Adding a cat to your family is one of life’s most enjoyable and rewarding experiences. Your new feline family member is a fun and fluffy addition to your home and will surely prove to be just as loyal as a canine companion. Unfortunately, though, cat ownership is not without its challenges. From the occasional hairball to their tendency to wake their owners up at the crack of dawn for breakfast, there are a few occasional hiccups that accompany the joys of having a cat.
One of the biggest challenges is a cat that will not or cannot use the litter box. No one enjoys discovering an unpleasant surprise on the floor. Plus, eliminating the odors left behind when a cat does not urinate or defecate in an appropriate location can be an arduous task. Fortunately, this problem is almost always fixable. As veterinarians, we often meet with pet owners who are frustrated with their cats’ poor litter box habits. While sometimes underlying medical issues are to blame, litter box aversion is often solvable by making simple changes at home. Keep reading to discover a few litter box training tips all cat parents need to know!
Start with an Appropriate Litter Box
It is instinctual for cats to bury their waste. For this reason, litter box training is usually a piece of cake. If you have a new kitten or adult cat who does not seem inclined to use a litter box, the problem could be the box itself.
A high-sided litter box may be inaccessible for a kitten due to its size. Likewise, older cats may experience difficulty climbing into these boxes due to arthritis or decreased mobility. Sometimes, making the switch to a box with low sides solves the issue. Some cats dislike covered boxes, too. If your finicky feline does not seem to have issues getting in and out of the box, try removing the cover. This simple step could make a huge difference.
Make Sure You Have Enough Boxes in the Right Locations
If you only have one litter box, it might not be enough – even if you only have one cat. Generally, the number of litter boxes you own should be equal to the number of cats in your home plus one. Location is critical, too. Cats are skittish by nature and are less likely to use litter boxes when placed in high-traffic or noisy areas. Locate the litter boxes in your home in quiet areas that are easily accessible.
Older cats may need a litter box on each level of your home. If you have a two-story house, consider a box upstairs and down.
Introduce Your Cat to the Litter Box
Though using a litter box is instinctive to cats, it is still important to show them where the box is located. Place your new cat or kitten in the box as soon as you bring them home. It is a good idea to take them to the box after meals, play sessions, and naps. If your pet has an accident on the floor, pick it up and place it in the litter box. Doing so may help show your cat where their waste is supposed to go and puts their scent in the litter.
Keep the Litter Box Clean
While you may need to place waste in the litter box to help your cat understand what the box is for, you need to scoop the waste from the litter box daily. Litter boxes need to be washed with soap and water with fresh litter added no less than weekly. In multi-cat homes, cleaning may need to happen even more frequently.
Cats are finicky creatures, and it is not unusual for them to refuse to use dirty litter boxes. Who can blame them, though? Would you want to use a filthy bathroom?
Also, keep in mind that cats usually prefer unscented clumping litter. Floral scents may smell good to us but can be offensive to cats. The more sand-like the litter, the more appealing it is to cats.
Never Punish Your Cat While They Are In or Near the Litter Box
When you are trying to litter train your cat, the last thing you want to do is create negative associations with the box. If your cat has an accident, gently pick them up and place them in the litter box without scolding them. It may take some time, but they will eventually make the connection and learn that their waste goes in the box. Praising your cat after successfully using the litter box helps, too. Reward your feline friend with playtime, petting, or even a few treats when they eliminate appropriately, and they will likely look forward to using the litter box.
Schedule an Appointment with a Vet
If you are doing all the right things and your cat still refuses to use the litter box, it may be time to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Just as cats can form negative associations when punished or near the litter box, they may be reluctant to use it if they have experienced pain or discomfort during elimination in the past.
Some medical conditions that could be affecting your cat's litter box habits are:
- Urinary tract infections
- Bladder inflammation
- Bladder stones
Other underlying illnesses or diseases could be at play, too. Only a skilled veterinarian can determine if your cat avoids their litter box due to a medical issue.
The frustration of dealing with a cat who cannot or will not use a litter box is hard to deny. There is hope, though, and the majority of litter box issues are easily solved. Whether it’s by making simple changes at home or taking them to the vet, it is your duty as a pet parent to do what it takes to solve your feline friend’s problem. If you have not been able to determine the cause of your cat’s aversion to the litter box, give us a call to schedule an appointment.