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A Good Litter Box Relationship

Establishing a Good Litter Box Relationship for Your Kitty

 One of the most essential things a cat must do to be an indoor pet is to have great litter box habits. Cats who take their bathroom habits out of the box and into other areas of the house are much more likely to be relinquished to shelters and many of these may be considered unadoptable and face euthanasia.  Even the most patient and loving of cat owners can become frustrated with a feline who does its business in places other than the litter box.  The best way to prevent this is to give kitties what they want, and research has given us insights into exactly what that is!

 Location, location, location

                While our furry friends are among the best of predators, in nature they also evolved as possible prey for larger animals. This affects many feline habits, but especially urinating and defecating. Kitties need to feel some place safe where they won’t be disturbed while going to the potty. Keeping your litter

box in a low traffic area of the house will help, ideally in an area where other household members (dogs, young children) won’t come by and a disturb kitty while it’s doing its business. Think about it – if our toilets were located in the middle of a busy hallway we would probably find another place to go! Multiple household cats also need to have litter boxes in different areas, to prevent one cat from being able to guard the boxes and keep the other kitties from using them.

 Number of litter boxes

The general rule used by behaviorists is a litter box for every cat plus one more, and this often works for most households. As mentioned above, the litter boxes should not be located all in one place in multi-pet households, as it is easy for one cat to dominate the resources and keep its more shy housemates away. Homes with multiple levels should also have at least one litter box on each floor. This becomes even more important for older kitties, as arthritis can make it harder for them to climb up and down stairs.

 Type of litter box

Size matters! Studies have shown cats definitely prefer larger litter boxes over small ones. Nature’s Miracle brand makes some very large boxes, but for households with many cats and/or very large cats, getting a larger Rubbermaid type container and cutting out one side may be the best option.  Older cats who have issues climbing into boxes can benefit from a very flat tray rather than box.

 In the hooded box vs. uncovered box kitties were split – 50% preferred covers, 50% did not – BUT the same cats preferred the same type every time. For an individual cat, it is worth starting with both types and seeing which one that cat prefers.

 Type of litter

Despite advertising to the contrary, there is no “world’s best cat litter” – the best litter is the one your cat uses! Most cats prefer fine-grain, clumping litter with the litter about 3-4” deep.   Your cat should like going to the litter box.  Cats that like their litter will jump in the box, spend at least a few seconds scratching around before eliminating and may scratch around to cover it after.  If your kitty is hesitant to jump in, tends to rush through the process and bolt out then it may be worth trying a few different types of litter.  Putting 3-4 trays of different litter side by side and seeing which one gets the most action over a 12 hour period can help determine your own cat’s preferences.  Cats do have a preference for types of odor neutralization – they much prefer carbon or charcoal odor neutralizers to baking soda.

 Frequency of cleaning

                Litter boxes need to be scooped at least daily!  Waiting more than 24 hours will limit the amount of clean litter on which your cat can walk when he gets in the box, making the experience more uncomfortable for him and giving him an excuse to go find another place.  A cat’s thought process in this regard is probably very similar to ours when we come across a public bathroom in gross condition – turn around and find some place more pleasant to go!  Once weekly the litter should be dumped and replaced with fresh.

 When to seek professional help

                Any time a kitty is going outside the litter box she should be brought to the veterinarian for an examination.  Over half of cats going outside of the box have a medical issue contributing to the behavior.  In addition to conditions affecting the urinary tract – bladder inflammation, infection, bladder stones – other health problems can also cause cats to go outside of the box, including but not limited to diabetes, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and even painful or abscessed teeth!  Once medical problems are ruled out, your veterinarian and you will attempt to determine any behavioral stressors and potentially try medications for stress if indicated.  Ultimately these cases can be very frustrating and you and your veterinarian may need to enlist the help of a veterinary behavioral specialist to manage the problem.