cope with stressful situations and reduce anxiety.

Lastly, be sure that accidents are being cleaned correctly. It is encouraged to use an enzymatic cleaner which can discourage pets from revisiting the same location. Making that area less desirable is a great idea. For example, move a small fan on top of the area to discourage the cat from approaching the same spot. At the end of the day some cats just prefer a certain location and in this instance you may just need to put a litterbox in that spot. It may not look appealing or be convenient but sometimes it is better than having to replace flooring.  Eventually, you may be able to slowly move that litterbox to a more desirable location. Still having litterbox troubles? Then please contact your veterinarian for help!

Amanda Siciliano

Stow Kent Animal Hospital Inc.