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Keeping your cats happy with their litter boxes

One of the leading complaints from cat owners about their cats is when they are using places other than the litter box to urinate or defecate. Cats are so easy to care for because they have their toilet habits conveniently confined to their litter box. Inappropriate elimination is a huge aggravation to the pet owner. There are many reasons why a cat may not use the litter box they were once happy with.

The leading reason is pain- when it hurts to urinate or defecate the cat associates that with the litter box since this is the location where the pain is occurring. So they avoid what they think is causing the pain, seeking out other places. Infections, arthritis, impacted anal glands, constipation are just some reasons for pain and can only be discovered by a veterinary exam. If your cat is not using the box, get your cat to the veterinarian for a complete check up including urine, stool and possible x-ray tests.

Fear is another reason – does a dog, person, loud noises occur at or near the box scaring the cat?

Cleanliness – cats want to put their urine and stool where it is free of other stool or urine. This is why they hop right in the box as soon as you clean it. If the box is not clean they will go elsewhere. It is a lot like walking in a bathroom when someone did not flush. Ugh! Cats also do not like the strong odor of deodorants, baking soda or other smells.
Each cat is happiest with their own box. They can share, but they are happier with a box per cat, at least 4 feet away from each other or out of sight from each other. As your cat ages, it is more difficult to climb down to the basement to use the litter box. Put a box upstairs for the older cat. Some cats do not like the covered boxes; many need a shallow, low sided box. Litter boxes should be 1 ½ times the length of the cat. Under the bed storage boxes work well.

Try out various litters – many cats like the plain clay or litters with charcoal best. Some cats may like one type for urine and another for stool.

Use enzymatic cleaners as directed. Soap residue will inactivate the enzymes so do not use any soap or shampoo on the area before cleaning.

Medications are available for helping your cat decrease pain, fear or anxiety about the litter box. These are not sedatives and are used for a while as you follow a behavior therapy plan your veterinarian outlines.

When litter box problems happen, don't wait to get help or advice. The longer the problem goes on no matter what the cause, the longer it will take to correct it.

Sally J Foote, DVM  CFBC-IAABC
Okaw Veterinary Clinic Tuscola IL

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