Litter Box Solutions (Non-medical)
After medical problems associated
with urination outside the litter box have been thoroughly
investigated and ruled out, then it is time to look into behavioral
causes. First, understand that your cat’s actions are not an
expression of spite or anger. It’s easy to feel personally attacked
when your cat urinates on the carpet, but it is important to remember
that cats are driven by instinct, not emotion. There is an
environmental trigger to your cat’s behavior and you need to patiently
work through the possibilities in order to resolve the problem. Ask
the following questions:
- Is the litter box conveniently
- Is the litter box placed in a
quiet, easily accessible and temperate location?
- Is the litter scented? Does it
feel comfortable to the step?
- Would your cat prefer a covered
box (or does he have a covered box and might prefer one that is
- Have you provided enough litter
boxes (one per cat plus one additional box)?
- Are litter boxes provided on
different floors of the house (so your cat does not need to travel
too far to get to a box)?
- Is the litter box thoroughly
cleaned and filled with clean litter every few weeks?
- Is there a bully pet in the house
that attacks your cat when he tries to go to the litter box?
- Is there too much or too little
litter in your cat’s box?
Remember, each cat is an individual.
Some cats will avoid a litter box with litter that is only slightly
scented. Others will not be deterred by a scent. Some cats enjoy
digging into a couple of inches of litter, while others need much less
litter, preferring to feel the bottom of the box with their paws.
Above all, be open-minded. Entertain the possibility that (gradually)
changing the litter, adding a box, or investigating alternative litter
box locations may solve the problem—even if your cat has always used a
certain brand of litter or a certain type of box in a certain location
without any previous problems.
Today there are many products
designed to encourage your cat to practice appropriate litter box
habits. A whole array of different types of litter exist—some made
from biodegradable products such as corn, pine or wheat, providing a
variety of textures and smells from which your cat can choose. There
are also litters specifically formulated to draw your cat to the box
(i.e., Cat Attract Litter).
Improper elimination can be a
statement by your pet that he does not like a brand of litter, a type
of litter box or its location. Litter box problems can also be the
consequence of your cat’s insecurities or changes in the environment.
Cats are creatures of habit; they do not adapt easily to change.
Felines are comfortable in spaces that are familiar to them; scent is
the primary mechanism that cats use to create familiarity.
Cats have scent glands in their
cheeks and in the first digits of their claws. They deposit scent by
rubbing on a target object. If items are moved or removed or new
objects are brought in, your cat may feel anxious or disconcerted. To
bring back a feeling of safety and comfort, your cat may feel it
necessary to make an emergency deposit of his scent—by urinating.
While extremely undesirable to you,
it is important that you understand scent marking for what it is—a way
for cats to recognize and feel comfortable in their environment. To
avoid problems, make changes gradually or try to gradually introduce
your cat to the changes. A new baby, house guests, new carpet, a new
pet… these are all changes that can trigger insecurities in your pet.
Change can be stressful for everyone—being sensitive to your cat’s
needs will help reduce the stress for all.
If gradual introduction does not
sufficiently reduce your pet’s stress, there are products designed to
comfort your cat. Rescue Remedy is a Bach Flower Essence available at
Whole Foods and other health food stores. A few drops in your cat’s
water and also rubbed onto his ears a couple of times each day should
help to calm him, making changes easier to accept.
Another product, Feliway contains a
formula that mimics feline facial pheromones, creating the same
sensation of calm and comfort as when a cat rubs his cheek against the
furniture or corners of a room. Feliway comes as a spray or plug-in
air diffuser, brand name Comfort Zone. The spray is useful for smaller
spaces such as cat carriers or bedding while the diffuser should be
used to affect an entire room.
No matter the cause of the
inappropriate behavior, it is extremely important to properly clean
any spots where your cat has previously urinated. A cat’s sense of
smell is ten times more sensitive than that of a dog. So even if you
no longer smell anything, your cat may still be able to pick up the
scent of urine. And that scent will attract him to eliminate in the
same spot again.
To break the cycle you need to clean
the spot using an enzyme cleaner specifically formulated to remove pet
stains and odors. Nature’s Miracle and Urine Gone are two of the many
products with enzyme action designed to eliminate pet urine odor.
Whichever product you choose, it is important to follow the directions
exactly as indicated on the label.
If the problem still persists after
you have tried the suggestions in this article, it may be time to
bring in a professional. It’s possible that you are too close to the
situation—maybe you don’t see the trigger because you aren’t
objective. An animal behavior consultant may be able to provide the
insight and solution that you need.
Most important--be positive; there is
an environmental trigger causing your cat to urinate outside his
litter box. He is not doing this to spite you; he is trying to tell
you something. The problem is one of communication and understanding.
Don’t blame your cat, learn to think like him. Once you start to
understand the source of the behavior, you can work to redirect it and
resolve the litter box problems.