Cat never really used a litter box... and still wont.

by K
(Rhode Island)

I have two cats - one male one female. They are both outdoor cats, though they have been allowed access to the screened porch. The litter box used to be there but the female stopped using it, preferring instead to eliminate next to it. We came to an agreement that I would clean it once a day if she would continue to use it.

For a week she did, and then seemingly without reason, reverted to her old ways going next to it. So I banished her from the porch and she is full-time outside. Went off somewhere to eliminate for a month or so, but has since begun to regularly eliminate on the walkway in the backyard... religiously once per day.

To be candid, I am about ready to take the cat back to the shelter, because on the whole, this lack of litter box usage has been a problem far more often than it hasn't been. Her current habit, for many reasons is unacceptable. I am hoping for suggestions as to how to 'encourage' the cat to not eliminate in places she shouldn't. Using the yard is fine with me... the deck, patio, porch or walkway - no way.

The cats have the freedom to go anywhere they want whenever they want. The male does fine and has never been a problem.

Secondly, and maybe as part of the solution - is there an effective way to discourage (and clean) her current preferred location (the walkway)?

My Thoughts:

The longer these problems go on, the more work it may take to bring things into line. When cats develop a litter box problem, there can be a number of underlying causes.

It's often either a medical issue, or some type of stress. If not that, then there is something unattractive about the box itself. This could be location, smell, and so on. These issues can trigger a number of behavioral problems with respect to litter box habits.

Sometimes, cats develop a preference for location; sometimes it's a preference for the texture of the substrate on which they eliminate. Most cats like a relatively soft, sandy surface, which is why you should avoid public sandboxes. :)

If she's eliminating on a hard surface (next to the box, and now on a walkway), then she may have developed a preference for hard surfaces. She may have had an intermittent medical condition (constipation that comes and goes, or some other issue) that started the problems, and she never quite got back on track.

I need to state here that you should always have your cat checked for a medical problem when litter box problems crop up. If she does have a medical issue, then no amount of behavior modification will fix her problem.

When a cat is eliminating in an "unapproved" area, you can do several things. First, clean the area each time she eliminates. Second, make the area she wants to eliminate in less attractive. Third, make the area you want her to eliminate in more attractive.

Clean the area -- Clean the area thoroughly to eliminate
the smell and stop the attraction to the area. Inside the house, we would normally want to use an enzyme or bacterial type cleaner. AtmosKlear has been used in institutions for years and is excellent.

Outdoors, however, bleach should be sufficient to break down the organic material and sanitize the area. There are some people who claim that bleach is not "green friendly" and there are some other cleaners out there that claim to be so, but I have no information on those at this time. I have read the pros and cons of using bleach and the proponents of bleach say it is harmless. This is backed up by some of the gardening information I have read as well, and I've never harmed any plants (that I know of) by using bleach to clean in and around gardens.

Make the area less attractive -- Cats don't like to walk on certain surfaces. Rough surfaces are usually not their favorite. If you can temporarily litter the walkway with pinecones, lava rocks, or some other material, she may find another place to eliminate. I don't know how big the area is, but you can try covering the area with cardboard with double sided tape on it, or pinecones super glued to it, or lava rock, etc. Being outside, this may be problematic due to weather.

Also, cats often don't like certain smells. Generally, cats do not like citrus smells, especially lemon. I imagine that spraying lemon juice in the area, or placing bowls with lemon peels on either side of the walkway might do the trick. Since this is outdoors, you might need to refresh this often.

Then, there's Cat Stop.

Cat Stop emits a high piched noise that cats don't like and is motion activated. Keep in mind that it has a 20 ft. distance with an 80% spread. They also make a motion activated sprinkler you can buy. That should stop her from frequenting the area.

If you can block off the area, do so. This is a temporary measure until the behavior changes.

Make the area you want your cat to eliminate in more attractive -- This is hard to do for outdoor cats. First, since they can roam almost anywhere, it's difficult to specify an area. Second, the elements rain on our parade. sometimes, this is literally true!

Cats usually like a sandy textured substrate to eliminate on. If you can set up a sandbox type area that you want your cat to use, that might be good. The bigger you make it, the less you'll have to rake it. Some outdoor cats like a bit of grass, but not so high that it rubs agains them. If that's the case, then it needs to be low grass in a primarily sandy area. If your cat likes garden soil as a second choice to the walkway, an area with garden topsoil may be a good idea.

You may want to try working with a pet psychologist/animal behaviorist. Ask your veterinarian who is best to work with in your area.

I hope this helps.


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