One of the most common reasons that people re-home their cats is because their cat stops using the litter box. There are many things you can try to get your cat back on track with using their litter box.
Note: Most cats will instinctively choose to use the litter box and you don’t potty train a cat the way you do with a dog or puppy. Forcing a cat to step into the litter box can be upsetting and cause your kitten or cat to have a negative association with the litter box that may be hard to undo.
New cat? Whenever you first bring a cat into your home it is important to set them up in one room with easy access to food, water and the litter box. Let them adjust to this space first and wait until they are comfortable before introducing them to the rest of your home. If your cat starts having accidents outside of the litter box you can put your cat back into their safe room until they go back to using the litter box.
First thing: Anytime your cat starts inappropriately eliminating outside of the litter box the first step is to talk with your veterinarian to rule out any medical issues. If something is causing your cat pain while they eliminate they may be associating the litter box with that pain and may seek out another place to use the bathroom. In the event that blood is visible or your cat is seems to be in pain while trying to eliminate you should call your vet right away.
Location, location, location! Cats needs to know where the litter box is and your cat must feel comfortable while using the box. A set up near a loud appliance or busy room in your home could scare your cat and cause an aversion to the litter box. If the litter box is located on a cold floor, your cat may appreciate a rug under the litter box to give them something comfortable to step onto.
Let’s talk substate. Most cats prefer scent free fine grain litters. If you find one your cat likes, never change it! An unpleasant scent or uncomfortable feel may cause your cat to avoid using the box. Scented litter is really more for people and not the cat. And as long as you keep the box clean odor shouldn’t be a problem.
Clean the box. Every day. It is best to scoop daily and then change the entire box weekly. Cats like to be clean and an offensive litter box will often cause them to find some place else to use. A dirty litter box is about as inviting as a dirty porta potty on a hot summer day so help your cat out and keep things clean.
Some cats don’t like using a litter box if their is a liner. If your cat uses the box with a liner great but if your cat has had issues try removing the liner. Then give your cat a chance to use a liner free litter box.
A good rule to follow in a multi cat home is one litter box per cat plus one extra.
Most cats like about 2 inches of litter in the box. You can do some experimenting to figure out what your cat likes.
Think outside the box, if your cat is just barely missing the box or overshooting try something wider or taller. A large plastic bin such as a storage box can work well, just be sure your cat can comfortably get in and out of the box.
Most cats prefer an uncovered box. If yours uses the covered litter box with no problems then great but the covered boxes tend to trap odors and cats often find it too offensive to continue to use. It’s also easier to forget to scoop the box everyday if it is covered and you aren’t noticing what needs to be scooped. In multi pet households or ones with young kids, some cats don’t like the vulnerable state of the covered litter box. Another pet or child may be waiting nearby to ambush the kitty once they exit the litter box and this can cause your cat to feel uncomfortable enough to seek out other places to use the bathroom.
A separate issue is urine marking. If you notice urine on a vertical surface your cat may be marking their territory. Generally if your cat is marking they will continue to use their litter box, if the problem is house soiling they will stop using the litter box in favor of other spots in your home.
How to fix this: First, be sure all cats in your home are spayed or neutered! Cats who have been spayed or neutered are significantly less likely to mark than an unaltered cat.
Territory is very important to cats, if your cat is suddenly feeling less confident about their claim to territory you may notice marking behavior. Unfamiliar people, objects or other animals can cause cats to mark and it’s important to really pay attention to where your cat is marking and what is going on in and around your home that could be causing it.
Some steps to follow:
- A new person or baby in the cat’s life should be associated with only positive things for your cat – feed your cat when the new person is nearby also play with your cat while that person is around
- Increase the time you spend with your cat, you want a cat who is confident they are an important part of your household
- Move any objects your cat has been marking somewhere your cat cannot access them
- Try to block visual access to any outdoor cats that may be upsetting your cat
- Keep your cat indoors. If they have had outdoor access previously try a harness, catio, or cat fencing to give them safe access to the outdoors
- Try to resolve issues with other pets in your home
- Be sure to clean previously marked areas with an enzymatic cleaner