Litter Box Dilemma

Dear Tabby,

Help! My cat won’t stop using the bathroom outside the litter box! My kitty is only 2 years old, so it isn’t because she is old. I don’t know what to do…

-Jessica P.

Hi Jessica P.,

Sounds like you’ve got a real mess on your hands. I, personally, never go outside of my litter box! Ok, well, almost never…

Almost all those of us felines choose not to use our litter box on the rare occasion. But for the most part, our desire to dig and cover our waste is so strong that we are compelled to use that tantalizing box of litter! So, if your cat is not using the box on a regular basis, something is probably wrong.

First thing’s first, before you assume it is a behavioral issue, go get your kitty checked out by a vet to be sure there is nothing physically wrong. Even though, your cat is relatively young, she could still have something wrong internally that is causing her incontinence. So definitely have her checked out at the vet before starting any behavioral modification techniques!

If she checks out to be healthy, then you’ll need to figure out what else could be causing the problem. Below is a list of possible issues that she might be having with her litter box:

  • The type of litter you are using: Many cats develop litter aversion because they do not like the scent or texture of their current litter (or maybe developed a preference for a previous litter that you changed from). Be sure to try a couple of different kinds of litter (or go back to the previous litter) to make sure that this isn’t the issue. As a rule, most cats will prefer unscented clumping clay litter.
  • The cleanliness of the litter box: Cats are VERY finicky about where they will go to the bathroom! If you are not scooping the litter box often enough, your cat will decide it is not an appropriate place to do their business, and will choose another location (which I’m sure you will not approve of). So try scooping your litter more often (or dumping it all together and filling it with fresh litter on a regular basis).
  • Conflict with other cats in the household: If you have multiple cats in the household, you want to make sure you have a litter box for each cat (and maybe one extra). This way there will be less chance of conflict with other cats about using the same litter box.
  • Is your cat neutered?: If the answer is no, you may be dealing with a cat who is marking its territory. Most of the time, fixing your cat will eliminate this issue. And the sooner the better, because if you are able to fix your cat before sexual maturity, most cats will never develop marking habits. Some cats will continue to spray for a small time after the surgery, but the frequency will usually dissipate quickly. However, some animals never stop marking, so please be aware of this.
  • Bad location of the litter box: Cats prefer to eliminate in an area that is quiet and out of the way. So it stands to reason, if your litter box is in a high traffic area or around stressors like dogs or children, your cat won’t be inclined to use it. Try moving the litter box to an out-of-the-way location that doesn’t get much foot traffic. Good places are usually an unused bathroom or a bedroom (as long as they are tucked away and quiet). You also want to make sure that the cat’s litter box is not too close to their food source. Like most other animals, cats prefer to eat and eliminate in separate areas. So if the box is too close to their food, try moving either the food or box to a different location.
  • The size of the litter box: Last, but not least, make sure the litter box you have is big enough for your cat. If the litter box is too small and your cat cannot fit in their box, they will be less inclined to use it. When in doubt, choose the larger of two boxes. But be careful about hooded litter boxes. While some cats will think they are cozy, others will avoid the enclosed space altogether. And make sure the entrance to the litter box is low enough for your cat to get into. If the entryway is too high off the ground, some cats will skip the hassle and go elsewhere.

As always, remember to check with your vet about any techniques that you plan to try with your cat before doing so.

Good luck with your kitty, and I hope you have her using that litter box in no time!

Meow!

-Tabby

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