Mind of the Cat: 06/05

Is Your Cat Just Missing the Litter Box?

Cats and their litter boxes … Could there really be more to say? Absolutely. I recently received several letters about yet another variation on the theme. The question of the month concerned those cats that eliminate so very close to – but just not quite inside – their litter boxes. Why would that be?

First of all, I must say that I always approach this problem with great optimism. After all, the cats are clearly content with the location. They have crossed all necessary barriers to get to the box. That is to say, they have gone past the screaming children and the growling dog. They have walked by all sibling stalkers and pouncers. They have climbed stairs as necessary, gone past the loud stereo and risked running through the playroom.

Yet here sits a box and the cat simply misses. What is the diagnosis? We have ruled out location preference. We have ruled out aggression or fear. (Except for those rare cases in which the box is hooded and the fearful cat does not dare crawl underneath the hood lest her enemy be planning an ambush.) We have most likely ruled out marking behavior, as it is not very common for marking to occur exclusively at the site of the litter box.

Looking for Clues
To solve the problem of nearly but not quite, we must carefully consider the box itself. Both the condition of the box and the physical fit of the cat to the box must be examined. In fact, observing the cats posture as she approaches, enters and leaves the box can be invaluable. It is also helpful to learn the posture that the cat assumes when she does eliminate while she is in the box. As usual, no diagnosis until the research has been done.

Lets start with the box itself. Is there anything here that a cat might take exception to? Is the box clean? Is there too much or too little litter in the box? Could the litter itself be offensive? Yes to any of these questions indicates that the inappropriate elimination is due to a litter box aversion.

Pay particular attention to the cat that suddenly becomes fussy about the box. Be sure to check that there is a normal quantity of urine, and that the stool is formed and normal. A cat that urinates more often than usual may find that her box is now much wetter and less appealing than it had been. An underlying medical problem may be present.

If there is more than one cat in the home, be sure all cats are healthy. Sometimes, a companion cat may be suffering from a medical condition that changes the composition or volume of urine.

Once medical problems and hygiene have been ruled out, examine your cats reaction to the litter itself. What are some clues that the litter is offensive? Be suspicious if you notice that your cat often hops into a box then immediately hops back out, only to eliminate on the floor. If your cat spends an inordinate amount of time shaking her paws after leaving the box, or jumps out of the box and uses air instead of litter to cover her waste, then perhaps she does not want to spend time standing in this litter. To determine whether litter is driving a cat away from the box, a litter box preference test can be conducted. Litter type and depth preference can be learned through this test system.

Sometimes, a litter box is simply too small for a cat. It may be uncomfortable for a large cat to assume a natural elimination posture while confined to a tiny box. So, instead of cramping her style, she will use the floor beside the box. Watch your cat in the box. Is there plenty of room? If not, try offering an extra-large litter box and see whether the problem resolves.

On the other hand, some cats just seem to prefer to eliminate while balancing near or on the edge of the box. Naturally, most of the urine or stool lands on the floor. Often, this problem can be solved if you build a small ledge along the edge of the box, creating a perch. Your cat may balance on the ledge for comfort, yet urine and stool will drop back into the box.

You can also set up a video recorder near the box and learn all you need to know to solve your cats litter box problem.