Our team at Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital would like to present this class, Litterbox 101, to address the problem of cats refusing to use their litter box. Prerequisites include owning a cat, enjoying your cat’s companionship, and wanting to ensure your home life stays stress- and cat urine-free. The course objectives are to educate you on reasons why your cat would inappropriately eliminate, and how you can prevent this issue from becoming a problem in your house. On successful course completion, you will be able to demonstrate the best way to set up your cat’s litter box, and understand why these methods appease your cat. 

Topic #1: Assess your cat’s health if they are avoiding their litter box

If your cat is sick or injured in any way, they may express their discomfort by refusing to use their litter box. Cats are notorious for hiding maladies, and they may not show any indications of a problem except for your extra clean-up duty. Issues that typically cause this behavior include urinary tract infections, kidney disease, and feline interstitial cystitis (FIC). The first step you should take if your cat starts eliminating inappropriately is having our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital evaluate them, to ensure they are healthy before other reasons are explored. Bringing your cat in for regular wellness checks can help prevent your cat from having issues before they become a problem for your household.

Topic #2: Your cat’s opinion matters if you want them to use their litter box

You may like having the litter box out of the way in the laundry room, and you may like the nice smelling, scented litter. However, your cat may have a different opinion, and for this topic, their opinion is the only one that matters. Common cat preferences include:

  • Cleanliness — Cats like their litter box nice and tidy, and they can tell if you are shirking your responsibilities. Scoop their box at least twice a day, and change out the litter once weekly. When changing out their litter, rinse the box using baking soda or unscented soap.
  • Location — Cats do not like their litter box in an area where they will be disturbed by people, other pets, or loud noises. If you have multiple levels, you should place a litter box in a quiet area on each floor.
  • Number and size — Cats do not like to share their litter box. If you have multiple cats, you should have one litter box per cat, and one extra box. Cats also do not like to be crowded when doing their business, so ensure their box is large enough. The box should be as long as your cat from their nose to the tip of their tail, and the width from their nose to the base of their tail.
  • Litter — Cats do not like scented litters. They tend to prefer unscented, clumping litter, and a little goes a long way. Use only one to two inches. You may need to provide litter boxes with several litter types to find the litter option that your cat prefers.
  • The box — Cats do not like litter box liners or hoods. They tend to prefer a traditional, unadorned litter box. Ensure your cat can easily get in and out of the box. An older cat may suffer from arthritis and have a difficult time navigating the tall sides. Spreading litter over a sheet pan works well for these cats. 

Topic #3: If your cat is feeling stressed for any reason, they may eliminate inappropriately

Any change in your cat’s normal routine can result in them feeling stressed. Adding a new pet to your home, including a bird or rabbit, can lead to anxiety for your cat. Other potential reasons of stress in your cat that may make them avoid their litter box include home renovations, houseguests, moving to a new home, and your kid’s trumpet lessons. If you are introducing a new pet to your home, initially keep them separated from your cat. Introduce them through a closed door, and let them get used to each other’s scent. For other stressors, try to mitigate your cat’s distress by sequestering them in a quiet room and playing music to muffle disturbing noises. 

Topic #4: Clean up after your cat using appropriate methods

If your cat does soil outside their litter box, you will need to clean the area appropriately, to prevent them from reusing the spot.

  • Blot up as much urine as you can with a paper towel.
  • Soak the area using a carpet cleaner or dish detergent for one to two hours. Do not use an ammonia-based cleaning product, because your cat will be drawn to the urine-like smell.
  • Rinse the spot with a wet sponge, and spray the area using an enzymatic cleaner, which is designed to neutralize pet odors. 

Hopefully this class has been helpful, and you and your cat can continue to live together peacefully. If your cat is displaying inappropriate litter box behavior, contact our team at Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital to schedule an appointment.