House soiling is one of the most common behaviour problems in cats. It is normal for cats to have surface and location preferences for elimination. It’s only when these preferences include the laundry hamper, your bed, your carpeting that these normal behaviours become a problem.
Any time a cat does not use the litter box there is a cause for concern. However, there are a number of reasons cats break their litter training. To get to the root of the problem you’ll have to play Sherlock Holmes for a little while!
Your veterinarian is an important person when it comes to solving the litter box mystery. Health problems can cause litter box problems, and cats don’t always act sick, even when they are. For this reason, it’s important to check with your Veterinarian first. Typical medical causes include painful urination or bowel movements due to bladder infections, intestinal disorders, and some forms of arthritis. Because of the discomfort associated with eliminating, your cat may avoid the litter box and may begin to seek other places, hoping to find a location where it does not hurt. Only a trip to the veterinarian for a thorough physical exam — which may include a urinalysis — can rule out a medical problem.
If your cat is given a clean bill of health by your veterinarian, the next step is to determine whether your cat is spraying or urinating outside the box. Spraying is urine-marking behaviour and is a cat’s way of indicating ownership of his or her territory. It can occur because neighbourhood cats are outside or because of conflicts between cats in a multi-cat household. Unfamiliar objects, smells or people in the house can also cause the behaviour. Spraying has nothing to do with litter box habits. When a cat sprays, s/he stands up, backs up against a vertical surface and deposits urine at “cat height” against curtains, doors, walls furniture and other solid surfaces. The tail may quiver and s/he may alternately lift his/her hind feet while spraying. Male, female, spayed or neutered cats of any age may spray, although the behaviour is most common in unneutered males. Spraying problems can be drastically reduced or even completely resolved with:
- Spaying or neutering any unaltered cats in the household.
- Discouraging the presence of neighbourhood cats. Try blocking off windows where your cat can see neighbourhood cats.
- Resolving conflicts between cats in the household. Stress is often behind house soiling, particularly spraying. A new baby, a new pet, moving, new furniture or subtle changes in your lifestyle can also be very stressful to your cat. Give your cat as much or more attention during changes in the household is one of the best methods of alleviating stress-induced behaviour in your pet.
Aversion to the litter box
For some reason, your cat has decided that the litter box is an unpleasant place to be. Have you changed the brand or type of litter lately? This is a common cause of cats abandoning the box. If you have changed your litter brand change back to the litter your cat used before. Another reason for litter rejection is new scents in or around the box. Make sure you scoop out the cat box daily and thoroughly clean and change all litter once a week for one cat, twice or more for more than one cat. If you get a new cat be sure to give the new cat his/her own box. Cleaners you use to wash out the box should always be the same. Moving the box can also cause your cat not to use his/her box. If the area the cat box is in has become busy and is not as private for your cat this may also be a reason for leaving the box. Try purchasing a cover for the litter box. Always praise your cat when s/he uses the litter box especially young kittens. This will let your pet know that this is the right that this is the right place to eliminate and that it pleases you when s/he uses it.
Punishing your cat for the litter box problem will likely make the problem worse. If you catch your cat eliminating outside the litter box a firm “no” is all that is needed.
Pick up your cat after saying no and take to the litter box. If s/he finishes in the box praise and pet. Let your cat know where to go and where not to go.
Sometimes, if there are people changes or mood changes in the household cats will respond to this by rejecting their boxes as they are stressed by the changes around them. Be sure to spend as much time playing and petting your cat as you can when there are new additions to the household. This will let your cat know they are not rejected or forgotten even though a change has come about. Help your pet accepts the change.
Remember, your cat cannot tell you the reason why his/her litter box is no longer a welcoming place. Therefore, s/he depends on you to help him/her sort the problem out !! With a litter effort and a lot of love and patience, you’ll soon be hearing those familiar scratching and digging sounds.