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Preventing Litterbox Problems

The number one reason that people surrender a cat is because their feline friend isn't using the litterbox. You can avoid litterbox problems with your new cat by following a few simple, but important steps.

  1. Have your cat spayed or neutered by six months of age. Sexually mature, intact cats frequently use urine and feces to mark their territory. Neutering will correct the elimination problems in 90% of these cats.
  2. The rule of thumb for the number of litterboxes is: one litterbox per cat in the household, plus one. Extra litterboxes are necessary because some cats like to defecate in one and urinate in another. Others will not use a box that has already been used by another cat. Different areas for the litterboxes can prevent location-avoidance problems.
  3. Clean the litterboxes DAILY. The single most common reason for a cat's refusal to use a litterbox is because the box is dirty. Non-clumping litter should be scooped daily and the litterbox emptied and washed every other day. Clumping litter should also be scooped daily and the litterbox washed when soiled. The cheaper clumping litters that break-up easily should be dumped out as frequently as the non-clumping litters. (Bacteria left in the litterbox will smell to the cat even if you can't smell it.)
  4. Choose a litter that appeals to the cat. Most cats prefer the texture of the sand-like scooping litters. Be sure to select a brand that clumps into a firm ball, making scooping easier and cleaner. As a health precaution for kittens that might be prone to ingest the litter, use a non-clumping litter until the kitten is four months old.
  5. NEVER use scented litter. Perfumed, chemical scents repel cats. When you wash the litterbox, use hot water and a mild dishwashing liquid. Do not use harsh chemicals that will leave a lingering odor.
  6. Do not use litterbox liners--they can be irritating to some cats. Covered or hooded litterboxes can be offensive to cats as they do not satisfy the cat's need for escape potential when eliminating. They also trap the odor inside, creating an "outhouse effect". The litterbox should be uncovered and at least 22" x 16" for an adult cat.
  7. Place litterboxes in quiet, private places that are easily accessible to the cat and where it will not be disturbed by children or ambushed by other pets. Noisy areas near washing machines, furnaces, or under stairs, may frighten the cat away from the box. A house with several stories should have a litterbox on each floor. NEVER place litterboxes near food and water dishes.
  8. While kittens have an innate predisposition to use an easily raked substrate as their litter, they may also choose other, more convenient, locations. You should limit your kitten's territory until they learn that the litterbox is the only acceptable place to eliminate. Praise and rewards will speed up the learning process. Like small children, they should not be expected to travel very far to find their toilet areas.
  9. When introducing a new cat into the home, confine the cat to one room with its litterbox, bed, food and water, until the cat has used the litterbox several times and shows an interest in exploring the rest of the house. Once you have decided on the placement for the litterboxes in your house -- don't move them!
  10. Help your cat feel comfortable in his home territory. Play games with him, give him a massage, talk to him frequently. Give him positive and affectionate attention. A confident, secure, contented and relaxed cat does not need to relieve anxiety and stress by such extreme measures as urine or fecal marking.

If you would like to work with a Wisconsin Humane Society behaviorist one-on-one regarding this behavior topic, please call 414-431-6173 or email to schedule a consultation.