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Help! My Cat Isn’t Using the Litter Box!

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Litterbox issues are a real problem. Your sweet, beautiful cat is wonderful, but pee or poop anywhere outside of the litter box can quickly move from a nuisance to a nightmare. While there can be several reasons why they don’t use or suddenly stop using the litter box, solving this problem quickly is very important.

One of the keys to successful and continuous litter box use is to visualize a cat-friendly setup from the perspective of the individual cat.  First, think like your cat. Litter boxes work because they provide a place that matches where cats naturally want to eliminate. If they don’t use the litter box, it is time to consider why that might be. Have you provided at least two litter boxes, or one per cat plus an extra, in different areas? Cats are picky about where they eliminate and will be happiest if their litter box location caters to their preferences. Try a few types of litter and different styles of litter boxes – covered or uncovered, easy to enter or taller sides – to see which your cat uses the most. Some cats are nervous or feel trapped if the placement of the box or the box itself doesn’t feel safe and will avoid using the box. Make sure you are scooping the litter boxes daily so that lack of cleanliness is not a reason for your cat to opt-out of the litter box. A little detective work may help solve the problem.

While several litter box-related factors can be vitally important, sometimes an established cat will stop reliably using its litter box for other reasons. When this happens, the first thing should be to pay very close attention to what is going on. Eliminating outside the litterbox can generally be attributed either to a medical or a behavioral issue. You should contact your veterinarian right away. The veterinarian can diagnose or rule out a medical cause for the problem, suggesting treatment and/or a litter box set up that accommodates your cat’s medical needs. For example, a cat may have some beginning arthritis that makes getting into and out of their litter box is painful. Your cat may have a urinary tract infection or crystals in their urine that causes pain when they urinate. Any type of illness that causes pain is enough for some cats to associate the litter box with the pain—and for them to avoid using the litter box. Your veterinarian can help diagnose a medical issue and prescribe appropriate treatment.

Behavioral problems may be more complex. Once you have ruled out a medical reason, you need to investigate what is going on in a multi-faceted approach. Consider your cat. Is he or she sometimes using the litterbox, or not at all? Is he or she urinating on soft clothing or the hard tile? Or is it a particular place? You can start by adjusting the litterbox, how it is situated, or perhaps limit their access to the preferred spot. Another important consideration should be to think about any environmental or household changes that have occurred. Any change can cause stress. Have you changed your schedule, new food or litter, added a family member, brought home a new pet, or had to say goodbye to a pet? If there are changes at home that may be causing your cat stress, there are multiple ways you and your veterinarian can work to reduce stress for your cat. This often includes modifying the environment, the use of synthetic pheromones to reduce stress, and sometimes medication.

Sometimes inappropriate urination is marking. Male cats that have not been neutered are more likely to mark their territory, but any cat can mark. Marking is a cat’s way of establishing their territory. Your cat may start marking if you have added a new cat to your family. If there were previous cats in the house that marked, your cat may mark to establish new ownership. Marking can also be triggered by other cats outside and around your home that are not part of your household. If your cat is not already spayed or neutered, that is often the first recommendation to help curb marking behavior.

At Blue Lake Animal Hospital our veterinarians are experienced in diagnosing potential reasons for inappropriate elimination—either medical, behavioral or a combination of both. Please feel free to call and schedule an appointment to discuss your individual cat’s symptoms. It is always best to solve the problem quickly, before any new habits get established.

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