The Litter Box

House soiling is a very common problem in cats and in fact it is estimated that more than 10,000 cats a day are euthanized in the US every day.   Many people blame the cat and claim that the cat is dirty but often these issues occur because we do not understand our cats.

  • Urine marking is a method of communication for cats.  Confident cats mark as a calling card where as anxious cats will mark to make an area smell like themselves which can help increase their confidence.
  • Though neutering and spaying will decrease the incidence of urine marking 10% of cats, both male and female will mark.
  • Urine odor changes over time and so frequent marking keeps the odor consistent for the cat.
  • Where the cat is marking can suggest unknown stress in the house.  For example marking by a window suggests a perceived threat is coming from outside.
  • Cats also may develop litter box aversion if there is competition for a litter box, if the cat doesn’t like the box or litter or if the box is not cleaned frequently enough for the cat’s liking.

Cats are individuals and thus individualizing the litter box is an important aspect of the management by offering a choice of litter box design and location.

THE BOX

  • The box should be 1.5 times the length of the cat – measure from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail.  Most commercial boxes are too small.  Some easy suggestions are concrete mixing trays, sweater storage boxes, and under the bed storage boxes.
  • Households with 1 cat should have 2 boxes.  There should be 1 more box than the total number of cats in the house.
  • There should be at least one box placed on each level of the house.
  • Cats perceive boxes placed next to each other as one large box.
  • Openings of adjacent boxes should not be facing each other allowing cats who are exiting a box avoid an approaching cat.
  • Avoid placing food and water close to the box as this discourages elimination in that location.

THE LITTER

  • Most cats prefer fine-grained litter.
  • Research indicates that cats without an issue will dig in the box for longer prior to using the box.  A cat that digs for 4 seconds or less has an issue with the box and if it is not corrected may develop litter box aversion and inappropriate urination or defecation. The cats issue may be with litter type, litter box location, cleanliness of the box and/or a medical issue.

THE HOME

We all feel it is a cat’s life!  They spend all day sleeping in a window soaking up the sun, have food and water easily available – what else could they want?  Well despite our wanting to keep them safe, failing to understand our cat’s needs and their need to express their natural behaviours we have created hidden anxiety in our cats that can actually cause behaviour issues and illness including cystitis (inflammation of the bladder) that can result in inappropriate urination.  As cats do not express overt signs of stress or anxiety, it is vital that we take a good look at our cat’s environment and make sure meet our cat’s environmental needs.

  • HIDING – is a coping mechanism for many cats who are stressed.  For a cat a safe place is a private and secure area often in a raised location.  In multi-cat homes make sure you have numerous hiding and resting perches so as not to create competition.
  • OUTSIDE – we keep our cats indoor to keep them safe but this can create anxiety in many cats.  Giving them an outdoor enclosure or leash training them can give them the best of both worlds.  Remember walking a cat is not like walking a dog – with cats you want a loose leash allowing the cat to choose where he/she wants to explore.
  • RESOURCES – food, water, litter boxes and scratching posts.   By having more than one location for the various resources will prevent competition for these items and will decrease stress in a multi-cat home.
  • HUNTING – We all know that cats are natural hunters and inhibiting the opportunity for predatory-type behaviour can result in obesity and boredom in our cats.  Use food to mimic predatory behaviour by hiding food in multiple locations, at feeding time toss the kibble to make the cat run to catch it, or use feeding puzzles.  Spend time every day playing with your cat using toys your cat can chase and “hunt”.  Make sure you allow your cat to catch his/her prey and rotate the toys to prevent habituation and boredom.  Do not leave string type toys available to cats when you are not playing with them as cats can ingest them and they can become ill.
  • CAT TV – Set up perches by windows and place a bird feeder outside the window to allow your cat to watch the birds.  Videos are another option to help keep your cat content
  • PREDICTABLE – Some cats can become stressed when there isn’t a consistent schedule.  Try and feed, clean litter boxes, and have playtime at the same time each day.  Cats like consistency.
  • BOX HUSBANDRY – The recommendation is to scoop a box twice a day and wash the box every 1 to 4 weeks.  Do NOT use strong chemicals rather just stick to soap and water.  Remember cats have a great sense of smell!

MEDICATION

  • Some cats with high anxiety do need additional help so we will treat these cats with medication.