4Paws Rescue Team Pet Wellbeing 10 Tips to Help Tackle Litter Box Challenges and the Story of Fluffy

10 Tips to Help Tackle Litter Box Challenges and the Story of Fluffy

By: Chris Doxey

Is your cat not using the litter box? Cats stop using their litter boxes for a variety of reasons, including issues with the box or litter, dissatisfaction with the placement or number of boxes, changes in the environment inside or outside the house and undiagnosed medical conditions. You may have to investigate several possibilities before you understand what your cat is trying to tell you, but most issues can be addressed with lots of patience and love.

Fluffington (Fluffy) was destined to be a barn cat. Fluffy was either as a single cat or with lived multiple kitties. No living situation prevented him from urinating outside the litter box. He lived in 4 different homes before he become a barn cat. He was brought to the vet several times to determine if he had a medical issue. Fluffy also saw a behaviorist to determine if he was stressed or nervous. He was very happy as a barn cat, but his kindly adopter knew that he belonged in a home. Fluffy was starting to get into too much mischief as demonstrated by his love of climbing trees and chasing foxes.  

I brought Fluffy into my home about two months ago. He quickly joined my gang of orange kitties which consist of an older Main Coon (Pom Pom) and my 3 year old kitty from Afghanistan (Rudy). Fluffy and Rudy become fast friends and wrestling buddies. I officially adopted Fluffy since he is doing so well and hasn’t had a single litter box issue.

So what’s the secret? I noticed that Fluffy needs lots of attention and loves to be picked up and held. He also loves to be brushed. He’s very smart and is learning how to open the pantry door. He’s also dismayed by loud noises and sudden movements. He hates the doorbell and hides under the bed until the danger has passed.   Fluffy has very high energy and loves to play with his toys when he’s not wrestling with Rudy. In summary, we adjusted to Fluffy’s personality and also follow these ten tips. 

  1. Litter Box Care: Litter boxes are cleaned 2-3 times a day. The litter is changed once a week. The boxes are washed and scrubbed once a week, too. An unclean litter box or if there is too much litter in the box may cause those pesky litter box issues to return. 
  2. It’s all About the Litter: Kitties don’t like changes to the kind of litter that you normally use.  I found a brand that Fluffy and the other kitties like. 
  3. Not Enough Litter Boxes: I have one litter box for each cat, plus one extra. These approach works well and amazing enough all four litter boxes are used by my three kitties on a regular basis. 
  4. The Type of Litter Box Matters: I have large litter boxes that are easy to access. Although, kitties like privacy, they don’t always appreciate a covered box. 
  5. Location, Location: The litter box should be in a comfortable location that provides privacy and multiple escape routes. Although, kitties like their privacy but they also need to have clear escape routes from other cats or perceived dangers.   
  6. New Location Preference: I always shut the doors to my guest rooms and bathrooms so that Fluffy doesn’t have an opportunity to select a new location. I also put away all clothing and laundry to take away any temptation. 
  7. Negative Association and Stress: As noted, I try to keep Fluffy’s environment as stress free as possible and give him as much love as he gives us. 
  8. Medical Conditions: Fluffy was checked for  these common medical conditions which may impact litter box use include:
    • Urinary tract infection (UTI). If your cat frequently enters their litter box but produces small amounts of urine, they may have a UTI.
    • Feline interstitial cystitis. Feline interstitial cystitis is a complex disease that causes inflammation of the bladder. It can cause a cat to eliminate outside the litter box because of the urgency to urinate.
    • Bladder stones or blockage. If your cat has bladder stones or a blockage, they may frequently enter their litter box. They may also experience pain and mew or cry when they try to eliminate. 
  9. Going Outside the Box: Here are some additional tips that have prevented Fluffy from going outside the box. 
    • Use less litter. Cats like a shallow bed of litter — no more than two inches deep.
    • Use clumping, unscented litter of a medium to fine texture or the litter they used as a kitten. 
    • Try putting a few clean boxes side by side, each with a different type of litter, to see which one your cat prefers.
    • Don’t use box liners or lids. 
    • Try a self-cleaning box, which is generally cleaner than a traditional litter box.
    • The litter box should be out of sight of their food and water dishes. 
    • Make sure that children or other animals don’t have access to the boxes
  10. Addressing the Problem: Getting your cat to eliminate in the box is about patience, not punishment. Here are a few tips to help retrain your cat:
    • Do not rub your kitty’s nose in urine or feces and do not scold your cat, carry or drag them to the litter box.
    • Do not confine your cat to a small room with the litter box, without first trying other methods for resolving their elimination problem.
    • Do not give them treats to entice them to use the litter box. Cats don’t want to be disturbed while they are eliminating. However, you can place toys and treats near the box to help them overcome their aversion to the box.
    • Clean up accidents with an enzymatic cleanser rather than an ammonia-based cleanser. Then, cover the area with foil or plastic sheeting and block it off for a few weeks to give the neutralizer time to work.

If your kitty doesn’t do their thing in the litter box, despite your efforts to make it as cat-friendly as possible, you may want to contact an animal behaviorist or consult with your veterinarian as in Fluffy’s case.  Also, since Fluffy is very sensitive, I’m careful not to watch him every two minutes to make sure that he is not urinating outside the litter box. He also loves his routine which I try to adhere to as much as possible. 

In closing, I’m so glad that my kind neighbor wanted to give Fluffy a chance in a home with plenty of space and love.  When I first brought him into my home, we connected once a day to review Fluffy’s progress. This is a true success story!

Rudy and Fluffy