Litter Box Issues? What can I do???

By October 21, 2017Uncategorized

Are you frustrated with your cat who is peeing everywhere BUT the litter box???? Many cats that are surrendered to shelters are there because owners with good intentions have battled this common problem with no success, and are at their wits end when they can’t solve it.  You are not alone!!!  The truth is, there are several reasons your furry friend might be thinking a bedroom, or a pile of clothes is more appealing than the litter box. First and foremost, it is important to rule out a medical condition, such as a urinary tract infection or other problem!!! Make an appointment for an exam with your vet first. If no medical cause is found, then the overall issue is sometimes related to STRESS….. which can be hard to determine what the cause is.  It can be hard to recognize the subtle signs of stress in our precious purr babies sometimes!! Unless they are soaking in a hot tub trying to decompress with headphones listening to classical music, or doing yoga in the back yard we may not notice subtle signs.  Often cats just over groom and pluck their hair out, or hide when normally they are active or social.  Sometimes they suffer in cat silence until they leave a present on your bedding or in your laundry basket, and only then do we realize we might have a problem!   Naturally this makes us angry because the one shirt we wanted to wear that day is now soaked in, um, urine. So we yell a little, and maybe give our kitty a scornful look and stomp around when really we are missing most of the puzzle pieces behind putting together the bigger picture.

Medical Issues?

The first thing to investigate is a medical reason.  Is there something going on that is making them feel cruddy?  Do they have a urinary tract infection, or are they throwing up food because they have upset stomachs, or do they have high blood pressure if they are older cats with kidney disease or an over active thyroid gland? Maybe they have diabetes and drink lots of water and need to go potty often.  Are they senior cats that might have arthritis pain or some confusion due to an aging brain?  These can usually be figured out by a good physical exam, blood work and a urine sample.  Fixing an underlying medical problem that makes them feel better may just be the ticket to getting kitty back in the box! There are treatments for most of these medical conditions that will help get things back on track within a matter of weeks.

Litter Box Particulars

What about stress from not liking where their litter box is located in the house?  Litter boxes should be placed away from loud things such as the washing machine and dryer, away from high traffic areas in the house where people are always gathering or passing through, and away from things that might make them feel scared, such as an area where the family dog can pay a surprise visit if kitty is, well, needing a private moment!  Put it in an area that is easily accessible and visited often by the cat, not the dog. A general rule is that there should be one litter box per cat in the household plus an extra one.  Some cats just don’t like sharing!!

Cleanliness is godliness, so the saying goes.  Litter boxes should be cleaned daily and replaced with fresh litter once a week. Did anyone ask kitty what kind of litter they prefer?  Or how big of a litter box they like? Do they like it covered or uncovered? Sometimes making some changes such as going to a bigger box, experimenting with different litter types, or even changing to a box with very low sides that make it easier for cats with arthritis to climb in and out of would help.  If you have an older cat with joint pain, and you have a house with more than one level to it, put a box on each floor of the house. Make sure the route to the litter box is safe and quiet.

Sibling Rivalry?

Sometimes in households with more than one cat there can be fighting amongst the cats causing stress that we as owners are actually not aware of. Cat siblings don’t always put on ninja suits and battle it out inside a boxing ring they set up in your living room. It can be very difficult to know you have a rivalry going on under your very nose!  Understanding how cats communicate can help identify possible problems. If the tail is carried high and over the back with ears pointed forwards, the cat is calm but interested, such as greeting a person or another cat in a friendly way. If the tail is hanging low with ears forward, they are relaxed.  If the cat is twitching the tail and ears are down and to the side, they are feeling aggressive. Hissing with ears flat against the head means the cat is frightened. Sometimes we might miss clues that cats are not getting along because we work all day, and chasing, growling, hissing and biting might be going on.  Some aggressive cats will block access to certain locations in the house by staring and appearing scary to another cat who is scared. The scared cat will crouch, turn ears down and avoid the situation.

Think about these questions if you are trying to figure out if all of your babies actually get along:  When do you see all of your cats in the same room? If the answer is never, one cat may be blocking access to another and placing another litter box somewhere else for the cat that is scared may help.  Does one cat spend all of their time in a single location? If the answer is yes, but there is no litter box in that area, they might decide it is easier to pee in that room than find the litter box.

Behavioral reasons for peeing outside of the box can be hard to determine, but with a good conversation with your vet, you might figure out some answers.  Calming pheromones such as Feliway room diffusers or sprays, separation of fighting cats temporarily, certain medications to help with anxiety, and reintroducing cats with play or food to create a positive experience again can help reduce stress.  Some of these medications can take TIME to work, so don’t give up if changes don’t happen immediately. Sometimes it takes 4-8 weeks to allow medication to work and develop a good plan to help multiple cats in household get along again.

Some tips for discouraging kitty from peeing in his favorite spot include placing some tin foil or citrus rind in the spot they are going in.  (Make sure you have a nice litter box readily available close by so that they won’t just go to another spot.)  Clean the area well with an enzymatic cleaner, and try a litter called Cat Attract, that makes the litter box seem more appealing.  DO NOT punish the cat, that will cause them to associate you with fear, and your bond with your cat is very important when trying to fix behavioral issues!

Is your cat Angry at YOU?

Some other things that may be causing stress would be how much time you do (or don’t) spend with your cat.  Is there enough play time or snuggle time happening between you and your cat during busy work weeks? Disruptions in routines such as leaving town, getting a new puppy, getting a new job that changes the amount of time we spend at home suddenly, or having out of town guests staying with you can upset a fragile feline.  When peeing on inside surfaces, especially when personal things such as clothing are marked, the cat’s relationship with all household humans and pets should be looked at.  Use interesting toys that your cat seems to take an interest in to get them engaged, feather toys, mouse toys, or laser pens!  It might take trial and error to figure what your cat likes best to play with. Marking near windows or doors may mean there are outside cats coming around causing anxiety, or maybe a cat that was used to being outdoors and is now a house cat is frustrated about not being let outside.  Give them plenty of entertainment in the house!!!!  Cats love to climb up high, a cat tree or access to something tall might be nice, some cat grass or cat nip toys, and a cozy place to escape for a nap like a covered bed or box could be nice.  

A great website to visit that will give you all sorts of information on how to create a purrrfect house hold environment for your cat is the Ohio State’s Indoor Cat Initiative site.  They have researched the link between stressed or anxious cats and indoor house soiling, and have many ideas on how to problem solve once medical reasons have been resolved or eliminated as causes by your veterinarian. So DON’T GIVE UP!!! Many times, it is trial and error to see what works, and a good relationship with your veterinarian is important to help you get through the process of figuring out how to solve it.  Sometimes it is a matter of days to weeks to fix, and sometimes it can be challenging and take months, but if you are wanting to save your cat a trip to the shelter and you are motivated to invest time to work with this sometimes complicated issue, then we certainly are here to help YOU!!  Let’s start thinking outside the box…….to get kitty back IN the box, TOGETHER!

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