While there are many possible causes for cats urinating or defecating outside the box, the cat box should be the first place you look. Here’s a quick checklist of potential litter box issues that could very well be the heart of the problem:
- Is it clean? This is really a major issue with most cats. Felines are fastidious and a box that’s soiled or smelly can be a real turn-off. Cats vary in their tolerance for a messy litter box, but just about every cat will eventually reach the “no way!” point where they simply refuse to even go near it. A quick daily scooping session can work wonders.
- Is it TOO clean? Scrubbing and deodorizing a litter box too often can actually create problems – cats rely largely on the sense of smell, and if your box smells too much like disinfectant the cat could actually be confused. This is particularly important with very young cats who are just mastering the art of litter training.
- Is it big enough? Many of the plastic containers sold as kitty litter boxes are far too small for a cat to use comfortably. The litter box should be large enough for the cat to sit in and deep enough for the cat to bury the excrement.
- Have you recently changed your brand of litter? Some cats have very definite preferences about the litter they use. Generally, whatever form/brand of litter they’re the most accustomed to is going to have the best success rate.
- Is the box in a private place? Cats like their privacy all the time, and never more than when toilet issues are concerned.
A quiet, out-of-the-way location is best.
Does the cat have constant access? If your cat has to get you to open the basement or garage door in order to get to the kitty litter box, you both have a problem. Be sure the cat can get to the box all the time, whether there’s anyone home or not.
Is the box a convenient height for the cat? Older cats, just like older humans, get arthritis. If the sides of the box are too high for the cat to climb into easily, there could be problems.
Are multiple cats sharing the same box? This can be a real issue for some cats, while others don’t seem to mind. If you’ve just introduced a new cat to your household, try setting up a second litter box near the original one.
If your kitty litter boxes stand up to this checklist, it probably isn’t the cause of the toilet problems.
How To Set Up A Box Your Cat Will Actually Use
1. Use the right container
The size of the litter box is crucial to its success. Larger is better; many of the containers sold as litter boxes are barely bigger than a shallow dishpan, and that’s just not big enough. A good rule of thumb is that the box should be at least large enough for the cat to turn around in, to dig in, and to situate himself in comfortably.
The depth of the container is important too, but deeper isn’t necessarily better. If the side of the container is too tall, very young or very old cats may find it difficult to get into (and will, therefore, do their business elsewhere).
2. Use the right litter
Most cats seem to prefer fine-grained litters, which are softer and less dusty. Cats can be very fussy about what litter they will or won’t use, and one of the deciding factors is often smelled. If you switch from a standard type of litter to a scented type, your cat may very well stage a boycott. A thin layer of baking soda on the bottom of the litter box will do a lot to keep odors down, but regular scooping and cleaning is the real answer.
3. Use the right amount of litter
More isn’t necessarily better when it comes to filling the litter box. Cats prefer a relatively shallow depth of litter, usually in the 2″ to 3″ range. If your litter is at a depth over 4″, your cat may not be comfortable using it. Long-haired cats in particular sometimes seem to prefer a shallower litter and may try to dig down to the bottom of the box.
4. Have the right number of boxes
The expert advice is to have as many boxes as you have cats, plus one extra. While that’s not always practical, you should definitely have more than one litter box if you have more than one cat. Even if you only have one cat, it’s a good idea to have a litter box on each level of your house.
5. Put the boxes in the right locations
Cats like their privacy and one of the keys to getting a cat to use the litter box is to put it in a place that’s quiet and out of the way. But resist the temptation to put the box as far away from “living quarters” as possible – for instance, in the garage or in the far corner of the basement. For one thing, if the box is so far away that you forget about it, you’re less likely to keep it scooped and clean. And if it’s so far away that it’s inconvenient to get to, your cat is going to find alternative places to take care of business.
6. Most important of all: clean, clean, clean!!
How often you need to do a complete litter change (emptying the box, disposing of the used litter, washing the box and refilling with fresh litter) depends on the size of the box and how many cats are using it. If there is a noticeable smell around the box, it’s time for a litter change. A scoopable litter usually only needs to be changed every two or three weeks, while standard litter should be changed at least once a week.
Don’t use strong or potentially toxic cleaners or chemicals to wash out the box – the could be harmful to your cat. And even if they’re not harmful, if they leave a noticeable smell behind, your cat may refuse to use the box.