One of the most prevalent behavioral reasons cats are surrendered to shelters is a cessation of litter box use. This is a pity because the majority of litter box problems are straightforward to troubleshoot and resolve. When dealing with a behavior problem in a cat, the best line of action is to first inquire as to why the cat is going outside of the litter box. Are they in any discomfort? Is there something they're terrified of? Is another cat making fun of them?
Cats, as a reminder, do not act out of rage or spite. There is always a reason for your cat to go outside the litter box, whether medical or behavioral. It is our responsibility as cat parents to figure out what that reason is and make our cat feel more at ease.
Why Do Cats Have Litter Box Problems?
The majority of the time, your cat isn't utilizing its litter box for a behavioral purpose; it's either upset or stressed about something. However, there are medical reasons why it may be hesitant or unable to use its litter box, so take your cat to the doctor as soon as you observe changes in box activity.
- Diabetes and kidney disease increase the volume of urine generated, and an affected cat may not be able to reach the litter box in time.
- An arthritic cat may struggle with steps or climbing into a high-sided litter box.
- Lower urinary tract problems that produce painful urination may hinder a cat from successfully utilizing the litter box.
- Elimination-related disorders that are unpleasant for the cat, such as constipation or diarrhea, may cause it to avoid its litter box.
- Painful paws that make it difficult to walk on litter can be a problem.
- Dementia in senior cats might cause them to forget where they put their litter box or even how to use it properly if they find it. If very old cats acquire cognitive impairment, which is similar to feline Alzheimer's, they may forget their training.
What steps can we take to resolve problems?
Step 1: Determine the cat's identity.
Who is the blame if you have numerous cats? A sorry expression on your cat's face or a gut feeling aren't enough to assign responsibility. Set up a nanny cam or trail cam to catch them in the act, or divide your cats into various rooms or portions of the house to rule out one.
If you separate your cats and they both return to using the litter box, it could be due to stress from inter-cat conflicts. Do your felines get along? Is one of them bullying the other? Do you have a single litter box for two cats? To assist both cats get along, you may need to add more litter boxes and consult with your veterinarian.
Step 2: Take the cat to the veterinarian.
Make an appointment with your veterinarian before concluding that peeing outside the box is a behavioral issue. It is frequently caused by a severe urinary tract infection, crystals in the urine, or bladder stones. Because your cat can't tell you when anything hurts, the only way for them to communicate is to cease using the litter box. The cat may also begin to link the litter box with pain and seek out a location in the house where it is not painful to relieve itself.
Step 3: Examine your litter box
After you've checked out any medical causes, you should check to see if you have a litter box that is appropriate for your cat and the number of cats in your home. To begin, your cat may simply dislike the litter box! You should take a peek at:
- What happened to the litter box?
You may want to keep the litter box hidden in a dark corner of your basement, but your cat does not. It should not be in a high traffic area of your home, but it should be easily located and accessible. Imagine living in a house with your bedroom on the top floor and your single bathroom in the basement!
- What exactly is in the box?
Cats, in general, prefer unscented, clumping clay litter. Look for a litter that is gentle on their paws, especially if you have an elderly or declawed cat. If you're using pellets or crystals, try a different brand or type. There are litters and additives that have aromas that naturally entice cats to the litter box that are worth a try, but placing scented litter or air fresheners around the box can repel your cat.
- How big is the box?
Many litter boxes available at pet retailers are simply too small for your cat. Your cat should be able to walk in a circle inside the box with ease. A good rule of thumb is to find a box that is 1.5 times the length of your cat. If your cat is peeing or pooping just next to or over the box, the size of the box is most likely the issue. You can create your own litter boxes out of plastic storage totes or go to the pet store and hunt for the largest one available.
- Is the box sufficiently cleaned?
It should go without saying, but make sure your cat's litter box is clean! If you only scoop the box once or twice a week, increase your frequency to every day or even twice a day. Replace the litter and clean the box with soap and water on a regular basis. Cats prefer their bathrooms to be spotless!
- Is there enough litter for my cat?
One litter box is never enough, believe it or not! You should have one litter box for each cat in your home, plus one more. This means that if you have two cats, you'll need at least three litter boxes. They should be placed in different rooms and floors of your home so that they are easy to find no matter where your cat is.
Because many cats prefer to pee in one litter box and poop in another, if you just have one litter box, they may prefer to do one or the other on the floor instead.
- Is the litter box covered or exposed?
Cats are not caved dwellers, and they dislike pooping in small, enclosed environments. A covered box is the human counterpart of a port-a-potty. They are nearly usually too little and can cause issues if you have another bully cat in the house. A cat is at its most vulnerable when it is in the litter box. A covered box with only one escape locks the cat inside, making it feel insecure and uneasy.
Step 4: Assess the level of fear and stress in your home.
What if you’ve tried all of the simple options listed above and nothing works? It's time to investigate the environmental factors that may be causing your cat to feel uneasy or fearful. Among the most common are:
- As previously stated, inter-cat difficulties can be a cause. The litter box is viewed as a resource or possession by the cat, and cats become agitated when they are forced to share items. This may result in one of the cats obstructing the other cat's access to the box. Increasing the quantity of resources in your home can aid in the resolution of the problem. Increase the number of litter boxes, but also the number of food bowls, cat trees, resting spots, and toys to reduce the number of things your cats share.
- A new baby or pet, moving to a new place, vacation travel, or a different work schedule can all be stressful for your cat, who lives on schedule and habit. Cats may stop using the litter box because they are concerned about the change if anything is different and they are unsure how to react to it.
- Outside the home, feral and outdoor cats are typically the culprit. Cats are territorial creatures, and they may feel the need to scent mark your home to alert the new cat that it is theirs.
Step 5: Avoid punishing your pet.
Remember that cats do not urinate outside the litter box out of spite, retribution, wrath, or dislike for you. Fear and worry cause cats to stop using the litter box. Never penalize your cat; instead, address the underlying issue and find a solution. Punishment merely adds to the worry and tension, exacerbating the problem.
If you've discovered that your cat's tension is being caused by an environmental factor, you might want to consider purchasing pheromone spray, plug-ins, or collars to assist in soothe your cat. Your veterinarian may also prescribe behavioral drugs if your cat is suffering from extreme stress and anxiety. If your home is simply too stressful for your cat owing to other pets, children, or your lifestyle, rehoming should be a last resort.
Peeing outside the box is a way for your cat to communicate with you when anything is wrong. It's up to you to figure out what.