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Wellness Wednesday- Helping a Cat with Litter Box Problems

Litter box problems. It is the most common behavior problem in cats and probably the most frustrating. I’ve had 3 cats that had problems so I am very sympathetic to anyone who is living with it. It was with my 2nd litter box issue cat that I found something that worked for him and has been helping my 3rd.

When a cat starts not using their box there are several things that should be reviewed that may help get them back on track.

1. First thing, get a thorough exam from your vet.  It’s important to rule out health problems that could cause your cat to avoid the litter box.  Not taking care of a contributing health problem can make eliminating the problem impossible.  For example, a cat with undiagnosed diabetes will have to urinate a lot.  They may not be able to get to the box in time.  Getting the cat’s diabetes under control would be the first step in trying to stop the litter box problem.

2. Clean the area where the cat has been going to the bathroom thoroughly.  You want to get all the waste removed and eliminate odor to prevent the cat from returning to the same spot.  Clean the area by removing all the solid waste and getting as much urine up.  To remove the urine from carpeting, stack several paper towels and then place a heavy object or stand on them until no more urine is soaked into the paper towels (You may need to replace towels to get as much urine up as possible).  Once you have done this you will need to use a urine neutralizer.  This will help neutralize the urine odor.

* It is important that you don’t use any cleaners on the area before doing this.  A cleaner can push the urine deeper into the carpet and may cause the neutralizer to not work.  Follow the directions on the neutralizer which usually has you soaking the area and letting it dry on its own.  You want to make sure you soak the area thoroughly so that it gets into any padding.

3. Have plenty of litter boxes.  The general rule is to have one litter box per cat plus one additional box.  So for one cat you would have two boxes, for three cats you would have four boxes.

4. Pick a location for your litter box that is best for your cat.  While we may like a place where the litter box odor won’t bother us this might not be the ideal spot for your cat.  Find a place that is out of the flow of traffic and is easy to get to.  It is also good idea to have a litter box in different areas of the house.  This can be important especially if you have multiple cats, as some cats can be territorial about their boxes and drive your other cats away.

5. Choose a litter box your cat will use. People tend to like covered litter boxes, but many cats don’t. They hold in odors which turns your cat off (think of how much you like using a porta-potty). Cats with mobility problems like arthritis might find a box with high sides hard to get into.

6. Pick a litter that your cat prefers.  Most cats prefer an odorless clumping a litter.  While scented litter might make us happy many cats don’t like it and we want to make the litter box as inviting as possible.

7. Use several inches of litter in the box. This is important especially with clumping litter. Urine tends to spread and becomes hard to clean when too little litter is used.

Any one or several of these things can affect are cat’s litter box habits.  You may want to try changing one thing at a time to see if it makes a difference.  If you find that none of them work then you may want to talk to your vet about trying medication that helps reduces your cats’ anxiety about the box.

I got to the point where none of the solutions were working and I was reluctant to start medication.  What I did try that ended up making huge difference was using positive reinforcement to recondition my cat to using his litter box.  I’ve had good results doing this with my cat Pyro and have been seeing promising results with my cat Poughkeepsie.  I’ll share how I did this in next week’s Wellness Wednesday’s post.

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