Think Inside the Box

Morty contemplating boxes from her basket
Morty contemplating boxes in her basket

Let’s talk about litter boxes. You want your cats to use them, and, thankfully, your cats want to use them, too. Their natural preference is to bury their eliminations, and the litter box is the most convenient and acceptable way to do this. If a cat is not using his or her box, it’s up to owners to ask why rather than leap to faulty assumptions about the cat’s attitudes and emotions.

Setting your cat up for potty success is easy. The golden rule is to make sure that there are at least as many litter boxes in the home as there are cats. Some cats do not like to share boxes with others, so offering options can help prevent problems. If your home has more than one floor, be sure that there is a litter box on each level. This is especially important for kittens and elderly cats. Now that you have plenty of boxes available, think about the areas in which they are placed. Is there enough privacy so that the cat isn’t ambushed by other animals? Is there anything nearby that might startle them, like a dryer buzzer? A bad experience in the box can cause them to avoid it in the future.

Take a look at the box itself. Can your cat easily get into the box and turn themselves around? Kittens and arthritic cats may need boxes with lower sides. Some cats don’t squat low enough and may need boxes with higher sides to prevent issues with poor aim.

What about the litter substance? Most cats do well with regular clay litters. Highly scented litters can irritate their noses. Cats with respiratory issues appreciate totally unscented, dust-free litter or even something completely different, like wood pellets. Some cats will choose other places to potty, like a pile of laundry, if they are not satisfied with the type of litter provided. You have chosen the correct litter if your cat is digging and burying in the box.

If your cat is using the litter box, congratulations! You’ve provided them with exactly what they wanted. Now, it’s up to you to keep the box clean. This prevents odors from building up, which is unpleasant to animals and humans, and may keep your cats using the box as many will quit using a box if it becomes too full of waste.

If your cat is not using the litter box, your first task is to call your veterinarian. Often when a cat urinates outside their box, it is because of a urinary tract infection. If your cat is straining to urinate, passing only little bits at a time, or is very vocal while going, an immediate call to your veterinarian is needed. Male cats can suffer blockages that, if left untreated, can lead to kidney failure or worse.

Many people believe that cats will eliminate in inappropriate places out of spite. This is not accurate. While it may feel that way, think about what’s happening from a cat’s perspective. Did you just get a new dog who likes to bother the cat while they are in the box? Are you in the process of rearranging your furniture, moving, or packing for vacation? Has someone new, human or animal, moved into or out of the home? Stress and upheaval can sometimes cause cats to not use boxes. Creating a safe, stable spot for your cat may help. Pheromones, like those found Feliway diffusers, can also help them feel at ease. Does your cat have an injury on their paw? Digging or walking in litter may be painful.

Territorial marking is not common in spayed or neutered cats. Intact males will often spray urine to identify an area as theirs, but rarely do so when neutered. If you suspect that your cat is being territorial, examine the reasons why. Did you just bring home another pet? You may have to restart the introduction process and go slower. Have you just moved into a house that already had the smell of territory marking? The area will need to be thoroughly cleaned to get rid of the odor. Products that break down the enzymes responsible for the “messages” in cat urine are available in pet stores and online.

If you are planning on bringing home a cat, spend some time thinking about where you will put the litter box(es). Cats prefer environments that are stable, especially where their amenities are concerned. Letting your new cat know where the litter box is and having its location dependable are keys to preventing problems before they start.

Good litter box habits by cats and their humans make for happy homes!


3 thoughts on “Think Inside the Box”

  1. A great alternative to expensive clumping clay and other premium litter comes from the feed store: Chicken Laying Crumbles! It clumps, is all natural, biodegradable and MUCH cheaper than traditional store bought litter. Just make sure you buy the laying CRUMBLES and not pellets or mash. It smells good too, as long as it’s keep clean.

    I’ve also tried wood pellets which are also inexpensive, but the cats had a time getting used to them. They also track terribly.

    1. Chicken Laying Crumbles! Thanks for the tip!

      We like the wood pellets for kittens who spend so much time playing in their litter boxes (give them as many toys as you want, they will still play in the litter). The clay bits can get stuck in little noses and ears. We have seen that the pellets track quite a bit, too. Or are thrown around by the kittens. Either way, there seems to be as much on the floor as in the boxes in the mornings!

  2. I had an automatic. It would have wrkeod well with just one cat. It was a Litter Maid. However, I have 7(8 at that time) who all preferred to use the automatic litter box over their regular boxes. It was quite a thrill for them to see the stools being hoisted into the litter tray. They were all fascinated with the process. They had that thing going day and night until one day I smelled some smoke coming from my utility room. The automatic litter box was slightly smoking. I noticed that all my very large cats were around this thing and the motor was making a humming sound trying to hoist a very large stool into the litter tray.It just burned out after the constant use. Maybe they each should have had their own? I think with all the activity from my large well fed kitties, it was too much for the poor motor. Next time, I will look for one with a Brigs and Stratton motor!:) But Litter maid is a good one for just one kitty. It would be ideal for him. It is a good product. Just not intended for the large group I have. They have since been reduced to using the regular boxes and all the excitement has died down. The party is over for my kitties!

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