Chris Kouwenhoven

What every cat owner should know about the solution of litterbox problems

1. Have your cat examined by a veterinarian for a physical problem even if there are no obvious symptoms. (Some problems can only be diagnosed through testing). Be sure to mention Kitty's urination and defecation habits. If a cat's elimination is painful, it may associate the litterbox with pain and choose to eliminate elsewhere. When the cat is healthy again, a careful reintroduction to the box will be necessary.

2. Carefully check the 10 steps for preventing litterbox problems mentioned previously. (It always helps to improve the litterbox situation even if the problem appears to be a health issue or one of territorial stress.) Perhaps the solution is as easy as adding more litterboxes, cleaning more frequently, or changing the brand of litter. Try to accommodate Kitty's preferences for litterbox location (where the "accidents" occurred) and litterbox filler whenever possible. If you want to try a new litter, put it in a new litterbox and fill Kitty's old litterboxes with the litter he is used to until you see that he is using and enjoying the new litter. Most cats are okay with 3 inches of litter in the box, but if you suspect that Kitty prefers more or less than this, tip the litterbox to provide a gradation of litter depth. When you see which area Kitty is using, you can provide this depth in all his boxes. Some cats just seem to have peculiar preferences for toilet areas and seek out smooth or soft surfaces. (Declawed cats have a reputation for doing this more often than others.) Try offering the cat an empty litterbox or one lined only with newspaper.

3. Never punish the cat for eliminating outside of its litterbox. Housesoiling happens when the litterbox, its contents, or its location is offensive to the cat or when the cat is stressed by the environment. Punishment only increases the cat's stress. HOUSESOILING IS NEVER DONE TO SPITE THE OWNER.

4. If aversion to the litterbox can be ruled out, consider that the problem could be anxiety-related. Has there been a change in the household? Any intrusion on the cat's territory, whether human, animal, or even a new piece of furniture, can cause a cat to feel threatened, insecure, and stressed. This results in his need to remind himself and the world of his territory. Territorial marking is usually accomplished by spraying urine on vertical surfaces, or less frequently, by squatting and urinating or defecating on horizontal surfaces.

5. Try to relieve or eliminate the source of the cat's anxiety. (For example, pull the drapes so that Kitty cannot view the antics of the tom cat next door.) If the environmental cause that triggers the territorial behavior cannot be identified or eliminated, consult with an experienced feline behavior counselor.

6. Whatever the cause for the inappropriate elimination behavior, a brief confinement period may be necessary in order to clean the soiled areas, place deterrents in these spots, and to purchase more litterboxes or new litter. The confinement room should be a comfortable room and should contain two litterboxes, fresh food and water, and a bed and toys. (Remember not to place the litterboxes near the food and water.) Visit Kitty regularly, but don't let him out until the home environment has been cleaned and the litterbox situation has been improved. (Please note that extended periods of confinement may be detrimental to the retraining process.) When Kitty is let out, it is important to PRAISE APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR.

7. In order to thoroughly clean the urine-soaked areas, an ultraviolet light may be used to identify the problem spots. (If you have several cats and don't know which one is responsible for the problem, you can give one of the suspects a small amount of fluorescein which you can get from your veterinarian. This can be given orally to the cat each day. If this cat is the culprit, the ultraviolet light will show a glowing green spot on the carpeting.) A strong enzymatic cleaner should be used to saturate and neutralize the affected areas. The Equalizer is highly effective and is available at many veterinary

8. After the areas have been treated, it will be necessary to repel Kitty from these spots. (There may no longer be a smell to attract him to the scene of the crime, but the fact that he has gone there before may tempt him to try it again.) While the carpet is drying, place several solid air fresheners on top of the spot. (Most cats dislike citrus smells so try lemon-scented fragrances, or any strongly concentrated perfume will do.) When the carpet is dry, a carpet runner flipped upside down with the spikes on the top can be placed over the areas. Radio Shack sells a mini-motion detector for about $25 that also works well to keep cats from trespassing on forbidden areas. All deterrents should remain in place for at least a month after the cat has been reliably using the litterbox.

Does your cat squirt over the side of the litterbox or dig so enthusiastically that the litter flies out of it? The solution is simple--make a high-sided litterbox. Buy a large plastic storage container (at least 16" x 22" in diameter and 12" high). Choose one that is made of a somewhat flexible plastic so that when you cut it, it won't crack. Take off the lid--you won't be using it--and cut a square entrance in one side. It should be wide enough so that Kitty can fit through easily and about 4" to 5" from the bottom. File the cut areas or place tape on them so that Kitty doesn't get hurt on the sharp edges. You and your cat will love the convenience of this unique litterbox.

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