Litter box issues are the most common complaint among cat owners and the primary reason cats are surrendered to shelters. If you’ve recently adopted a cat, you’ll want to establish positive litter box habits right away. Here are five important tips from Wales Animal Clinic to help your new cat get off on the right paw, or help your resident cat improve their relationship with the box.
#1: Keep your cat’s litter box clean
There’s no secret formula or shortcut—the best way to ensure your cat consistently uses their litter box is to keep it tidy. Some cats are so fastidious that a single clump of urine or feces will send them searching for other options, which may include your carpet. The best routine for a clean litter box includes:
- Removing solid waste daily — Do this more frequently in multi-cat homes.
- Performing a full weekly cleaning — Dispose of all litter and soak the empty box in hot soapy water to break down caked-on debris. Avoid harsh or ammonia-based chemicals that may offend your cat’s sensitive nose.
- Scrubbing, rinsing, and drying the box — Refill it with fresh litter 1 to 2 inches deep for easy digging.
Although litter box liners seem like a great idea, many cats find the plastic unpleasant and may get their nails stuck in the plastic while scratching.
#2: Place your cat’s litter box in a quiet but accessible location
No one wants to take care of their business in a high-traffic area—especially a species as private and dignified as the cat. Respect their refined manners and select a centrally located but secluded area, such as a spare room or home office. Laundry rooms may seem like a cozy spot, but your cat may be startled by unpredictable washer and dryer noise.
Install a pet gate or similar barrier that permits your cat to enter their litter box but keeps curious dogs at a safe distance. If you have multiple cats, provide one box per cat plus an additional box to ensure resources are always available, and space them apart for privacy.
Lastly, put your cat’s food bowls and bedding in a separate area. No one wants to dine or sleep beside the restroom.
#3: Size and style matter—give your cat a comfortable box
Cats need space to scratch, dig, turn around, and posture comfortably in their litter box, so select a model approximately 1 1/2 times your cat’s body length. Create a lower entry for elderly cats who may experience pain when stepping over a high-sided box. Sand down or tape off any sharp edges to prevent injury.
While some cats show no preference for litter box style (e.g., covered or uncovered), others may favor a covered box’s privacy. Start with a basic uncovered litter box and observe your cat’s behavior to determine if a change is necessary. Open boxes allow cats to monitor their surroundings and escape in any direction, and they don’t trap odors.
#4: Select the right litter to protect your cat’s health
Litter selection can be overwhelming, but don’t let cute advertising compromise your cat’s chance for good litter box habits. Select a litter with universally-preferred features, including:
- Fine particle design (clay or non-clay) — It’s soft on cat paws and has a more natural sand-like feel.
- Fast absorbency — Clumping litter quickly contains and controls liquid messes.
- Low dust — Litter dust is a respiratory irritant that can cause or trigger feline asthma.
- Odor-free — Fragrances and perfumes may appeal to you but are repulsive to most feline noses. Use baking soda or activated charcoal to neutralize odors.
- Non-clumping litter for kittens — Curious kittens may ingest litter, so stick with non-clumping to prevent dangerous intestinal blockages.
Keep the litter in the box and off your carpet with a litter tracking mat to catch any particles that stick to your cat’s paws.
#5: Increase the natural attraction with cat-friendly products
For additional encouragement or to help your cat re-establish good habits, try training litter such as Cat Attract to make the litter box more appealing. Cat Attract contains a natural herbal attractant that draws cats in and helps promote litter box use. Once your cat has established consistent and appropriate behavior, gradually transition to a normal cat litter.
Synthetic feline pheromones also can be used around the litter box. Feliway mimics your cat’s facial pheromones and communicates calm and comforting feline “messages.” One Feliway diffuser can help improve the mood around your cat’s litter box.
What to do if your cat is urinating outside the box
Despite your best effort, there may still come a time when your cat eliminates outside their litter box. Never scold, shame, or discipline your cat, as such actions will only frighten them, increase their stress and anxiety, and potentially worsen the behavior. Many litter box issues have a medical cause (e.g., urinary tract infection, bladder or kidney stones, pain, or anxiety) and cannot be resolved without treatment and medication. Contact Wales Animal Clinic for an appointment. Male cats can develop an emergency condition known as urethral blockage that requires life-saving treatment. Call us immediately if your cat is straining to urinate, vocalizing, or has a rigid abdomen.
Litter box problems are a common cause for frustration, but they don’t have to be. Set your cat up for success by providing a clean, safe, private, and healthy environment, and contact Wales Animal Clinic if your feline suddenly decides to take their business elsewhere.