Preventing Litter Box Problems Before They Start

In dealing with feline toilet habits, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. By following the easy steps listed below, you will help your cat develop positive litter box habits from the beginning.

Choose a litter box preferred by cats

In selecting a litter box, consider the size, age, and general condition of your cat. An older, arthritic cat may not be able to step into a box with high sides. A large cat will feel cramped in small quarters, and might be unable to turn around if the box is hooded. A hood can also trap and intensify odors and should be removed if it becomes a problem for your cat. Choose a litter box that will maximize you cat's comfort. Be aware that your cat's needs may change over the course of her lifetime.

Choose a litter preferred by cats

There are a variety of litters available at both grocery and pet supply stores. Not all of them are equally favored by cats. Scented and deodorized litters mask smells offensive to humans, but many cats will not use the box because they are repelled by the odors of urine and perfume.

It is best to choose completely unscented litters. For the same reason, it's not a good idea to place a room deodorizer or air freshener near the litter box. A thin layer of baking soda placed on the bottom of the box will help absorb odors without repelling your cat. Odor shouldn't be a problem if the litter box is kept clean. If you find the litter box odor offensive, your cat probably finds it even more offensive and won't use it.

Fill the box with the right amount of litter

Generally, it is best to fill the box with two to three inches of litter, enough for the cat to scratch and dig, but not so much that it spills onto the floor. Some cats exhibit a preference for more or less litter, so observe your cat and make adjustments if necessary.

Keep the litter box clean

The primary reason cats stop using their litter box is because box cleanliness. Cats have very sensitive noses and are in close proximity to the litter, so it is important to scoop waste at least once daily, and to dump and thoroughly clean the box regularly. Use water and plain, unscented soap to scrub the litter box, and dry well before refilling.

Put the litter box where it will be used

Cats feel most comfortable using the litter box if it is a convenient, quiet, and private place. Find a location where your cat will not be bothered by heavy foot traffic, other animals, and loud sounds. If you have no alternative to the laundry room, be sure to place the box away from washing machines and dryers.

Remember to consider the cat's age and condition, too. For small kittens or older cats, make the box accessible as possible so that the animals will not have to negotiate stairs, cat doors, or other obstacles.

Keep the litter box environment cat-friendly

Cats may stop using a litter box if they have negative associations with the area. Do not medicate or punish your cat in the room where the litter box is kept. Also, your cat must feel safe when using the box. Restrict access to other pets who may ambush the cat, and be sure to provide litter boxes in different locations in multiple cat households where dominant animals exert territorial pressure on the others.

Provide enough litter boxes

In a multiple-cat household, cats need to have more than one litter box. Ideally, each cat should have access to his or her own box. Make sure that each litter box is scooped daily.

Familiarize new cats with the litter box

When introducing a cat to the household, make sure he or she knows where the litter box is kept. New cats often hide until they feel comfortable in their surroundings. Place the litter box where the cat feels safe, and gradually move the box, if necessary.

It's a good idea to keep kittens confined to a limited area with an accessible box until they are fully litter box trained. Don't forget that good behavior deserves rewards. Take some time to gently praise and stroke your cat after he has emerged from the litter box.

Spay or neuter your cat

Spayed and neutered cats are less likely to mark territory with urine than are the unneutered counterparts. They remain healthier and are less prone to diseases that affect fertile cats. In addition, the urine of neutered males is relatively odorless whereas that of tom cats is strong and offensive.

If your cat stops using the litter box, please consult Solving Litter box Problems.

Further resources

ASPCA Tips on Cat Litter

Catinfo.org talks about The Litter Box From Your Cat's Point Of View.

Doctor Cory Gross specializes is feline behavior, especially relating to cats who are inappropriately eliminating. Visit her website or call her on 425-999-4586.

Precious Cat Litter helps match cat owners with the right solutions.

The Catalyst Council covers Litter Box 101 in CATegorical Care: An Owner's Guide to America's #1 Companion.

The Cornell Feline Health Center has helpful online information about House Soiling.

The Humane Society of the United States has an online article about preventing litter box problems and a step-by-step guide to solving them