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Help! My Kitty Stopped Using the Litter Box

Help! My Kitty Stopped Using the Litter Box

Elimination outside of the litter box is one of the most common behavioral issues that we hear about from our customers with cats. There are a number of reasons a cat may stop using his/her litter box and many tricks to help get them back into the right habits.

The first thing you should always do when you see a sudden change in any pet’s behavior is consult with your veterinarian. There are many medical issues which may cause a cat to stop using the litter box, including, but not limited to, urinary tract infections, crystals in urine, sludge in the bladder, constipation or diarrhea, parasites, and more. Its important that you get your cat checked out by the vet to rule out these conditions and treat them if necessary before moving on to other tactics.

Here are some common reasons a cat may start choosing to potty inappropriately:

  • Cleanliness. A very common reason we see cats stop using their litter box is due to a lack of frequent cleanings. Cats are clean animals by nature and they do not want to use a litter box that contains a great deal of waste. Some cats will refuse to reuse a litter box even one time if it isn’t scooped after use. Most cats are not quite that picky, but you should scoop your kitty’s litter box at least once per day. You should also change the litter regularly, even clumping litter, and thoroughly wash the box itself with mild detergent. Think about how excited you are to use a dirty public restroom, that’s probably how your cat feels if you don’t keep up with litter box maintenance.

    In addition to the litter box itself, if your cat urinates or defecates elsewhere in your home its important that you clean up thoroughly with an appropriate enzyme cleaner, such as Nature’s Miracle or Simple Solution, to fully eliminate the odor so your cat does not continue to mark that area. You should clean an area with roughly a three foot radius beyond the actual accident because odor molecules can travel far and even tiny bits of waste remaining on a surface can create issues.
  • Not enough boxes. You should have at least one litter box per cat in your home, and many veterinarians recommend that you have an extra on top of that. This can relate to the issue of cleanliness, but it also is due to the fact that cats like to have privacy to eliminate and choose one area over another. You increase your odds of successful litter box habits if you give your kitty some options.
  • Declawing.Many cats who have been declawed experience pain in their feet from the procedure. This can set in immediately or later in life as their muscles and joints deteriorate with age. Walking in litter can be particularly painful to a declawed cat and this can cause them to stop using their litter box. In this case the best thing to do is to try a softer litter. sWheat Scoop or Yesterday’s News can be good options to try. Sometimes an ultra-fine clumping litter can work. If those don’t solve the issue you may need to move to a softer substrate such as aspen shavings or paper.
  • The litter or the box itself is an issue. Sometimes when you get a new litter box or try a new type of litter your kitty may not like it. Cats often find strongly scented litters to be aversive. If you need to change litters we recommend you do so slowly and mix the new litter in with the old at first. A litter box may be too small; many are quite small for the size of today’s average house cat. Try a bigger box, and if your litter box has a hood consider removing it. Cats like to know they have options for escape when they are using the litter box, and this is especially true in multi-cat homes where a hooded box may make a cat feel prone to ambush.
  • Placement of the litter box. Sometimes even an open box can feel too restrictive to a cat if it’s in a tight space such as the corner of a bathroom. Try moving it, and as noted above, give your cat more than one option for location.
  • The cat is stressed due to a change in its environment. Stress can cause kitties to lose their healthy litter box habits. Changes such as a move, bringing home a new pet, a new cat outside in the neighborhood, or changes to your schedule can throw a cat off kilter and cause them to eliminate outside the litter box.

    First and foremost, please remember your cat is not eliminating in the wrong places to get back at you or make you angry. Furthermore, attempting to a punish a cat for litter box mistakes is ineffective and will often make them worse by compounding their stress. There are some things you can do to lessen you cats stress in times of transition. Feliway diffusers are a product that contains pheromone mimicking compounds and have been clinically proven to help reduce stress in cats. We carry these as well as herbal supplements such as Rescue Remedy and Good Cat which can help. Always check with your vet before adding supplements to your cat’s regimen.

We sell a special litter called Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract which has helped many of our customers solve litter box woes. This litter contains an herb which attracts cats to the box and its particle size and texture are designed with finicky cats in mind. We often have our customers try this as a solution if they have ruled out obvious health and cleanliness issues.

While these suggestions are not comprehensive, if you have tried all of these tactics to help your cat with the litter box with no improvement, it may be time to consult a feline behaviorist in your area for more help. Work with your vet to help you find someone reputable who can help you to help your kitty improve his or her behavior.

We have a wide array of traditional and alternative litters, litter boxes in a variety of types and sizes, and supplements to help you solve your litter box challenges. Come on in and chat with us, we’re happy to help!

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