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Solving Litterbox Problems

My cat stopped using her litterbox. What can I do?

  1. Have your cat examined by a veterinarian for any physical problems. Be sure to mention your cat's urination and defecation habits. If a cat's elimination is painful because of a Urinary Tract Infection, the cat may associate the litterbox with pain and choose to eliminate elsewhere. When your cat is healthy again, a careful reintroduction to the box will be necessary.
  2. Carefully check the 10 steps for preventing litterbox problems. Are you following all of them? Perhaps the solution is as easy as adding more litterboxes, cleaning more frequently, or changing the brand of litter. Try to accommodate your cat's preferences for location and litter material, if possible.
  3. Never punish your cat for eliminating outside of the litterbox. Housesoiling occurs when the litterbox, its contents, or its location is offensive to the cat, or when the cat is stressed by the environment. Punishment only increases a cat's stress. Housesoiling is never done to spite the guardian.
  4. If aversion to the litterbox is ruled out, the problem could be anxiety- related. Has there been a change in the household? Any intrusion of your cat's territory, whether human, animal or even a new piece of furniture, can cause a cat to feel threatened, insecure or stressed. This results in his need to remind himself and the world of his territory. Territorial marking is usually accomplished by spraying urine on vertical surfaces, or less frequently, by squatting and urinating or defecating on horizontal surfaces. The more cats in the household, the more likely it is that one or more of them will spray.
  5. Try to relieve or eliminate the source of your cat's anxiety. (For example, pull the drapes so that she can't see the antics of a cat roaming outside the window.) If the environmental cause that triggers the territorial behavior cannot be identified or eliminated, consult with an experienced feline behaviorist.
  6. Whatever the cause for the inappropriate elimination, a brief confinement period may be necessary in order to clean the soiled areas, place deterrents in these spots and purchase more litterboxes or new litter. The confinement room should be a comfortable room and should contain two litterboxes, fresh food, water, a bed and toys. (Remember not to place the litterboxes near the food and water.) Visit your cat regularly, but don't let him out until the home environment has been cleaned and the litterbox situation has been improved. (Please note that extended periods of confinement may be detrimental to the re-training process, so move quickly to make these changes.) When your cat is given full house privileges, it is important to praise the appropriate behavior.
  7. In order to thoroughly clean the urine-soaked areas, a black light may be needed to identify the problem spots and a strong enzymatic cleaner should be used to saturate and neutralize them. Simple Solution has proven to be highly effective. To repel kitty from previously soiled areas, cover them with a vinyl carpet runner (upside down), a solid air freshener (preferably a citrus scent), or bowls of dry cat food.

Solving housesoiling problems is possible with patience, persistence and a systematic plan for retraining. If you would like to work with a Wisconsin Humane Society behaviorist one-on-one regarding this behavior topic, please call 414-431-6173 to schedule a consultation.