If you’ve been in the office any time during the morning hours, when we are just turning on the computers, prepping surgery for that day’s procedures, and taking care of Rambo and Madison, you may have heard our staff complaining about Rambo’s tendency to hang his rear end over the edge of the litterbox and poop on the floor. Despite his grumpy nature, Rambo isn’t trying to be a jerk. His litterbox just doesn’t meet his needs, mainly that he’s a big cat and a small box isn’t working for him.
Elimination issues are one of the most common complaints among cat owners, but many of these issues can be resolved by addressing key problems with the box itself.
Here’s what your cat wants you to know.
The ideal litterbox is kept in a quiet place where a cat can eliminate without feeling threatened or disturbed. Avoid placing the box in high traffic areas of your home, such as mudrooms.
…But Lids Are Bad…
Covered boxes hide the litter and other contents from view, which pleases most owners, but cats tend to dislike them. In addition to keeping a cat from turning around easily and finding the needed posture to eliminate, covered boxes keep odors IN the box. Cats have a highly sensitive sense of smell and if the box is smelly, they won’t use it.
…And While We’re Talking Privacy…
You might be tempted to put multiple boxes side by side. Much has been made about the NUMBER of boxes, with the recommendation of “number of cats plus one” frequently quoted as the way to calculate what you need for your household. It is important to have enough clean, available litter for multi-cat households, but try to avoid lining them up side by side. That’s the cat equivalent of being elbow to elbow with other people while you’re on the toilet. Multi-cat households usually have complex relationships anyway, and tempers tend to flare over territory. Especially when it comes to feeding areas and litterbox areas. We’ve seen this with our own hospital cats. Rambo sometimes chases Madison away from the litterboxes and won’t let her go.
…But Make Sure You Don’t Hide It Away So We Can’t Get To It
Privacy is important, but so is access. If you make the box too hard to get to, your cat might be tempted to go somewhere else. Like on the floor. Or in your houseplants. Do you keep the box in the corner of your scary basement or on the third floor at the top of lots of steps? Does your cat have to go through any doors to access the box and does that door get inadvertently closed on a regular basis? Keep your cat’s abilities in terms of mobility in mind. Tiny kittens or arthritic seniors are more likely to use a box if they can get to it quickly and easily. If you have the space, your best option is to have a litterbox on every level of your home. If you’ve ever lived someplace that had one bathroom for multiple people, you know what a hassle it is, especially when someone has a stomach bug or drank too much lemonade. Don’t make your cat do the equivalent of the potty dance.
Noise From The Washing Machine Is Distracting And Sometimes Even Scary
Do you keep your litterbox in the laundry room? If you do, you’re not alone. The laundry room is a common place to designate at the cat’s bathroom area. It’s generally quiet and out of the way. But be aware that some cats find the noise from your washer and dryer too disturbing and might boycott the box as long as it stays there. Considering an unbalanced washer sounds like it’s ready to take flight, this is understandable.
We Need Lots Of Space To Move Around
Cat boxes available in pet stores seem to come in a standard size, with a slightly bigger option sometimes available. Even the larger size is still too small for most cats. Your cat doesn’t care if the box is discreet or if it fits in the corner. He wants to be able to go to the bathroom without having to contort his spine. A cat needs enough space to be able to turn around easily, as well as find a comfortable posture to eliminate. Preferably, the box should be big enough for your cat to be able to also get out of it without stepping in his own waste. Older cats with spinal or hip arthritis, and overweight cats are particularly confounded by the too small box. If it’s painful for your senior cat to maneuver in the box, he won’t use it and an overweight cat will stop trying to squash his big body into a space that won’t accommodate his size. Since most litterboxes available for purchase are too small, you might need to get creative. Consider using a plastic storage container intended to fit under beds or couches. The sides are low enough for cats to get in and out, but the container itself is big enough to make your cat happy. Bonus: these types of storage bins have higher sides than a typical cat box, which might help if you have an exuberant litter kicker.
Not Every Cat In The Household Will Like The Same Litter
Cats are unique and have their own purr-sonalities. Cats being cats, you may find different opinions on litter within housemates. This makes shopping for litter more complicated than it should be, but think of it in relation to the classic over-under toilet paper scenario. Do you have a strong opinion on which way a roll of TP should be placed on the holder? You probably do. That’s how your cat feels about his litter. If you’re having problems with one cat in a multi-cat household not using the box, try offering a different kind of litter. Bonus: if your cats have litter preferences and always use the same box, it’s easier to keep track of bathroom habits and identify medical problems (such as diarrhea or urinary blockage) if each cat has a preferred box.
If You Can Smell The Box, It Smells Even Worse To Us…
No one likes cleaning the cat box. So if you have purchased one of those “scoop free” cat litter systems and your cat is not using his box, he probably thinks it’s too smelly. Cats are fastidious creatures and their sense of smell is much more sensitive than ours. Even fancy litters with clumping abilities that “lock away odor” will smell eventually. Plastic absorbs odor over time. You know that one Tupperware you’ve had forever that’s stained red from tomato sauce that always smells like spaghetti, no matter how many times it’s been through the dishwasher? The cat box is the same way. You have to actually clean it from time to time and replace it when it seems to smell all the time. We ARE talking about waste products here. The ability of science to make a litterbox stink-free can only go so far. (Also, it’s probably time to throw out that old Tupperware!)
…And You Need To Scoop It Every Day…And Change The Litter Frequently
You know that portapot that’s been at the softball field forever and ever? The one no one wants to use because it smells so gross? The one that is so far overdue for being taken away and emptied that everyone chooses to take their chances behind a tree instead? Please do not do this to your cat. Especially in multi-cat households, solid waste and clumps of urine need to be removed and disposed of at least once a day. The more cats you have, the more often you need to scoop the box. Not scooping regularly is the equivalent of not flushing the toilet. Be sure to completely change out the litter on a regular basis too. Brands that claim you can go a month or more before changing out the litter leave us skeptical. When the litter level gets low, please don’t dump clean litter on top of the old used litter.
If your cat has stopped using his litterbox, the first step is always an exam to rule out a medical problem. Out of the many reasons cats urinate or defecate out of the box, about half are medical reasons (such as UTI or bladder stones) and half are behavioral. If a medical problem has been ruled out, take a good look at the state of the litterbox in your house. Perhaps your cat is trying his hardest to tell you he hates his box.