Overcoming the Litter Box Blues

November 15, 2013

Nothing brings more dismay to a cat parent than to discover a puddle of urine or a little pile of cat poop somewhere in the house, other than the litter box. Inappropriate elimination is one of the most common complaints vets hear from cat parents and sadly, one of the biggest reasons cats are abandoned or relinquished to shelters.

But the good news is that most litter box issues can be resolved. In fact, one behaviorist told me that they are sometimes one of the easiest problems to correct. That’s encouraging!

Through research for my blog, TheHappyLitterBox.com, I’ve found some common steps experts recommend taking to find a solution to your cat’s litter box woes.

Visit your vet!
First and foremost, it’s critical to rule out any medical issues that may be causing the behavior. There are a variety of ailments that lead to litter box problems so don’t hesitate to get to the vet if your cat is suddenly avoiding the litter box.

Adjust your litter box location.
Often, cat parents place the litter box in a location that’s convenient to the humans in the house – a boiler room, next to the washer/dryer or sometimes even in a closet. Cats can develop aversions to the litter box because they simply don’t feel safe doing their business there due to funny or loud noises. If some cats feel “trapped” when they visit the litter box, they may avoid it altogether. Find a quiet, convenient location that allows the cat to escape in a couple of directions.

Try different litter boxes.
Cats have difference preferences, just like humans do. Some like bigger boxes yet some don’t like climbing over high sides. Some don’t like covered litter boxes yet some prefer the privacy that covered boxes provide. The only way you can find out what your cat prefers is to try out a few. It’s recommended to try several boxes with the same litter in it to determine which box your cat prefers.

Try different litter.
Cats have varying preferences for litter too – the smell, shape, feel, consistency and more, all can make a difference for your cat. Some experts suggest offering a litter box “buffet” where you put out different litters, but use the same type of box so you can see which litter your cat gravitates towards.

Consider interior stressors.
Things that you may not even notice can impact a cat’s sense of comfort and security. Is there a vacuum cleaner sitting near the litter box, where it wasn’t sitting before? Did you recently have houseguests? Do you have a new baby in the house? Many things can produce anxiety in your cat. Talk with your vet about options to manage this. Solutions range from pheromone diffusers
to flower essences to even medication in some cases.

Consider exterior stressors.
Neighborhood cats or other animals can trigger marking behaviors or inappropriate elimination. One woman I know could not figure out why her indoor cat was suddenly marking the walls of their home until she discovered there was a wild bobcat cruising around her yard! Experts recommend shielding your cat’s view of the outside by keeping the blinds closed on the lower levels of the house. If your cat likes to perch on furniture and look out the window, consider removing the furniture and getting a cat perch to place somewhere else in the home – where your cat can’t see outside. There are a variety of solutions on the market to deter wild animals or neighborhood cats from coming into your yard.

Tap into an expert.
Consider hiring a certified cat behaviorist. Behaviorists will come into your home and look at the environment from your cat’s perspective. You may be surprised about what’s bothering your cat and the behaviorist can help pinpoint the issue and create a plan for changing the behavior.

If your cat is prone to litter box issues, don’t despair! And don’t give up on your cat. With a little work and a lot of patience, most litter box problems can be remedied and you – and your cat – can be happy again.