Litter box avoidance is one of the most common reason cats are abandoned, surrendered to shelters or euthanized. My Pancake went through a phase of peeing on our bedding when he was a kitten, so I fully appreciate how frustrating and expensive it can be. However, the solutions are actually quite simple and the starting point for any owner is to understand that their cat is not ‘misbehaving’ or being ‘naughty’ – they are in fact either unwell or suffering from stress (external or internal).
Because I went through this with Pancake a few years back I’ve written the below tips for you to try with your own cat. It goes without saying that I am not a feline behaviourist or a vet so if the problem is persistent and ongoing then do seek the advice of a fully qualified professional using the links I note at the end of the blog as your starting point.
Help! My cat isn’t using her litter box
Firstly, it’s important to get your cat checked by your vet to rule out a urine infection, kidney disease or some other illness, as a cat who is in pain will often not use their litter box as they associate it with the pain they feel whilst trying “to go”.
If your cat suddenly stops using the tray then the vet should be your first port of call and once you get the all clear then you need to look at your environment as a possible cause. Remember, there is always a legitimate reason for cats to avoid using their litter boxes. Small changes to us can be absolutely monumental to a cat; so look at the layout of the house, has anything changed? New furniture or a swap of rooms? Has anyone moved in or moved out? Do you have a new (noisy) baby or dog? Have you brought another cat into the house?
If you genuinely have not made any changes within your home setting – and remember, it’s important to ‘dig deep’ and think like a cat before dismissing something – then you need to look at the next closest environment to you which is the garden and surrounding area outside your house. Could there be a cat in the neighborhood who is bullying yours? Do you have visiting cats in your garden or hanging outside the house? If so, could these cats be entering the house via the cat flap when you’re not there? If so, this could be stressing your cat out which might explain the toileting.
If there are cats hanging around one of them very well might be the source of stress so you could try:
- Blocking any lower panels of glass windows with opaque film or some other covering, this may help your cat feel more secure in her indoor home as she won’t be able to see the bully cat
- If the bully is sitting high up on fences or a shed he may be intimidating your cat from this high position even if you have blocked the lower panes. If budget allows you could consider cat proofing your garden which stops cats coming in and yours getting out (something I did using Katzecure – best money I ever spent!)
- Change the layout of the cat flap so that your cat can get out of the house safely without worrying about getting pounced on (if this is indeed an issue)If the stress is potentially coming from inside the house then you will need to review your feeding and litter tray set up. Resources are important to a cat and they include things such as water bowls, feeding areas, sleeping positions, high vantage points, quiet areas to watch the world go by, scratching posts, litter trays, etc.
Other ideas to reduce incorrect toileting in the house
- If you have two cats then you need a litter tray per cat plus one extra located in different parts of your house. Many cats don’t like weeing in the tray they poop in. Could your other cat be hogging the essential resource that is the toilet which could be causing her stress? This is worth considering even if your cats have lived together for years and seem to get along …
- Your cat could have a negative association with her litter tray for peeing due to any number of reasons (a painful toilet trip over a year ago, something scary happening whilst going pee in her tray, a loud noise whilst going toilet … the possibilities are endless).
- You could try changing her litter tray type, litter and position to see if this helps change the association she previously made. Some cats prefer a litter tray which is covered, while others like the open type. Remember, your tray needs to be large enough to accommodate your cat standing up and turning around comfortably, she should be able to squat without her bottom hanging over the side.
- Litter trays need to be cleaned daily, sometimes twice a day if there are multiple cats within a household (and especially so if they are indoor cats only). I always recommend Oko Gold Litter to my clients, it is a bit more expensive than the standard litter available in the supermarket but is well worth it! This type of litter clumps beautifully which makes scooping pee and poop a breeze. The bag lasts ages as you are not having to empty the contents of the litter tray each time your cat goes toilet, instead you scoop the clumps of pee and poop leaving an otherwise clean tray. You can buy Oko Gold Litter online and most decent pet stores (like Walnut Pet Supplies in Milton Keynes) now sell it too.
- Clean the mess with Urine-Off and Odour Remover. If it’s very soiled you may be best to remove it entirely (taking away the smell and association with the space).
- Placing food bowls near the location your cats toileting on can change the perception of the area from ‘dangerous’ to ‘safe’, although this does not always work it is certainly worth a try.
Remember cats don’t vocalize the same way dogs do so it is so very easy to miss the subtle clues re what’s going on and see their behavior as a problem when it’s actually a cry for help.