Litter box issues? There’s hope!

Your cat’s litter box issues are likely due to one of these five things

Woman scooping litterbox, AHS tips on litterbox use

Cats and litter boxes are a match made in heaven. Litter boxes satisfy your feline’s natural urge to bury their waste — it’s an instinct so ingrained in your kitty that most kittens can begin using a litter box around four weeks of age. So, when your cat pees or poops outside of their box, it can be a concerning, frustrating, and stinky problem you’ll want to solve right away.

With more than 140 years of experience caring for animals, Animal Humane Society has faced more than its fair share of litter box battles. In fact, litter box issues are one of the most common reasons cats are surrendered to AHS by their owners. If you’re struggling with a finicky feline, we’re here to tell you, there’s hope!

Many litter box issues are due to simple aversions, which can be fixed with some creativity and a little trial and error. In fact, there’s a good chance you can solve your kitty’s bathroom woes by changing one of these five things:

1. Number of litter boxes

It’s easy to calculate the number of litterboxes you should have in your home. Just take the number of cats you have and add one! Yep, that means that if you have one cat, you should ideally have two litterboxes since some cats prefer one box for #1 and another for #2. You may not love the idea of adding more litterboxes, but it’s better than Mittens using your couch or floor as a toilet instead! (Note: If you’re a one-cat household, you can place litterboxes side-by-side. It’s not critical that they’re placed in different rooms.)

2. Location of litter box

If your feline friend isn’t using the proper potty, try moving your cat’s litter boxes to a different location. This could include moving it up and off the floor if you have dogs sniffing around, or perhaps making it more accessible if you have an older kitty. If you have a multi-cat household, litter boxes should be located throughout the house so one confident cat doesn’t become territorial and antagonize the other from using their box.

3. Type of litter box

Big or small, covered or uncovered, high sides or low? Your cat’s litter box issue may be a simple matter of preference. Try a different type of litter box to see if it alleviates your feline’s bathroom woes. And if your furry friend’s issues started when you bought a new type of litter box, consider bringing back the old model.

4. Type of litter

Your kitty may also have strong preferences when it comes to the type of litter you’re buying. Texture and scent play a huge role in how your cat feels about her litter box. Since lavender and potpourri aren’t natural scents to your cat, try an unscented litter. And if your kitty is declawed, you may need to opt for a softer litter as declawed cats can have more sensitive paws, or even live with chronic pain as a result of the procedure. (Read Animal Humane Society's position on declawing of cats.) Lastly, you don’t need to fill up the box! Unlike their food bowls, most cats prefer only one to two inches of litter.

5. Frequency of scooping

No one likes a dirty restroom — your cat included. Consider all the time your cat spends cleaning and grooming. Stepping into an unscooped litter box is the last thing they want to do! Scoop your cat’s litter boxes at least once a day so they have a clean space to do their business.

Kitten in litterbox, tips for resolving litterbox issues

Rule out underlying health issues

Litter box issues can stem from medical conditions, behavioral problems, or both. If your cat starts leaving presents for you outside of their litter box, we recommend you check in with your veterinarian right away. Urinary tract infections, bladder stones, kidney failure and even diabetes can cause your kitty to skip their box as a cry for help. These issues often require immediate attention by a vet.

Can a cat’s litter box issues just be bad behavior?

Though more uncommon, some cats will urinate outside of the box to express frustration or even anxiety. Do not punish your cat! Physical and verbal punishment will likely make the problem worse. Contrary to popular belief, litter box problems have nothing to do with spite and are often caused by stress. It’s possible that your feline friend is upset with you or circumstances outside of your control. Moving to a new house, or even to a new room can cause stress. A neighborhood cat loitering on your property could be the problem. Like dogs, cats can be territorial too!

Animal Humane Society's behavior team recommends trying products like Feliway, a drug-free, easy, and safe calming solution for your cat, which can help reduce anxiety or stress-related behavior, like spraying, scratching, and even hiding.

If you have a feeling you know what the cause of their behavior may be, do your best to resolve it. And if you can’t, your vet may want to prescribe anti-anxiety medication. Review a list of local veterinarians with experience and expertise in companion animal behavior.

Reach out for litter box help

There’s hope for your cat’s potty problems! Visit our Pet Behavior Resource Library for more tips on how to prevent and solve litter box problems.

If you’ve ruled out illness and changes to your cat’s litter box isn’t helping, contact our free Pet Helpline. We’ll put you in touch with experts in behavior and training, who can provide more individualized advice to address your specific pet-related needs.

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