If you want to keep your cat using the litter box regularly, caring for your cat’s litter box properly is essential. Here are five common mistakes that cat owners make with their cat’s litter box.

  1. Not using the right litter. The litter used in the box is a critical choice and many cats are quite particular about the type of litter preferred. Ideally, a litter without a strong scent is preferred. Litters scented with perfumes and other strong fragrances are produced more for the benefit of our noses rather than that of our cats. Cats are very sensitive to odors. Strong fragrances and/or perfumes associated with the box may be enough to drive your cat away from the box. In addition, some cats have preferences as to the texture of the litter as well. You may need to experiment with different litters to find one that your cat likes.
  2. Not keeping the litter box clean enough. Cats are fastidious creatures. Most object to using a soiled litter box and some cats will refuse all together. Scooping the box will be necessary at least once daily, sometimes more often depending on your individual cat and his habits. Emptying, cleaning the box completely, and replacing all soiled litter with fresh litter should be performed at least once weekly.
  3. Locating the litter box in the wrong location. Your cat needs privacy when using the litter box. Locate your cat’s box in a quiet location, away from any noisy machinery (washing machines, dryers, etc.) that could frighten your cat while in the box. The box should also be in a location where your cat can use the box undisturbed. This may mean placing the litter box in an area where small children and dogs are not allowed. The box should also be easy for your cat to access. Your cat should not have to travel long distances to get to the box. For instance, if you live in a three story home, the only box your cat has access to should not be located in the attic or cellar.
  4. Not using the right litter box. Your cat will appreciate a litter box big enough to stand and do his business in without being crowded or hanging over the edge. If given the choice, the majority of cats prefer a large box to a smaller one. The height of the litter box can be a concern for senior cats with mobility issues due to arthritis or other painful conditions too. These cats will likely appreciate a box with lower sides to make entering and exiting the box easier. Hoods covering the litter box are also problematic for many cats. Though hoods do create privacy, they also create a dark and perhaps worrisome environment with only one way in or out for your cat. In addition, hoods tend to trap odors that your cat might find objectionable. A hooded litter box may simply be an invitation for your cat to find a different and perhaps undesirable place to pee and poop.
  5. Not having enough litter boxes. In a multicat household, you need to provide enough litter boxes to satisfy the needs of all cats. Many cats do not like to share a litter box. Some cats even prefer to pee in one box and poop in another. In a home with more than one cat, there should be at least one litter box for each cat plus one extra.

Though all cats need veterinary care on a regular basis, a cat that suddenly starts urinating or defecating outside of the litter box should prompt an immediate consultation with your veterinarian. A number of health issues can result in litter box issues and these conditions should be ruled out before assuming that the problem is behavioral in origin.

Dr. Lorie Huston

Image: Tom Thai / via Flickr