Cat Potty Problems

At the prestigious Western Veterinary Conference in February 2011, Dr. Thomas had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM. Dr. Yin is a noted Animal Behaviourist who has lectured at many conferences and is well-known for her modern concepts regarding cat behaviour issues. Dr Thomas found this lecture very helpful and would like to share it with you!

One of the most upsetting problems a cat-owner can face is having a cat that does not reliably use the litter box. Sometimes a cat starts using other locations because of an underlying medical problem (ie bladder inflammation/infection, arthritis). It is always important to seek veterinary advice even if your kitty has eliminated in the wrong place only one time. It is very easy for a medical problem to lead to a secondary for the new spot!

In some cases, the choice not to use the litter box is primarily behavioural. There are some preventive measures that can be taken to stop a purely behavioural problem from developing.

Cats are very fastidious with their bathroom habits. They carefully choose a quiet spot, inspect the ground, do their thing and then cover up the evidence. They then wipe their paws and go on as if nothing had happened.

Therefore, for cats, even a slight odour or leftover clump of stool in the box from the morning can have them choose an alternative site. Box cleanliness is paramount.

  • Scoop box 2 times/day
  • Wash box with a mild detergent approx. every week
  • Replace box when it gets to the point that washing cannot eliminate all odour
  • Have 1 litter box in the house for each cat plus one.
  • Place the litter boxes in different areas of the house
  • Avoid covered boxes as these can concentrate odour as well as make it harder for you to see when they need cleaning. (They can also make it harder for your kitty to get into proper posture for elimination)

Cats can be very picky about the litter type used.

  • Test a variety of litter types to see which your kitty prefers
  • Avoid scented litters-while nice for us, these strong odours can be offensive to your feline.

Select the litter box carefully.

  • The box should be 1.5 times the size of your cat.
  • If your kitty is “plus-sized”, try using an inexpensive plastic sweater storage box instead of an actual litter box.
  • Experiment with different depths of litter
  • Self-cleaning litter boxes can make enough noise to scare off some cats.

Place the litter box carefully.

  • Cats like privacy so try not place in a high traffic area of the house.
  • Avoid noisy places near furnaces or water heaters. Consider the noise of alarms and buzzers on laundry machines.
  • Cats do not like to eliminate where they eat – do not place the box too close to the food bowl.
  • If there are multiple cats in the house, put their litter boxes in different areas of the house. Some cats are “bathroom bullies” and may guard the boxes. This problem can create stress and cause the ambushed cat to hunt for a safer place.

Make allowances for age and mobility.

  • If your kitty is older or arthritic, cut a doorway in the side of the box for easy in and out.
  • Have a litter box on every floor of the house.

Remember, anxiety can be a big cause of spraying and urinating outside of the box.

  • A change in your work schedule
  • A move to a new house
  • An addition to the household
  • Stress from outside – a rival feline in the neighbourhood could cause your kitty to pee near a look out window or door.
  • Stress from inside – ie.between the cats inside the house, from toddlers. Make sure they get more space (think cat trees so they can watch for danger!) with their own places for eating and their own potty stations.
  • Make sure your kitty is neutered if still intact.

Remember, medical causes can lead to secondary behavioural problems so if your kitty has an “out of the box” experience even once, it is time to consult the veterinarian.

Reference: Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM
San Francisco Veterinary Specialists
Lecture given Western Veterinary Conference 2011

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