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Pet Parenting Articles

6 Litter Box Problems and How to Fix Them

Cat lovers are spoiled when it comes to potty duty, because most kittens and cats instinctively use the litter box. When your cat indulges in hit-or-miss potty behavior, though, it can take a pet detective to figure out why. Once you know why Kitty snubs the box, use these tips to return him to litter box allegiance.

litter box problemsProblem: Your cat is sick.

A sudden change in potty behavior may be due to sickness. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disorders (FLUTD) can have several causes including a painful bladder from cystitis that makes her feel like she has to "go" all the time. When constipation or diarrhea makes it hurt to "go", cats may blame the box for feeling bad even after they recover.

Fix: Take your cat to the veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.

Replacing the old box with a new one can remove the "bad" association and solve the problem.

Problem: Your cat is stressed.

Longer work hours, going on vacation, a new cat or rearranging furniture bothers sensitive cats. Cats use urine to calm themselves down because it's a safe, familiar smell. They target objects that smell like you, like your bed. Think of it as a backhanded compliment.

Fix: Plan ahead for changes to your cat's routine.

Make changes gradually, especially when introducing new pets. Pheromone products help calm kitty angst. Veterinarians can prescribe behavior drugs for overly stressed cats.

dirty litter boxProblem: The litter box is dirty or perfume-y.

Sensitive noses make strong smells worse, so they look for a better place to potty. They don't want to stand on top of dirty litter, either.

Fix: Scoop the litter box every day.

Dump out used litter every week and scrub with warm soapy water to get rid of bad odors. Choose an odor free litter.

Problem: The litter box is the wrong size.

When arthritis makes it hurt to squat, a standing pose can make cats over-shoot the sides. Bigger cats like Maine Coons and Ragdolls can hang over the edge even when trying to do the right thing inside the box. High sides may be too tall for tiny cats to climb. A too small box forces cats to stand on top of their creativity, or find a cleaner spot like behind your sofa.

Fix: Match the box size to your cat.

Choose low-sided potties for kittens, small cats and oldsters with arthritis to make it easy to climb in and out. For big cats, container stores have box options with higher sides and larger turn-around room for jumbo size kitties.

best litter box locationProblem: The litter box is in the wrong location

People put kitty toilets out of sight under tables, counters and in corners of rooms. But cats hate feeling trapped, and can avoid these locations. Putting litter boxes up stairs, in a basement, or too far away forces cats to find more convenient pit stops. High traffic areas or places with scary sounds also shoo away cats that prefer privacy. Clothes drier buzzers going off in mid-squat can make cats shun laundry room potties.

Fix: Choose a more cat-friendly location. 

Your cat should be able to see all around, with an easy way to escape danger. Instead of a corner, put the litter box at the mid-point of a wall, or in a room with two exits like a kitchen. That's especially important in multiple cat homes.

Problem: There aren't enough litter box options.

Some cats want to use one box for "solids" and another for "liquids." Other times, a cat simply won't go after another cat, maybe because she didn't flush and the evidence is annoying. Finally, in multiple cat homes one cat may "own" a particular location or litter box, and guard the potty to keep others away and force them to go somewhere else.

Fix: Add a new box.

I recommend the 1+1 rule for litter boxes, which means one box per cat, plus one. That way, a bully cat can't guard all of the toilets at one time so there's always one option available.

Any one or combination of these problems can cause cats to look outside the box for the ideal potty spot. Use the suggested fixes to prevent problems from happening, or return your cat to good potty manners.

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