Litter Box Strike!!!











(Here are a few articles that were originally printed in CAT WATCH, a veterinarian paper published by Cornell University)


Information from Ellen Lindell, PhD

(When a cat 'forgets' his housetraining)


Q. My cat will no longer urinate in his litter box. The behavior began when we moved to our new house a few months ago....


A. The best way to help the cat back to his litter box is to discover the basis for his new behavior. Urination outsidea box is a clinical sign, not a diagnosis in and of itself. What are some of the most common reasons that a cat might begin to urinate outside his box?

  1. Urinary Tract Infection or inflammation
  2. Reduced level of comfort in new home
  3. Barrier to the litter box
  4. Availability of a more convenient location or more desirable substrate



So which of these applies to your cat? First it is important to be sure he doesn't suffer from a urinary tract disorder. A urine sampleshould be checked in any litterbox trained cat that suddenly begins to not use the box. When your veterinarian checks the urine sample, he or she will also be able to screen for other underlying medical conditions that couild affect the urinary tract.

When cats are not comfortable in a situation, they may mark selected surfaes with their urine. Although we don;t like the scent, the chemicals that are deposited apparently do provide comfort to cats. In a typical case of urine-marking, relatively small quantities of urine are deposited outside the litter box. Larger urine puddles continue to be found inside the litter box.

Since your cat uses the new location in lieu of the litter box, it is not likely that he is marking. Still, there are some points to consider before a single, final diagnosis can be confirmed with confidence.

First, are there signs that he is not comfortable in his new home? Has he changed his habits regarding eating, playing or interacting with the family? A relocation in and of itself can create some insecurities for a cat, particularly if the new home is larger than the previous one. A cat may feel threatened by neighborhood cats hovering by a window. Sometimes, cats can become anxious whe left alone, and continue to use their litter boxes at other times.

Should a catfind it difficult to access a litter box, he might begin to explore other elimination options. If he does travel to his litter box to defecate, it is not likely that he fonds the box aversive. But we should not ignore the possibility of a litter box barrier. Many things can create a litter box barrier. Even a middle aged cat may experience arthritis pain that can contribute to a reluctance to climb stairs to reach a box. Since he jumps onto a chair, pain is not a likely factor, but a physical examination is in order.

Some cats are easily frightened particularly when faced with loud noises. If accessing a litter box means passing close to a loud appliance a cat might seek alternative toilet areas. There can also be social barriers. Although you may have no other cats, a dog or a young child may stand between a cat and his litter box.

Finally, some cats are repelledby dirty litter boxes. With the commotion of moving and redecorating, litter boxes can get neglected.

A cat may discover a new surface in the house that is quite suitable for elimination. In that case, we would say that the cat has developed a new substrate preference for elimination. One would expect similar fabrics to be targeted. Your cats has selected a specific chair. When a cat returns to the same location repeatedly, with no evidence for marking behavior, a diagnosis of location preference is supported.

Don't despair! It is very likely that he can be reconditioned to use a litter box in the location of your choice. First, put a new litter box near the chair. When he begins to use the box consistently, thoroughly clean and very, very gradually move the box toward a location you would find more convenient. Once you have successfully moved the litter box several feet from the chair, place a small dish of food close to the chair. Most cats do not view feeding stations as elimination areas.

If he doesn't begin to use the box within two weeks, do consult a local certified behavorist. An exact diagnosis would be determined and other interventions introduced as indicated. Finally, do consider maintaining the new box someplace on the first floor. It need not be in the living room, of course, but he may appreciate the convenience of having a second box.



Cat Litter Box Problems

The scenario is not uncommon: the cat eliminates outside the litter box, and the owner,upset with the mess, assigns sly and vindictive motives to the animal.

"That's terrible," says Katherine Houpt, VMD, PhD and director of Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine's Animal Behavior Clinic. "Cats are fastidious, and they like a clean place each time they go. Cats are usually missing the litter box because it's a stinky place. You don't want an outhouse for a bathroom; neither does the cat."

Rather than making a mess through some sense of spite, cats actually have the ability to hold in urine and feces, much as we do when no bathroom is handy. "Cats can inhibit. They have voluntary control," says Dr. Houpt. "It becomes a question of whether they have the motivation to do so when we want them to."
She says her clinic gets anxious phone calls late on Friday afternoons (just before weekend houseguests visit) from cat owners seeking help for litter box problems. Most of them can be solved by following the general rules of litter box etiquette.

  • Consider the type and location of the box.
  • Determine the texture of litter that best suits your cat.
  • Try clumping or scooping litter.
  • Keep the box and the area clean.
  • Clean the litter box every day.
  • Make it an attractive place that the cat feels comfortable using.
  • Rule out medical problems

There are other considerations, says Dr. Houpt. "If the cat misses the box, it could be due to a medical problem. Maybe he can't get to the box in time or associates the box with pain, as when a cat has a bladder stone. You have to rule out medical problems first."

There also should be a separation of at least three feet between the clean litter box and the spot where the cat usually eats. But don't make it an incredibly far distance between the two locations. If the cat spends a lot of time on the third floor of your house, for example, placing the litter box in the basement is impractical. It is too long a trip and not necessarily within the cat's concept of his territory.

If there is more than one cat in your house, consider the social interactions between or among them. Some cats, Dr. Houpt points out, ill pounce on other cats as they exit or enter the litter box. Cats are in a vulnerable position when eliminating, so one solution is to introduce more litter boxes.

Alternatively, you can provide a litter box for one cat in a private place, not accessible to the marauding cat. In extreme cases, you can use a cat door that permits entry only by a cat wearing a small magnet, attached to the collar. In any event, Dr. Houpt cautions against using certain types of closed boxes. "With some, the cat has to be quite acrobatic to get in. And particularly with older cats, that maneuver may be quite difficult." She says the general rule for the number of litter boxes needed is one box per cat plus one extra box. Because some cats like to urinate in one and defecate in another, some veterinary behaviorists recommend that you have at least one pan per cat per story of your house.

Most problems can be solved just by sensible management of the litter box. If the cat continues to be upset about something undetectable to the owner or displays some form of anxiety, discuss with your veterinarian the possibility of prescribing an antidepressant for the cat.


Solving Litter Box Problems:

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 don't remain in the box 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 box's 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.

Stopping and Preventing Improper Soiling

Improper soiling is new the preferred descriptor because it's not inappropriate from the cat's perspective. When a litter box becomes unusable to her, finding another dean and comfortable spot - even if it's your favorite rug - is anything but inappropriate. To her, the rug is a solution.

  • Scoop out waste frequently
  • Clean the box with - soap and water
  • have one more box than the number of cats
  • Place the boxes in accesslble, but not heavily traffic location
  • Make sure the box is wide and long enough and that your kitty doesn't mind a covered box and use unscented litter.

A hooded box may retain odors that can make the box seem unclean to a cat. The hood may also restrict the mobility of a cat that likes more elbow room.


START AGAIN! In our experience, we have also found that starting all over again by confining the cat to one small room with all his necessities for a few days, then gradually reintroducing him to the home, supervised, helps. There is no point in allowing him to continue his new behavior! This just leads to owners being angry and yelling at the cat, which simply makes things worse. CONFINE him! Puppy owners would never consider letting the untrained pup wander freely about unsupervised. You need to get in the mind frame, and begin trying the suggested steps outlined here.

MORE BOXES! Unfortunately, many owners like the box out of in the cellar. We always tell people there needs to be one box per floor of the home! I know it is more to scoop, but the trade-off is worth it.

SHHH!! Cats like their boxes in quiet locations usually....some will only urinate in one, and only defecate in the other! Also, if you changed litter....switch back!

WHAT'S NEW, PUSSY CAT?? If your cat has been fine in the past, then you need to see what has changed. A move or new furniture, addition or loss of a family member...while you can't change these things you can at least understand where this new behavior is coming from and do your best to comfort and reassure your pet.

PLEASE...don't toss your kitty to the outdoors or to the pound in exasperation. He simply will not understand what has happened to him. He depends on you when he is both good and bad.