Litter Box Blues

litterboxAre you having issues with your cat using their litter box?  Issues can either be medically based or behavioural.  In any event, we can help!  Read the information below, provided by AAHA Press, then give us a call 306-545-7211.

While most cats are very clean and dependable in using a litter box, they may eliminate in undesirable locations for a number of different reasons.

Two types of Elimination Problems

Marking is when urine is sprayed on vertical objects such as furniture, plants, or walls.  Cats spray in a standing posture with their tail raised and their backside facing the object.  In rare cases, cats may mark with urine or stools on horizontal surfaces.  Marking may be a territorial signal or can be brought on by stress.

Housesoiling is when voiding of stool and/or urine occurs in places other than the litter box.  The cat will assume a squatting posture and eliminate on a horizontal surface.  Cats may soil to avoid the litter, the box, or the location, or because they prefer to use a different surface or location.

Rule Out Medical Causes First

These might include diseases that increase the frequency of urination (such as kidney disease or diabetes) and diseases that make urination painful (such as bladder disease or arthritis), or those that increase the frequency of bowel movements (such as diarrhea) or cause discomfort (such as constipation or anal sac problems).  Hormonal conditions (such as thyroid disease) and diseases that affect the nervous system (such as tumors or senility) can also lead to housesoiling.  Therefore, solving any housesoiling problem should begin with a veterinary visit.

If the problem is not medical, the next step is an in-depth evaluation to determine the behavioural cause and design a treatment plan that will best suit  your cat and your household.

Here are some general things that may cause elimination problems:

  • Environmental or social changes that occurred just prior to the onset of the problem
  • Changes in litter, box location, box type, and/or frequency of cleaning
  • Availability of more desirable locations and surfaces to eliminate
  • Problems in the relationship between the pet and other pets or people in the home

Causes of Marking

Marking may occur as a response to the introduction of new pets, objects (like new plants or furniture), or odors into the home (like fireplace logs or a visitor’s purse or boots), people moving into or out of the home, or moving to a new home.  Cats that spray near doors and windows may be marking in response to other cats coming onto the property.  Any changes in the environment that lead to an increase in anxiety or conflict can also cause marking (like remodeling, redecorating, or getting a new roommate).

pawing carpetCauses of Housesoiling

Cats may avoid the litter box, or prefer locations or surfaces other than the litter box, for these or  other reasons:

  •   Medical problems
  •   Unclean litter box
  •   Not enough litter boxes
  •   Being confronted in the litter box by a family dog, cat, or human (some owners try to give a cat  medication or trim his/her nails while eliminating)
  •   Undesirable litter (type, depth, or scent) or an undesirable litter box (height, cover, self-cleaning  mechanism, or litter liner)
  •   Undesirable litter box location (insufficient privacy or near a noisy appliance or furnace)
  •   Preferred feel or comfort of a surface or location other than the litter box

What to Do: Basic Tips

Scoop all litter boxes daily and replace the litter weekly.  Provide at least one litter box per cat plus one extra.  Clean soiled areas with an effective odor remover.  To determine which litter type your cat prefers, offer two or three different options side by side to see which one he uses most (clay, clumping, recycled paper, scented, unscented, different brands, sand or soil, different depths).  Then place the preferred litter into different boxes to determine which type he prefers (different heights, different openings, with or without a litter liner, covered or uncovered, self-cleaning).  Also try the preferred litter and box in a different location that your cat might prefer.

Marking Solutions

Cats that have not been castrated or spayed are most likely to spray, so neutering is the first step in the treatment for marking.  If the problem is due to an unhealthy relationship with other cats or people in the home, seek additional guidance from a behavioural specialist.  If your cat is spraying when other cats come onto your property, move anything that might attract stray cats (garbage cans, feeding stations, or bird feeders).  Try cat repellents, motion-activated alarms, or motion-activated sprinklers to keep strays out of the yard.  Keep your cat away from doors and windows, put up blinds or shutters on the windows, or place booby traps in the area where your cat hears or sees the other cats.  Safe, effective booby traps include upside-down carpet runners with nubs up, double-sided tape, unpleasant odours (potpourri, citrus, menthol), a stack of empty soda cans, and motion detectors that set off an alarm or a spray of air.  Synthetic feline pheromones can be effective at reducing anxiety and marking.  No drugs are licensed for the treatment of feline urine marking; however, a number of human and dog medications might be effective.  Your veterinarian can explain their benefits and risks.

covered litter box

Housesoiling Solutions

Most cats can be prevented from soiling when supervised.  When the owners are unable to watch the cat, it may help to confine him with his litter box in a small are of the home where he does not soil.  Understanding your cat’s daily elimination routine can help you determine when he will need to be confined or supervised.

Preventing access to the soiling area may be the easiest solution: close doors, put up barricades such as child gates, move furniture over the spot or use booby traps.  Try placing the pet’s food bowl, toys, or bed in the soiled areas.  If you see your cat soiling, interrupt him with a water sprayer or noise devise, but do not physically punish him, rub his nose in the mess, or yell at him.

Evaluate the litter box location, litter type, cleaning schedule, and any other factors that might deter litter use.  If the pet is soiling in one or two specific area, it might be preferable to move the litter box to that area or a similar area.  If the cat is using a particular surface, such as a tile floor or carpet, you might make his litter box similar by giving him an empty litter box or placing a carpet remnant in the box.  Gradually add small amounts of litter to the box until your cat feels comfortable using a box with litter.

If these steps do not solve the problem, consult your veterinarian for further guidance.

Additional notes provided by ANVC:

It is important to clean the soiled areas with an appropriate cleaner.  A general cleaner, carpet cleaner, etc. does not get all the way down to all the layers that the urine may have gone and although we may no longer  be able to smell the urine, your pet can, if there is any hint of it still there.  At the clinic we carry a product called Urine Erase, it is designed to change the molecules of urine to water that then evaporate.  The product is mixed up and poured on the area that has been soiled, it will travel the same path (through the layers of carpet or into the furniture) like the urine did.  It then creates a chemical change in the urine, thus releasing it from the fibers.  This is the only way to ensure there is no longer any urine odor that your pet may be detecting or they may continue to pee in the area simply because of smell.

kitten litter box

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