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Litterbox Use

Litterbox Use

There are many reasons that a cat may start eliminating inappropriately.  This may be in the form of urine on horizontal surfaces, such as on the bed, a pile of laundry, or on the floor, urine on vertical surfaces, more commonly known as spraying, or stool.  Sometimes the reason is a physical ailment, such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, arthritis, constipation, bacterial infections or crystal formation in the urine, as well as an inflammatory condition of the bladder thought to be triggered by stress, and sometimes it is purely a behavioral issue.  The following tips on litterbox use are intended to be used as a guide.

First of all, lets look at litterbox size.  The box should be deep enough to hold at least 4 inches of litter.  It should also be long enough and wide enough for your cat to be able to comfortably turn around in.  One rule of thumb I have seen for recommended box size is twice the length of your cat.  If you have a large cat, this may require that you look elsewhere for a litterbox.  Many litterboxes are just too small.  Plastic storage containers come in all sizes, and some fit the bill well.  They also have the advantage of having slightly higher sides so that litter is contained better.  Do not use a box with higher sides if you have a very geriatric cat.

Next, consider where to place the box.  People are tempted to put all of the litterboxes in the basement.  Sometimes this results in the litterbox not being cleaned as often as it should be.  The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” can be apt to apply here.  At least one litterbox should be located where your cat spends the most time.  This may necessitate putting a box upstairs.  This is especially important in a multi-level house, or with geriatric cats as they have more difficulty with stairs.  Be careful not to put the litterbox near any potentially noisy appliances, such as the washer or furnace.  If your cat is afraid of another family cat, the dog, or even young children, then try to put the box in an area where your cat seems to feel comfortable.  Also, it is best not to put your litterbox near where you feed your cat.

Most cats prefer an open litterbox.  Covered litterboxes tend to trap ammonia odor, and once again, what is out of sight can be out of mind, so your cat can end up with major sensory assault.  Cats also prefer a fine clay litter that is unscented.   Clumping litter stays dry and is easier to keep clean.  It is recommended to not line the litterbox with plastic.  You should scoop the litterbox at least once daily, but twice daily is best, especially if you have more than one cat.  You can line a tupperware container with a tight sealing lid with plastic grocery bags and place it next to your litterbox to make scooping the box an easier task, and empty the container every couple days.  It is also recommended to have one box per cat, plus one.  If your boxes are large, and you scoop twice daily,  you would probably be fine with one box per cat.  When introducing a new litter or a new type of box, always introduce the new alongside the old, so that your cat has a choice, and can become acclimated slowly so as not to feel uneasy.  This also helps you find out your cat’s preferences.

Finally, if you do everything to make your cat’s litterbox attractive, and you find your cat eliminating inappropriately, there are several steps to take.  First, consult your veterinarian to make sure you are not dealing with a physical problem.  In general, there is more of a chance that a problem is behavioral when your cat is spraying urine on a vertical surface.  Second, make sure you try to identify any stressors in your cat’s life.  A common stress to an indoor cat is seeing an outdoor cat in the vicinity.  Humanely scare the outdoor cat away if possible.  For this reason, if you have indoor cats, it is not a good idea to feed stray cats.  Third, use a litter that actually attracts cats.  Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract litter works great.  The attractant in it makes the litter smell like dirt to your cat (not to you), and dirt has been shown to be a cats preferred substrate for eliminating.  Clean any soiled areas with an enzymatic cleaner such as Nature’s Miracle for Cats Only.  Usually this will require multiple cleaning/soaking attempts before your cat will not detect the odor of urine.  Make favored spots more unpleasant to get to, using things such as foil, double stick tape, and carpet runners placed with the nubby, bottom side up.  Sometimes it is necessary to isolate your cat from these areas completely.  This should only be a short term situation, as isolation itself can be a stressor.  Therefore, remember to spend more time with your cat in this situation.   If you are isolating your cat in a room that your cat has never eliminated in, try to make it a room that your cat normally inhabits, but also a room that doesn’t have any hard to clean furniture or carpet.   One of the best ways to decrease your cat’s stress is to interact with your cat more.  This is more important than most people realize.  Another way to decrease stress is to supply hiding places if your cat likes to hide, and vertical space if your cat is a climber.  Finally, if all else fails, or the problem is very longstanding, anti-anxiety drugs can be helpful.  They are meant to be used more short term (months instead of years), though some cats may need to stay on these drugs longterm.

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