4Paws Rescue Team Pet Wellbeing Litter Box Solutions: Behavioral Tips

Litter Box Solutions: Behavioral Tips

Here we provide information on how to resolve behavioral issues with your cat – in particular, the behavioral issues that may be the cause of improper urination outside the litter box.

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 located?
  • 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 uncovered)?
  • 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.