Cat Litter Box Problem

A cat litter box problem is one of the most common issues that cat owners face. Of all the categories of cat behavior problems, it also can be one of the most difficult to overcome.

When cat litter box behavior goes awry, it can be very frustrating for all involved.

Sadly, it's been reported that the most common behavioral reason for an adult pet cat to be given up to a shelter, is an unresolved cat litter box problem.

Even more disheartening, some pet owners have even euthanized their cats simply because they could not live with an ongoing cat litter box problem in the house.

Note: In the absence of a quality of life issue for the cat, I find this totally unacceptable. I plead with cat lovers everywhere to educate people on this issue. Adopt a cat who has a cat litter box problem if you can and help them overcome it. Spread the word that this cannot go on. There must always be some alternative solution to be had. OK - I'll get off my soap box now.


Solutions are everywhere!

In both print and online media, countless articles have been written on how to deal with the dreaded cat litter box problem. In fact, the collection of knowledge on the subject looks like a "Litter Box University." Topics have included everything from litter box training, to selecting the "right" litter box for your cat, to when to change the litter, and what litter to buy.

It seems, then, that it is a tragedy that people have not been able to use those resources to resolve their issues. I'm not certain if people just don't know where to find the information, or they don't know how to apply what they learn. You'd think that a consultation with a good veterinarian or pet psychologist would, in most cases, set things straight.

I hope that if you are experiencing this issue, or know someone who is, that the information provided here will help you. I'm not saying that all problems can be solved, but with some effort, a good percentage of them can be controlled.

Let's look at the primary causes of improper elimination in your cat, and see how to apply some solutions to a cat litter box problem.

Causes of Cat Litter Box Problems

Using the litter box is one of a house cat's many regular behaviors. As such, we tend to view any change or problem with that activity as being behavioral in nature.

Sometimes, we are guilty of viewing any cat behavior problem as somewhat mysterious. After all, mysteriousness is one of the best qualities of a cat, right?

But, of the two main causes of cat litter box problems, only one is behavioral. The other is a physical or medical cause.

Determining the cause is often done through what's known as a diagnosis of exclusion. In other words, you have to begin with a possible list of causes, both physical and behavioral.

Then, you test each one to see if it holds true, and if it doesn't, then you eliminate (or exclude) each one in turn.

What you're left with, of course, is the actual cause. This is assuming you started with the right list of possibles. Use the information here and the links I recommend to determine your problem, and find the fix.

Keep in mind that there may be more than one cause, and your cat might have one from each category! Also keep in mind that behavioral cat litter box problems in multi-cat households may be difficult to sort out.

The Litter Box: A Bad Association

Something that is quite obvious to anyone who spends much time with a cat, is that they are really good at association.

For example, does your cat know what the can opener sounds like? Mine all do. If I want them to come out from wherever they're hiding, I just need to take out the can opener, and here they come!

Each event that a cat experiences and the related stimuli all leave an impression on the cat's brain. This allows the cat to associate a sound (the can opener) with the event (food). This is all reinforced by associated smells, and of course, the occasional tuna treat that comes after the can is opened.

It usually doesn't take more than a few repetitive activities (sometimes once will do it) to get your cat to associate an event, place, feeling, etc. with some other stimulus.

Now that example is of a pleasant experience, but what about unpleasant ones? Well, that happens as well. And one of the behavioral reasons for a cat litter box problem is a negative association.

Litter Box Usage: A Habit For Life

The ability to associate is one reason that most cats are typically easily litter box trained in the first place. Just get them started, and they will usually make it a habit for good. While there are exceptions, litter box training often amounts to simply showing your cat a box full of litter. Outdoors, cats often use sandboxes or sandy garden areas.

If you have more than one cat, it's usually even easier. Once one of them figures it out, the rest usually follow right afterwards. And that, as they say, is that. Or is it?

If it's that easy, then what could possibly cause your cat not to use the litter box?

Very simply, anything that causes your cat to associate pain, anxiety, fear, or other unpleasant feeling with the litter box is a potential candidate for the cause.

Physical Causes of a Cat Litter Box Problem

Let's think like a cat for a minute and try to come up with some physical reasons why we wouldn't want, or be able, to use the litter box.

  • Painful Urination - any medical condition that causes a cat pain while urinating will create a bad association. But, your cat can't hold it forever, so she urinates elsewhere when the urge to go can't be helped!
  • Painful Bowel Movements - same situation as above. If your cat is constipated or otherwise has a condition that causes pain, she will associate pain with the litter box. But she can't hold it forever!
  • Joint or Muscle Pain - an injury, arthiritis, or any problem with your cat's muscles, bones, or joints may cause too much pain to get in or out of the litter box, or to squat properly. Again, the litter box equals pain, so it doesn't get used.
  • Limited Mobility - in addition to the above, your cat may have difficulty moving well enough to navigate the litter box entrance. This could be due to any injury, disease, or condition, such as weakness or old age, that causes a non-painful limitation in movement.

To sum it up, a physical problem that causes your cat to associate an unpleasant experience, or a physical inability to get in and out of the litter box, will result in a cat litter box problem.

Behavioral Causes of a Cat Litter Box Problem

Now let's think like a cat again and come up with some behavioral reasons for not using the litter box.

  • Dirty Box - some cats must have a sparkling clean box, while others don't seem to care much. Clean your litter box at least once per day, and change the litter and wash the box often (see suggested reading below).
  • Box Odor - regardless of box cleanliness, some cats will refuse to use a litter box that doesn't smell right. Now, you might be thinking that a clean box smells OK. Not always.

    If you didn't clean it well enough, or if you used a scented cleaner, or didn't rinse it well enough, it may not smell right to your cat. Most veterinary sources recommend using 1 part bleach to 30 parts water to help prevent the spread of parasites and recurring infections.

    Rinse well and dry thoroughly! You probably want to consider using a cat urine odor eliminator as well. Atmosklear can be sprayed right into the box.
  • Litter Odor - some cats don't like the smell of certain cat litters. Event unscented litters have a particular odor, and different types of litter exhibit unique odors as well. You may have to try different brands, or different types.
  • Litter Type - the type of cat litter you use may turn your cat off. Also, if you've recently switched litters cold turkey, this can be a shock to your cat.
  • Litter Box Type - the size, shape, and type of box (for example, hooded or non-hooded, low or high, large or small) may influence your cat's desire to use it. If you've recently changed litter boxes, this could be the problem.
  • Box Quantity - remember the one plus one rule. One box for each cat, plus one extra. In multi-cat homes, this ensures that there is always an unoccupied litter box. Plus, it keeps each box a little cleaner.
  • Bad Location - perhaps your cat doesn't like where you've put her box, or perhaps something in that area has changed and she no longer likes that location. Try moving the box to a spot that is low traffic and low noise.
  • Territorial Issues - in multi-cat or multi-pet households, territorial disputes can arise. If, for example, your cat is attacked every time she goes to use the box, she may develop litter box aversion. Would be dominant cats may block litter box access to the others.

    See the one plus one rule above for multi-cat situations. If the problem is with another animal in the house, you'll have to mediate disputes between them.

If you successfully combine common sense with cat sense, you may just be able to resolve that cat litter box problem. Knowing where to start means knowing what your cat's motives are, and adjusting your cat's surroundings accordingly.

How to Eliminate the Odor During and After

Both during and after your bout with a cat litter box problem, you'll have to deal with another issue: the odor!

Depending upon the extent of the problem, it may be just in the area of the litter box, or it may be throughout your house.

If you do not thoroughly remove the odor from the area where your cat has been eliminating, she will be drawn back to that area over and over again.

This will hinder your efforts to resolve the inappropriate elimination problem. Simply put...

The odor problem must be solved.

No matter what your odor issue, you'll want to get a product that is effective, safe, non-toxic, and carries a guarantee.

One such product that has been featured in over 120 articles, with an 800 tech support number on every bottle, is Atmosklear. You can read more about Atmosklear odorless odor eliminator here.

If you still smell an odor after using this product, call the 800 number on the bottle and they will work with you until the odor is gone.

Suggested Reading : Cat Litter Box Problem

How to Remove Cat Urine Odor - Here's some advice on how to remove cat urine odor along with product information.

The Cat Litter Box - from your cat's point of view. A DVM tells all she knows about litter box problems. This site has a great section on how to effectively clean the litter box.

Litter Box Problems

Cat Lovers Only

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