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The Top 8 Reasons Why Your Kitty Won’t Use the Litter Box

By: J. Anne Helgren

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4. Litter Box Issues

The size, shape, and depth of the litter box can also affect your cat's behavior. She may reject the box if, for some reason, she doesn't like it. Hooded litter boxes are popular with some cats, but most don't like the confining nature of them and feel trapped when using such a box – a particular problem in multicat households with dominance disputes. Large or overweight cats may find the opening to a covered box too small, or may not have enough room to maneuver inside such a box, and longhaired cats may have trouble keeping their fur clean.

Older cats, or cats with health problems, such as arthritis, may have trouble stepping into boxes with high sides, or into boxes with smaller openings. If cats have any health problem that makes movement difficult, provide a sturdy ramp in front of the box, and a step down inside, if needed.

Some cats dislike litter box liners. Remove the liner if you notice your cat pulling it up or leaving claw marks in the plastic.

Providing several boxes of different sizes and types may help resolve the litter box problem.

5. Environmental Changes

Cats are creatures of habit and they don't like changes in their environment. If your cat stops using the litter box after a change has taken place in the household, it could be that the change is causing her to become anxious. Anxiety is one of the more common feline emotional problems, and may contribute to a number of behavior problems, including house soiling. Have you just brought home a new child, spouse, family member, or pet? Have you moved or remodeled the house? Have you recently changed your routine – gone back to work, say, after being at home all day? Even healthy cats can become stressed and anxious by changes that might seem minor to you. Look at the situation from the cat's viewpoint and see what might be going on.

During household changes, reassure your cat, give him extra attention and treats, and keep the litter box squeaky clean. This will help him regain his feeling of safety and routine, and help him adjust more quickly. If you've added a new baby to the household, check out the helpful advice on Helping Your Cat and New Baby Get Along; if a new pet has arrived, read Pet to Pet Socialization – Adding a Kitten. If you've moved, check out How to Introduce Your Cat to Your New Home.

6. Territorial Disputes

If you have more than one cat, disputes can arise over litter box usage. Cats are territorial by nature. Their societies are sometimes structured in a hierarchical manner, governed by strict rules of conduct. In multicat households, the dominant cat will sometimes leave her feces uncovered as a form of scent marking, to announce her presence and status. Uncovered feces mean that the territory is taken. If the other cats feel they're encroaching on a dominant cat's territory, they'll be reluctant to use that box.

Also, some cats don't like sharing their litter box with other cats. The solution is to provide a litter box and a private location for each cat. As a rule, you should have one litter box for every cat in the household. Also, consider keeping an extra box in another location to circumvent disputes or clashes. If a cat doesn't want to approach the main box area while another cat is there, she can detour to the other box to do her business. This prevents the cat from choosing a less acceptable location if the need is urgent.

7. Overcrowding

Having a companion for kitty is a good way to keep him from becoming lonely when you're off earning the cat food. However, overcrowding – having too many cats for the space you have available – can create considerable stress. Many territorial-type behavior problems arise from overcrowding, including house soiling. For cats to feel secure, they must have an area to call their own, to which they can retreat when threatened. This is particularly true for indoor-only multicat households. Make sure you can provide facilities for each of your cats. You can also expand the territorial range by adding cat trees, outside enclosures Selecting a Cat Enclosure, cat condos, kitty hideouts, window perches, cat shelves, screened patios, and so on. You don't have to spend a fortune – cut holes in several cardboard boxes, turn them upside down, and place them strategically. Make sure each cat is given enough love and attention, too.

8. Spraying

This marking behavior is not connected to other litter box problems, because the reason for the behavior is completely different. Unaltered male and female cats spray urine to mark their territory. While more common in males, both genders can spray. Spraying has sexual and dominance-type connotations; the behavior being most prevalent in intact cats with a full complement of sex hormones. This is why spaying and neutering usually ends the behavior.

It's easy to tell the difference between spraying and urinating. During spraying, the cat backs up to a vertical surface, raises his tail (which often quivers), treads, and sprays urine onto the vertical surface. This is as opposed to squatting to urinate. Spaying and neutering often eliminates spraying and is the first step to take toward resolution of the problem.

However, spraying can also be a sign that a neutered male or spayed female cat has some issues related to anxiety or stress (e.g. a territorial dispute or a disturbance in their routine). Battles for dominance or territory may cause spraying in a multicat household, regardless of the cats' neuter status, and you'll need to resolve the dispute before the behavior will cease. A project such as this can be challenging. Spraying may also occur if a reclusive cat sees other cats outside in the yard, an area he likely considers an extension of his territory. One little wrinkle in the diagnosis of stress-related urine marking is that it does not always occur in the form of spraying. Sometimes urine marking may be performed from the squatting posture. The key to diagnosing this curve ball delivery is to pay attention to the sites on which urine is deposited. Litter box problems result in deposition of urine in relatively uninteresting "other" locations, usually on rugs or carpets in out-of-the way locations that are convenient for the cat. Horizontal urine marking, however, might be found on a person's possessions, on new things brought into the house, on a particular bedspread, on the stovetop, on a heating register, etc. When the location of urine deposition becomes as interesting (or perplexing) as this, consider anxiety-related urine marking, even if the cat "performs" in the squatting posture.

Urine-marked areas must be well cleaned with a non ammonia-based cleaner and then the area should be blocked off so that the cat no longer has access to it for a while, or the significance of the area can be transformed by moving the food dishes there. Products for cleaning pet stains that contain enzymes or bacteria work by eliminating odor-causing chemicals. Such products are usually effective. It's important to remove all traces of the urine (and/or feces) or the scent will attract kitty back to the spot. But you need to address the problem's underlying cause to end the cycle of inappropriate elimination; otherwise, your cat will just move to another area to spray. Ask your veterinarian for advice if you're stumped for a solution. Certain medications combined with behavior modification techniques can help resolve the problem.


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