Solving Litter Box Problems

The Solution is Usually Simple

Do you have a cat that has urinated or defecated outside his litter box? House soiling can become an enormously frustrating problem, says Tracy Kroll, DVM, animal behavior resident at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. You can stop your venomous thoughts of a house-soiling kitty, though: The best solutions and preventive measures are quite do-able.

The nose knows
Cats that have contentedly used litter boxes may stop using them when they aren’t clean, comfortable, or seem unsafe. Too few boxes and insufficient cleanliness are the most common problems, says Kroll. Human companions frequently fail to scoop out waste often enough. Imagine how appealing it would smell and look if you flushed your toilet only on alternate days, says Kroll, who received her DVM in 1997 from Cornell. She recommends scooping boxes clean at least daily. She also recommends setting out one more box per household than its number of cats. For example, if there are two cats in the household, there should be three boxes. Thus, a cat whose box has become too full of waste has somewhere else to turn.

Boxes need a thorough cleaning periodically, too. Bear in mind, though, Kroll’s comment about scented litter: We like fragrances; cats generally do not. If you think it smells pretty, it’s probably over-scented for your cat. The smell of ammonia in many cleaners (which intensifies urine’s odor) and that of vinegar, too, will repel many cats. Regular dish soap and water, applied with elbow grease, are the best cleaning bets.

The litter itself may be a problem. Preference studies suggest the great majority of cats prefer clumping, unscented litter, because its granules are typically finer. Clumping litter is easier to remove because urine and feces dont often get mixed into the remaining litter after scooping. But each cat may have its own preference among the many litter types. It is far cheaper to let your cat try different litters to find one she likes than to deal with persistent house soiling.

Location, location, location
Litter boxes are commonly placed in basements and bathrooms. But basements can be far from a cat’s usual living space, and some are dank, dark, and noisy. Would we like to go to a basement in the dark of night or when a rattling dryer or furnace is operating there? Neither would many cats. A box located on the main floor of the house is usually best, ideally with another available on the second floor if you have one. And if two cats have trouble getting along with each other, take care to leave more than one direction for entry and escape from each box.

The particular box may also present a problem. While we may like a hooded box for its restriction of odors, those retained odors can make the box seem unclean to a cat. The hood may also restrict the mobility of a cat that likes more elbowroom. The height or slant of a boxs walls may make entering difficult, especially for less limber, elderly cats. In general, the bigger the box the better. Furthermore, boxes must occasionally be replaced because plastic boxes will begin retaining odors after several years, regardless of how we clean them.