Litter Boxes and Litter Box Problems
will naturally use the litter box.
They do not have to be taught to use
the litter box. Lucky for us.
there are some things that you can do to
make things more pleasant for your cat and
to decrease the risk that she will ever feel
the need to stop using the litter box. If
you are adopting a new cat, you should do
what you can to make the litter box
experience as easy and pleasant as possible
for your new friend.
The “scoop” on litter boxes. Having
an adequate number of acceptable and clean
litter boxes with litter that your cat
prefers and in locations that your cat likes
will help ensure that your cat never slips
into behavior where she is eliminating in
places other than in the litter box.
of litter boxes
You should have at least
as many litter boxes as you have cats.
Some people recommend that you have
one more litter box than you have cats.
For example, if you have 1 cat, you
should have at least 1 or 2 litter boxes.
If you have three cats, you should
have at least 3 or 4 litter boxes.
In this way, one cat will not be
without a litter box while another is using
You do not want your little buddy to
be put in the situation where she has to
start eliminating outside the box because
she cannot find one when she needs one.
addition, it is also recommended that you
have a litter box on each level of your
example, if you have 1 cat, but have a
3-level home, you should have 3 litter boxes
– one on each level of the house.
a cat may refuse to use the litter box after
another cat has used it. In this case, all of the litter boxes will need to be kept
extremely clean and additional boxes may be
Research has shown that most cats
prefer fine-grained litters presumably
because they are softer to walk on.
Scoopable litters usually have finer
grains than the typical clay litter.
However, high-quality, dust-free clay
litters are relatively small-grained and may
be perfectly acceptable to your cat.
If you suspect that your cat has a
history of spending time outdoors and is
likely to eliminate in your houseplants, you
can try mixing some potting soil with your
Once you find a litter your cat
likes, don’t change types or brands.
Buying the least expensive litter,
instead of the litter that your cat prefers,
could result in your cat not using the
cats are put off by the odor of scented or
For the same reason, it’s not a
good idea to place a room deodorizer or air
freshener near the litter box.
If you like, a thin layer of baking
soda can be placed on the bottom of the box
to help absorb odors without repelling your
of litter boxes
Although humans may like the litter
boxes in very out-of-the-way locations such
as a distant corner of the basement next to
the furnace, your cat may not agree.
A new cat in your household may have
trouble finding a box that is in an obscure
A cat using a litter box close to the
furnace, washing machine or dryer may be
startled by the machine suddenly starting up
or switching modes.
This could make her stop using the
It is best to put litter boxes in
areas that are both convenient for your cat
to find and which provide her with some
degree of privacy.
cats like to scratch the surface surrounding
the litter box and may find a cold cement
You may want to put a small rug under
the litter box in this circumstance.
remember, you should have at least one
litter box on each level of your house.
of litter boxes
There are pros and cons to using
covered litter boxes.
A covered litter box traps odors
inside, so it will need to be cleaned more
often than an open one.
A covered litter box may not allow
enough room for a larger cat to move around or position herself as she
A covered litter box may make it
easier for another cat to lay in ambush of a
cat who is leaving the litter box.
If a cat is frightened in this way,
she may stop using the litter box.
A covered litter box may feel more
private and may be preferred by some cats.
Humans may forget to clean covered
litter boxes as often as they should.
the litter box
In general, litter boxes should be
scooped at least once a day.
Depending on the number of cats and
litter boxes that you have and whether you
have a cat who prefers an especially
pristine box, you may need to scoop the
litter more often than once a day.
addition to once or twice-a-day scooping,
you need to completely change all of the
litter and wash the box regularly.
If you are using clay litter, you
will need to completely change all of the
litter twice a week.
Those using scoopable litter can go
2-3 weeks before the litter needs to be
the box starts to smell it is time to clean.
A dirty box is risky business.
Your cat may stop using the litter
box if she finds that it is always too dirty
for her tastes.
often you scoop and change the litter box
also depends on the number of litter boxes
and cats that you have and whether you have
a cat who is especially desiring of an
especially clean litter box.
If you find that you cannot change
the litter as often as necessary, you should
consider adding additional boxes.
use strong smelling chemicals or cleaning
products when washing the litter box. That may cause your cat to avoid it. Washing with soap and water should be sufficient.
of the litter
Most cats won’t use litter that’s
more than about 2 inches deep.
In fact, some long-haired cats
actually prefer less liter and like to
scratch the smooth, slick surface on the
bottom of the litter box.
Litter box behavioral problems.
When cats stop using the litter box
it can certainly be a source of stress for
the humans in the house.
Remember that a cat that has stopped
using the box does not do so because she is
“mad at you” or “wants to punish
you” or because she is not smart.
she has stopped using the box because of a
health problem this needs to be addressed
immediately. For example, urinary tract
infections may cause the cat to stop using
the litter box.
Remember that cats do not always act
sick when they are.
Only a trip to your veterinarian may
be able to uncover an illness that is
causing your cat to stop using the litter
it is not a health problem, then it is
because she has learned a bad habit.
The good news is that good habits can
Most litter box problems can be
resolved with behavioral modification.
the problem is a behavioral problem and not
a health problem, you can approach the
problem by taking on the role of detective
in order to find out what changed in your
cat’s environment to cause her to change
her habits, and by taking on the role of
behavioral therapist in order to find things
that can be changed in order to modify
should consider the following when dealing
with a cat who has stopped using the litter
Take your cat to the vet.
Changes in litter box habits can be a
sign of illness.
If this is the case, it is important
to find this out immediately.
Think about what may have changed in
your house to change her litter box habits.
Did something change in your
A new pillow on the bed on which she
now likes to urinate on?
Did the cat become frightened by
something that happened while she was in the
litter box such as being scared by another
cat or a loud noise by a washing machine or
furnace near the box?
that the original reason that your cat
stopped using the box may not be the reason
that it is continuing.
For example, your cat may have
stopped using the litter box because of a
urinary tract infection, and then develop a
surface preference for carpet and a location
preference for the bedroom closet.
In this case, you’ll need to
address all three of these factors to
resolve the problem.
Did you change something about the
litter box such as location or type of
litter or type of litter box?
Has the location of the litter box
become difficult for your cat, such as an
older cat who now has difficulty negotiating
the stairs to the box?
Is the litter too deep for your
Do you need to change the type of
litter box that you are using?
Is the box being kept clean enough
for your cat?
If a litter box problem does develop,
you should attempt to correct the problem as
soon as possible.
The longer the bad habit persists,
the harder it will be to change.
Is your cat using several areas of
the house as a place to urinate or has she,
for some reason started using just one or
two favorite places?
should consider doing one or more of the
following when a litter box problems
Keep the litter boxes cleaner by
scooping more often, completely changing the
litter and washing the box more often,
and/or adding more litter boxes.
Add additional litter box locations.
Try putting less litter in the box.
You may want to experiment with
different types of litters.
Try having several litter boxes with
different types of litter to discover what
type of litter your cat prefers.
If one cat is ambushing another at
the litter box, consider adding more litter
boxes, adding another type of litter box
(covered or uncovered), or putting a litter
box in an area where only the ambushed cat
can get to it.
If the cat is using only one or two
inappropriate areas to urinate, keep the cat
away from that area(s) and clean the area(s)
totally with an enzymatic cleaner.
is absolutely crucial to eliminate the odor
from the area that your cat is
inappropriately using. The Denver Dumb
Friends League has an excellent area on
their web site about cleaning pet stains and
In some instances in order to
completely clean the carpet you may need to
change the carpet padding and/or the carpet
keep the cat away from the undesirable area
you can keep the cat out of that closet or
room or cover the area (after complete
cleaning and deodorizing) with some material
that is objectionable to the cat such as
aluminum foil. You may need to keep your cat away from the area for several
If your cat is urinating on something
that can be eliminated from your house, you
should get rid of the object.
Get rid of the cat bed that she is
urinating on in order to mark it as her
Get rid of the pillow that she is
urinating on to mark it as hers.
You should get rid of that rug that
she has started using as a litter box.
You may need to retrain your cat by
keeping her in a small room with one or more
clean litter boxes for a period of time
until she relearns good litter box habits.
Discuss the situation with your
veterinarian to ask for suggestions.
10. Punishment is never the answer. This will only cause more anxiety in your cat, may worsen the
litter box problem and may cause the
emergence of additional behavioral problems
such as aggression and fear.
simple changes such as those above are not
successful you may need to reach out to
someone with additional experience in these
Please consider the following:
Call your local humane society or
You may need to consult an animal
The Denver Dumb Friends League does
have additional excellent information on
their web site (http://www.ddfl.org/behavior.htm)
The Denver Dumb Friends League also
has animal behavioral experts who can be
reached by e-mail or phone. Your
veterinarian may also know an animal
behavioral therapist whom he/she can
There are some excellent books with
information about behavioral issues.
Some of these are listed in our
“Recommended Web Sites and
of the information in this section on litter
box problems was taken from The Denver Dumb
Friends League website (http://www.ddfl.org/behavior/lbox_prob_prev.htm),
and the Humane Society of the United States
web site (http://www.hsus.org/ace/13147).
We acknowledge and appreciate their