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Posted on 07-10-2013

Inappropriate Elimination in Cats: Is the Litter Box the Problem?

inappropriate elimination in catsIs your cat urinating or defecating outside the litter box? At All About Cats Veterinary Hospital, our Las Vegas cat veterinarian has substantial experience treating cats for inappropriate elimination. Inappropriate elimination, also known as house soiling, is any urination or defecation that occurs outside the litter box, including spraying urine indoors. Medical issues and behavioral litter box aversion are the two primary causes for inappropriate elimination.

Your Las Vegas Cat Veterinarian Shares Tips for Litter Box Aversion

The first step is to rule out a medical condition that could be affecting your cat’s ability to urinate or defecate inside the litter box. Common medical issues were discussed in part one of this blog and include urinary tract infections as well as kidney, liver and thyroid diseases. Age-related conditions, such as arthritis, can also make it difficult to enter or exit the litter box, which will affect a cat’s ability to successful use it.

Once our veterinarian rules out a medical condition, the next possibility is behavioral litter box aversion. The first step is determining whether a cat is “spraying” urine or is voiding its urine normally in an undesirable location. Cats that urinate on flat surfaces are usually not “spraying” urine. When cats spray urine they typically spray it on a vertical surface like a wall and are often marking their territory. When cats squat to urinate on flat surfaces they usually are unhappy with their litter box situation and have selected new places to call their “bathroom.” Below are some of the things that can make a cat unhappy about visiting their litter box.

•    Litter box cleanliness: By far, the most common issue is an unclean litter box. Everyone appreciates a clean bathroom, and a box that has a harsh or offensive odor can be off-putting to cats. Boxes should be scooped daily and completely dumped, cleaned, and filled with new litter once a week. Be careful not to overdo it, as strong chemical odors can cause cats to avoid the box too.

•    Type and Number of Litter Boxes: For cats in the wild, it's normal to urinate in one location and defecate in a separate location. It only makes sense that we should provide at least two litter boxes for this instinct. When you have more than one cat, the rule of thumb is to have one more number of litter boxes than the number of cats you own. For example, if you have 3 cats you should have 4 boxes.  Should you use a covered box? Some cats like the privacy, and some cats feel trapped when in a covered box. Experiment and see what your cat likes.

•    Texture & fragrances: Litter texture is a big deal for cats. Studies have shown that most cats prefer a finer-textured clumping litter, but the occasional cat will prefer a coarser, non-clumping litter. Use an unscented litter, as the perfumes can be offensive to cats. Lastly, plastic liners are a no-no as the noise, smell and feel of the plastic can turn a cat away.

•    Litter box location: Cats like their privacy and usually like their box somewhere quiet. Do other pets or children bother your cat while it’s in the litter box? Also, be aware of the path your cat has to travel every day to use the litter box. Does your cat have to make a nervous trip to the box passing children, other pets, or loud media or appliance noises?

Cats that spray vertical surfaces may not be fond of their litter box, but the most common reason to spray is to mark their territory.  Cats may mark their territory when they feel others are invading their space. New pets or people added to the house can set off spraying. Old smells from previous pets within the house can be the culprit. Don't forget that the sight or smell from animals outside can start and perpetuate this territorial behavior. It's a good idea to make the litter box as attractive as possible to help lure your cat to spray in the box (a covered box is helpful), but typically these cats are best helped by a consult with our veterinarian to help make suggestions on household modifications and to prescribe anti-anxiety medications.

In order to determine the cause for your cat’s inappropriate elimination, our cat veterinarian can help look for clues in your cat’s behavior. We take a thorough history during our consultations and will be able to determine what’s bothering your cat. We try to look at the situation from your cat's point of view.  We can help!

Has your cat ever developed an aversion to using the litter box?

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